Aug 13, 2020

A ‘liberal education’

BEN BAXTER’S ARTICLE in this Wednesday’s Collegian got me thinking, as his articles usually do. The article told us to “find a better job by bettering yourself,” but I was disappointed that Baxter’s “a better job” meant a better paying job, and his “bettering yourself” just meant having basic time-management skills and tact.

I would like to suggest, by sharing some of my work experiences, that there is an alternate route, one where deep personal development results in a better experience on the job, and self-improvement is really the same as professional improvement.

This summer I left the world of office work behind and took on two new jobs: a position teaching the verbal section of the MCAT and the whole of the LSAT for the Princeton Review, and a job at a local tutoring center working mostly with elementary and high school students.

I had been teaching in some capacity since high school — guitar lessons, math tutoring, and more recently, helping University High students with their Latin — but those were just in-between jobs to fill the gaps in my schedule and get a little extra income.

My new jobs were to be my main source of income, and along with the increase in pay and hours came a tremendous increase in the number of my responsibilities.

For the first time I was standing in front of a class for as many as three hours and teaching everything I knew.

So what was teaching like? I’ll start with the negative aspects first.

The very first thing I hated about being a teacher was how much time it took to prepare. When I first started my MCAT and LSAT classes, I would put in an hour of prep time for every hour of class time.

My lectures were a carefully conceived performance, and I practiced my color-coded lecture notes so thoroughly that I hardly needed them come class time.

Even with all that prep work, I still couldn’t be assured of a successful class.

And this was the second big problem: there remained such daunting variables as questions, unexpected gaps in my understanding and students who couldn’t seem to understand certain concepts no matter how thoroughly they were explained.

My notes were no help when a student couldn’t grasp some fundamental principle, and explain as I might using all the examples and analogies in my toolbox, I couldn’t always make everyone understand, and it made me feel awful.

But there were some students who got it, most of my students I like to think, and they made teaching more than worth the time and effort.

I have had few experiences more satisfying than helping one of my young students understand variables for the first time and watching him solve equations that only a short time before would have looked like complete gibberish.

One little girl I worked with recently was so happy to complete her first division problem that she proudly showed her work to her mother as soon as the lesson was done. Even my older students in the test-prep classes surprised me with their keen understanding and steady improvement.

The best part of all was that there was an almost direct correlation between the perfection of my understanding and the success of my students.

I tried my hardest to understand everything I taught and to anticipate what parts might be difficult for my students.

For the students who worked hard and trusted in my abilities as a teacher, coming to class became a fruitful experience, as I could see in their improved test scores and intellectual answerability.

An added bonus was that prep time dropped dramatically as I attained a deeper understanding of my teaching materials, and students enjoyed themselves more as I became more confident and experienced at answering questions.

So yes, Ben, perhaps we are products of the university, in a sense, but we’re also human beings, and there are some parts of being human that transcend the world of work.

Teaching is a rare profession that equates personal development with professional development, and I encourage all those who aren’t sure what to do with their lives just yet to think about a career in teaching.

Both teachers and students become better people through the task of understanding one another and the world around them, and teachers remain free of the work world’s inhuman qualities while providing a definite personal and social good.

Maybe that’s why it’s called liberal education.

Timothy Ellison is a senior at Fresno State majoring in classical studies and getting a minor in English. He says he is tired of being a vegetarian, but is still going strong.

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