Why I choose to do this work…or…I’m not here to do my job

If there is one thing I have learned about myself over the years that remains true despite all else, it is this: don’t lie there in bed when your head is spinning with thoughts about what you need to do tomorrow. Get up, write them down, then go back to bed.

This is one of those times, but what I have to write down is going onto this blog.

I just completed the first official day of spring semester 2016 at BSU and NTC. Start-up time can be a powerfully reflective time, and yesterday leads me to say what I am about to say in this blog.

I’d like to keep this simple and straightforward, not mince words, and get to the core of what I really believe about teaching and learning. There is no need to agree or disagree with what I am about to say; I am doing a middle of the night brain dump based upon time to reflect upon why I am at BSU and why I chose to do the work that I do.

I believe that:

1. What matters above all else on a university campus is the relationship between faculty/staff and student. Everything else is secondary.

Therefore, every discussion, every decision, every choice we make should address this question: How does this affect students?

Yes, we must attend to the needs of our community and our region and report out on a myriad of expectations that are put upon us by others. Yes, we are impacted by many things outside of our control; we live in a global society. Still, the relationship between students and each of us who are employed by those students to mentor, guide, and advocate for them and their future comes before everything else.

This is core to our being a university.

2. We must put learning at the center of everything we do and realize that every interaction teaches; not just those interactions that occur within the walls of a classroom.

We are a university; a place of learning. One hundred percent of the time. No exceptions. If that is true, then every interaction teaches. If every interaction teaches, then we are all teachers. Therefore, everyone we hire is a teacher, and it doesn’t matter where you work on campus or what your title is. What matters more is HOW you work on campus and HOW you interact with students.

Shouldn’t this inform every hiring decision we make? Every performance review? Every expectation we hold for ourselves and others?

3. Students should be included in ALL aspects of the teaching and learning process in partnership with faculty, and students are obligated to engage in that process.

Democratic processes don’t stop at the door of shared governance. We can’t put into place processes and procedures to democratize campus decision making for faculty and staff while remaining strangely silent about democratizing the classroom. Isn’t that the epitome of hypocrisy?

How can someone walk into a classroom and impose a course syllabus upon students defining what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, and how that learning is to be assessed, then walk out of the classroom and insist that they must be included in decisions about what is expected at work, what their work day should look like, and how they should be evaluated for that work?

Isn’t that hypocritical?

Are democratic principles to be applied only to those who are in positions of privilege?

If that is true, and if that is what happens at BSU, and if I am expected to let that continue to happen here because that is my job…then I’m not here to do my job.

James Mursell pointed out 40 years ago:

If the schools of a democratic society do not exist for and work for the support and extension of democracy, then they are either socially useless or socially dangerous. At the best they will educate people who will go their way and earn their living indifferent to the obligations of citizenship in particular and of the democratic way of life in general. . . . But quite likely they will educate people to be enemies of democracy—people who will fall prey to demagogues, and who back movements and rally round leaders hostile to the democratic way of life. Such schools are either futile or subversive. They have no legitimate reason for existence.

To read more about what it means to democratize a classroom, you may wish to review the following as a start…and then think about how to incorporate democratic principles into your classroom: