Professor Patricia Hauslein reflects on her teaching over the course of the past academic year.
I was raking the leaf cover off my shade garden when, like many of you (once all the mania is over), I started to reflect on the past academic year. Did I do my best? Whom did I help? Did I hinder anyone? Already I’m thinking about changes I can make. Oh, and underneath those leaves are the shoots breaking through the soil. Of course, describing learning as those fragile young shoots reaching for the sunlight, is not just a cliché about education, I don’t think it really describes this thing called teaching and learning very completely.
I think teaching and learning is more like the worms and leaves and other decaying matter (what biologists call detritus). If I had not covered that garden with the leaves in the fall, I would have lost many of the plants due to our cold winters. Had I not covered the garden with those leaves, year after year, and let then decay, the soil would not be rich enough to sustain the exuberant growth to follow.
After all these years, I’ve learned that I can do little about the learning side of the teaching / learning equation. I cannot will the shoots to come up or blossoms to open. I can only enrich the ground from which they come and offer water if the season is dry.
However, don’t think of the decaying matter added to the dirt as just rotting material, but as decomposing matter, our de-composing matter, our de-composing knowledge and experience. Good teaching comes from our own work de-composing what we know and believe, in such a way that it is useful to our students. If we do this vigorously enough and often enough, our very selves, our souls are mixed into the nutrient rich detritus. Then, if we are fortunate, we’ll get to see a shoot grow and eventually bloom, and a bit of that, self-same soul shines out as well.
And then, we dive back into the mud and start all over again.
Good summer Sabbath, friends; go play in the mud.
Patricia Hauslein, PhD
Assoc. Prof. Biol & Sci Ed
Saint Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN