Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obligatory Thanksgiving post

The fourth Thursday of November has rolled around again, and comes the day on which everyone is busy reflecting on their lives and feeling gratitude for what they there find. Obviously I've got a number of things I'm grateful for (health, relative wealth, a wonderful life-companion [and a couple of delightful furry four-legged hangers-on], a boatload of fantastic friends, and a few close family members), but I thought I'd update the ol' blog with a post concerning those aspects of my academic life for which I'm most thankful.

In no particular order, then, I'm thankful for

1. My strong students. Almost without exception the students with whom I work on a day-to-day basis are smart, hard-working, and tireless in their efforts to strengthen themselves intellectually. Having taught at schools where students' senses of entitlement often dwarf their receptiveness to new ideas, teaching at UNC Asheville is an especial joy: the majority of my students are clearly here to learn, and to learn how to learn, and they're up for being challenged. Though many (if not most) of them are frantically juggling work rosters and preschool pick-ups and and day care schedules and doctor's appointments and god knows what else, they somehow manage to find time for my class. I can't thank them enough.

2. My clever colleagues. I am surrounded by a family of dedicated, deep-thinking, and tremendously supportive scholars. Each of my colleagues has her or his own unique talents, and each plays a different role in my work with them. Some motivate me as a teacher, offering new ideas to me and challenging me to perfect the ideas I've already dreamed up. Others egg me on and support me in my research, catching my mistakes, and helping me to see my ideas from new perspectives. Still others offer moral support, friends with whom I can sit and bitch about this and that whenever inevitable frustrations get me down.

3. The appreciation I get for the work that I do. I am endlessly delighted by the fact that I get to spending my life doing something that I love doing, and something at which I'm quite good...and that I get paid to do it. Moreover, hardly a day goes by without some sort of indication that I'm doing what I ought to be doing, and that I'm doing it well. Whether it's as simple as an e-mail from a student letting me know how much she enjoyed a particular class activity or as grand as an award for excellence in teaching, I'm grateful that my efforts are noticed, as it makes it that much more pleasant to keep doing what I do.

4. The academic freedom granted me. I speak here not just of the ethereal and ill-defined "academic freedom" to which the academy is ultimately dedicated, though I'm thankful for that as well, of course, but also of the particular freedom my institution and my overseers (chairs and deans and the like) grant me that allows me to apply often nontraditional and sometimes downright revolutionary techniques in my classes. I know very well that at some schools poetry in the math classroom would be anathema, and that at just as many schools I couldn't even dream, as I am now, of moving towards a portfolio-based grading system for my courses. (Hell, at many schools my calculus students would be asked to take a standardized final exam written by a committee of the department's faculty!) I am most decidedly grateful for the freedom I'm given to pursue the methods I think are the best ones for helping my students to learn.

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