But What About the Academic Moments?

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Thinking back to my college days, many of my memories aren’t about academics. I have countless stories about friends, family, dating, working. I’m not as quick to spring a story about a lecture that changed my life or a reading from a textbook that shook my world. This doesn’t make me different; if anything, I suspect this places me firmly in the norm. But, after all the time and energy invested in school, what about the academic moments? Do we remember them?

This was on my mind after what took place last week.

I had the pleasure….nay, the HONOR of doing a brief, improvised guest lecture in Dr. Peter Stern’s World Views class. My previous Flaneur’s Turtle post about Disney’s Paperman was just published, and Dr. Stern’s class was covering the topic of romance. The two subjects were a natural fit.

The class watched the short film and we discussed theme, metaphor, and symbolism. After my 15 minutes on stage, I headed for the door. As I was leaving, Dr. Stern transitioned back into the topic the class was writing about before my guest spot:

What effect does gender have on romance?

Jerry Springer

I said, “Oh, this is going to be good” and took a seat.

Within two minutes, the room looked like a classic episode of Jerry Springer: desks were overturned, chairs were broken over people’s backs, one person was in the corner sobbing, two people were bitten. And at the end of it all, Dr. Stern took a seat, looked directly into the camera, and gave his Final Thought.

anchorman trident

(Sidenote: It got so heated that I think the students organized into news teams after class and had it out Anchorman-style in the alley behind the Chicago campus. Thankfully, I’ve heard no reports of any trident injuries.)

I embellish (slightly) but the students really were riled up and arguing and trying to get their points across. Partially that is just what Dr. Stern does to all of us, students and faculty alike. Yet, therein lies his mad genius: the class was engaged and invested in the argument, even if they were getting frustrated and angry. And Dr. Stern said something quite quotable. As things got more heated, one student said, “I’m not having fun anymore,” to which Dr. Stern replied, “Who said discussions have to be fun?”

Brilliant.

I will probably never forget that class period and that comment. At least not until tequila steals a few more of my brain cells.

As a teacher, and when I was a student, I feel like 99% of the class periods run together in an indistinguishable blur. After a few weeks, and definitely after a few terms, I can’t tell you what we did, what was learned, who was there. Nothing.

But that class with Dr. Stern reminded me that there are those moments, as a student and now as a teacher, that have stayed with me. When I push past all of the “life” stories from my college years, what truly academic moments stick out? Here are a few:

  1. When I wrote jokes into a paper I had to read in front of a class and all of the jokes failed miserably. Ever since, I’ve known what it’s like to be Jay Leno.
  2. When I gave my speeches in Introduction to Communications, all of which went terribly. (And now I stand in front of classes for a living. Ironic. Though maybe I’m still doing terribly in front of class….)
  3. When my creative writing professor wrote on a paper that I was always “laconic” in class. I had to look up the word to figure out if I was being complimented or insulted.
  4. When I finally understood “The Dead” by James Joyce and talked to my professor after class about how the ending of the story affected me because I could (in ways) relate to it.
  5. When I first read “Notes from the Underground” by Fyodor Dostovesky and talked to that same professor about how I empathized with the protagonist.

The more I think, the more memories I could list.

I teach two classes today. The overwhelming odds are that they will be of the 99% variety. And, frankly, not every day, nor every moment, can be “special” and memorable. But, what if today is when one the 1% moments take place? That is something for all of us, students and teachers alike, to be excited about and hopeful for as we go to class.

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