Why I teach

Glen Robinson

The first inkling I had that I might be interested in teaching came when I was studying for my master’s degree. I got the opportunity to be what is called a “graduate assistant,” which meant you taught the entry-level classes that regular professors would rather not teach. I was given one class of about 30 students in business communication. I remember that I spent two weeks preparing the first hour-and-a-half-long lecture, and I ended up finishing my lecture in 20 minutes. I was so frightened that first day that I waited out in the hallway until everyone arrived, then came in, looked at my notes on the desk, then at the white board until I summed up the courage to look them in the eyes.

But there was something about being up front in a classroom that lit a spark inside me. I loved having a bit of information that a student might consider valuable, and I especially loved seeing that lightbulb coming on in a student’s mind, when you knew they finally “got it.” I was hooked.

But things worked out that when I finished my master’s, I ended up going to Pacific Press as a book and magazine editor. I had the opportunity several times as an editor to lead out in writer’s workshops, and that kept my love for teaching alive. And I realized something else while I was an editor. More and more, I saw the same names coming across my desk with the same stale ideas for books and magazine articles. And I realized that we needed fresh minds in order to bring those fresh ideas into Christian publishing.

I got my chance to teach when Southwestern hired me to join the communication department in 1998. The first year I taught, it was much like those opening days teaching in grad school. Each night, I would bring home prep work for my classes. And each day I considered myself fortunate to have a job where I could be in front of bright, young minds, horribly afraid that at any moment they would discover that I didn’t know anything and unveil me as the fraud that I felt I was.

That’s one of the secrets of being a professor, after all. We really don’t know all that much. When I finished my classes and my qualifying exam in my doctoral program, and I told my mentor (a brilliant man I still highly respect), “I still don’t feel like I know anything,” he raised his finger to his lips and said, “Shh. That’s the secret.”

If there were any fantasy I could have about teaching, it would be this: I would love to teach in a school where teachers didn’t have to give out grades. Students would come to class because they were eager to learn and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. We would spend class period in deep discussion about any subject that interested them, and we would all come away, exhausted but at the same time, mentally invigorated.

The closest I come to this is my time each week that I spend with the on-campus Creative Writing Club, the Rough Writers. I came to Southwestern to train Christian writers. And students who come to the Rough Writers are there, not for a grade, but simply because they want to be there. It’s a lot of fun, but we also learn a lot. Together.

School isn’t perfect. There will always be boring teachers, and students who do just the absolute minimum to get by. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a lot more fun when we all realize what the possibilities are.

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