another term begins…

Tomorrow I get back to work in earnest. On-line classes become available to my students, so while technically, students start attending their classes on Monday, I have to be ready to go tomorrow for the few enthusiastic ones who have been waiting for their on-line classes to go live.

Nerds.

I don’t blame them. I was that nerdy student who sat in my room the night before classes started, caressing my school supplies, sharpening pencils, labeling notebooks. I know, it was a giant nerdfest for me. Don’t judge.

It’s not that much different on the other side of the desk. I still get a little utz in my stomach — part nervousness, part anticipation. The start of a new term, the start of a new class is full of all the hope and wonder of new beginnings. A little bit of the unknown mixed with the desire to do things right this time. To really get the most out of the term, or experience, or whatever.

It’s one more chance to get it right.

My school supplies are easy these days. A red pen is all I need. In most classes, I don’t even need that — we’ve gone practically paperless.

I’ll walk into my first class with a smile and a plastic pen that lets me magically make images appear on a board. A click, a swipe, a tap here and there and I’ll open up an entire universe to students who’ve never ventured beyond the natural boundaries of their neighborhoods.

I’ll introduce them to art and literature and history that will confuse them, inspire them, anger them, and, if I’m doing it right, move them and make them think.

I don’t take this responsibility lightly. Some days I get angry, and other days I feel like phoning it in. But most days I get up ready to face the challenge with enthusiasm and joy.

Part of my job is to inspire and motivate my students. I recognize that I am a source of many things for them — sometimes the content of the class is not as important as how I deliver it. It’s a crazy responsibility  — forming minds. Too many times I feel that I am not up to it — what if I get it wrong? What if I fail? What if I unintentionally hurt someone –squash dreams, crush hopes.

I don’t dwell on these thoughts too much or I wouldn’t be able to do my job. They are not paralyzing — just simmering under the surface. Let’s say that these thoughts keep me honest. I am aware of the power I have in the classroom. Power for good if I harness it properly.

That’s why I found Pope Benedict XVI’s address to university professors so inspiring. He acknowledges a great truth that drives what governing bodies tell me I must do:

At times one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labor at any given time. One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability.

That can’t be all I do, for I would fall short … way short of the potential for teaching the whole person. Otherwise, I might as well be training pets to do tricks.

In truth, the University has always been, and is always called to be, the “house” where one seeks the truth proper to the human person. Consequently it was not by accident that the Church promoted the universities, for Christian faith speaks to us of Christ as the Word through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3) and of men and women as made in the image and likeness of God.

I don’t teach in a Catholic university. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to face a different kind of student than the demographic I serve. Most days I consider it a very special mission … they deserve no less than what I would offer elsewhere. It becomes an unexpected lesson in dignity and respect for the human person. Although I work in a very secular setting, I cannot divorce my faith from who I am and how I teach, and ultimately what I teach, if not explicitly, then certainly implicitly:

…we realize that we are a link in that chain of men and women committed to teaching the faith and making it credible to human reason. And we do this not simply by our teaching, but by the way we live our faith and embody it, just as the Word took flesh and dwelt among us.

 

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