September 16, 2008

Fingerprints on the Desk

By: in Teaching and Learning, Teaching Professor Blog

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Here’s a guest blog written by Keith Starcher who teaches at Indiana Wesleyan University.

–Maryellen Weimer

The fall semester has begun. I can tell by looking at the opposite side of my desk where fingerprints of all sizes decorate the faux wood stain. I keep wiping them off and they keep reappearing. Dealing with students can be messy. One student arrived this morning at 8 a.m. on the first day of classes and sadly announced, “I’m not registered for any classes.” Now that was a mess.

And look at that set in the far corner, all streaked and smudged. Those fingerprints were left by a sobbing coed as she told me about her boyfriend’s younger brother dying of leukemia and how she would be missing class to attend his funeral. Suddenly, my class seemed inconsequential.

And then I ask myself, “Is this the life I imagined as a full-time professor?” Where are the hordes of students who clamor for more of my insights as a class period ends? Where are the colleagues who frequently gather to banter about their latest thinking on how to more fully engage students inside the classroom?

Where is the time to “mull over” ideas within the realm of the scholarship of teaching or the scholarship of anything? If students aren’t smudging my desk, then service to the academic community calls. (By the way, where does the Curriculum Committee meet?)

And then I get it. Teaching is the vehicle—it is a means to an end, but the end is not developing a new curriculum or garnering great student evaluation scores or even “wowing them” from the lectern. Through my role as a professor, I have the privilege to interact with students in a potentially meaningful way. I can be a relationship that matters to a student.

This past July I asked a student if she was anxious to get back to the university in the fall. She said that she was and when I asked why, she responded, “I can’t wait to see my favorite professor.” My hunch is that if I walked into that favorite professor’s office this fall and looked at the desk, I’d see a few smudges—smudges that mean something. They tell me that what you and I do really matters to someone.

—Keith Starcher

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