I teach because I was well taught.
Barbara Oberhansley showed me that school is about people and then about ideas. Steve Evans
told me to stop whining and do my best. Betty Griffin and Nancy Percival treated me like a peer.
Wilfred Samuels invited me to join him in a dialogue about ideas outside of the classroom. Trix
Dahl showed me that I could speak the language of the love of texts. Steve Adkison said “Your
idea is better than my idea. Let’s go with yours.”
These names likely won’t mean much to you (though I’m sure you can name important,
influential teachers of your own). Teachers don’t often get that kind of wide recognition or fame.
They aren’t known beyond the classroom or the school. They matter, though. They matter a
great deal. They matter to weak-kneed, self-conscious introverts who don’t yet know who they
are or what they can be. They matter to arrogant, self-righteous know-it-alls who are coasting.
They matter to eager, optimistic over-achievers who have no balance in their approach to ideas or
to living. They give confidence, reality checks, and mentoring. They give lectures, both of the
classroom kind, and of the “I’m-not-buying-your-baloney-excuses” kind.
What they taught, I strive to teach.
I teach because everyone needs an advocate.
David Rose (not his real name) has been in four of my courses at CSI. When he settled in to his
seat in English 102 I think I wrote him off. I should have known, of course, that dress,
deportment, and grooming are poor indicators for performance, intent, or drive. David didn’t
surprise me in any sudden or startling ways; he simply steadily and surely made his way into the
course material and eventually into my confidence. Though he demonstrated top-tier ability and
contributed tremendously to the classes in which he participated, he didn’t turn in every
assignment, and he didn’t even finish the last of my courses he started. He wrote me recently,
however, saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t give up on me. I’m coming back. I’ll finish what
I started. Thank you for believing in me and pushing me.”
What David needs, I strive to give.
I teach because ideas matter.
On a poem I wrote as an undergraduate, a graduate teaching assistant jotted, “I wish I’d written
that.” On a brief critical essay I prepared about Cather and reader-response theory, Professor
Brown penned, “This is a beautiful little piece of writing.” While I was deeply motivated by the
praise these instructors gave my writing, I was just as interested in the ideas that prompted the
writing. When Kant and Heidegger and Saussure and Barthes began to make sense to me, a part
of me I had not known about came alive. Reading Faulkner or Stegner or Heaney and seeing the
ways in which their predecessors influenced their writing and created a fabric of ideas—some in
alignment, others in conflict with each other—helped me know that ideas and conversation
matters. In talking (or writing) to one another we figure out what we think, what we know, and
what we must do.
What people in diverse places and times have said and written, I strive to know and to
Teaching matters… to individuals and to society. As the popular question goes, “What do teachers make?
They make a difference.”