Friday, August 29, 2014

What Teaching Means to Me


Every fall and spring there comes a day where I stand in front of a few hundred students spread out over several different classes and try to figure out what to say.  I always make sure I do a few things for the first day of class.  First, dress for success.  Second, I make sure I have my flash drive.  Third, I make sure I am standing in front of the right class.  (Yes, I went in and started teaching someone else's class one time.  Makes me wonder where that professor was.....)  All of that comes easily enough.  The words are what I struggle with.  The first day of class is like a first date.  It may be good.  It may be bad.  But no matter what, it will be awkward.

Each semester I get to meet some interesting people.  I have students from all over the world.  They range in age from high school dual credit students to people in their 60s pursuing a degree that they always wanted.  I have students attending college on scholarships, either academic or athletic.  I also have students who earned their free college education the hard way by serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Students come in all colors and creeds with beliefs as varied as their backgrounds.  It is my job to reach all of them.

Let's face it.  A US History survey course is as interesting to some people as a root canal.  Unlike a dentist, I try to make my class as painless as possible.  I don't expect my students to leave my class wanting to major in history.  In fact, I hope they don't as I want them to find jobs that pay well!  I live for those moments when I have a student tell me that they hated history before my class and though they don't like it, they appreciate it more after listening to me beat my gums for a semester.

I enjoy watching my students transform from nervous to confident over the course of the semester.  I witness engagements, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, sickness, and joy.  I have a ring side seat to the lives of my students which are more action packed than you might think!  Students confide in me and I also have to play the part of confessor, parent, and confidant.  The college doesn't pay me for that part of the job.  In fact, they probably discourage it.  But it goes with the territory.

I don't see teaching as a way to change the world.  I don't see it as a way to fulfill some lifelong ambition.  No, I see it as a way to help people which is exactly what I did as a firefighter and police officer.  I'll never get a full time job at a community college.  I get that.  I'm too unconventional.  My students like me and it isn't because I'm easy.  That doesn't sit well with some of "the suits".  I am too informal.  I have tattoos.  I speak my mind.  I go against the grain.  I do things the way I think they need to be done.  We talk about sports. And relationships. And trauma.  And I fight like hell if I think my students are being treated unfairly.  All of that rubs people the wrong way.  Whatever.  I don't do this for the paycheck or for the benefit of anyone other than my students.

In the course of a semester, we laugh and cry together as a class.  We talk about history but we also talk about life.  You see, I don't teach history.  I teach students.  They are more important than the subject itself and I think that too many faculty get caught up in their respective disciplines and see students as something of a nuisance.  I imagine them saying "This would be a great place to work if it weren't for the students!" I haven't spent my whole life in the Ivory Tower.  I worked the streets and I learned what is really important in life.  So a few years back when a person who's name I do not know accused me of being unprofessional because he/she overheard me talking about a football game in the hallway with a former student, I laughed it off and felt sympathy for the students in that professor's class.  There is a person who has no desire to get to know their students as individuals rather than nameless faces.

This week, I got started on a new semester with new faces and new challenges.  Here's hoping for a good one.  My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who makes no apologies for who I am or how I teach.  I'm no Jaime Escalante or Freedom Writer or Dangerous Minds lady.  I just do the best I can and hope it is enough.  Doing what is right by my students is a Holy Obligation to me and I hold it just as sacred as I did the oath I took as a police officer.    

The Half A$$ Historian, dressed for success!

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