Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Those who can't.... teach

One of the biggest bummers about Stanford University 'de-funding' my position as Undergraduate Research Coordinator and Director of the Honors Program in the Department of Biology (thereby leaving me jobless in the civilian realm, and releasing themselves from the obligation under US law to re-hire a deployed Reservist upon his or her return) has been that I might not see the inside of a University classroom for a while.

I love teaching, probably because I have always loved learning.

It revs me up to watch others experience an "ah-ha!" moment, when they finally "get it." I can never get enough of those moments myself.

Despite having had a deep and negative visceral response to the writing style of John Milbank as my Aquinas-loving Baptist Green Beret Chaplain friend and I were slogging through "Theology and Social Theory" over the last six months in Baghdad, it was great to be doing something educational for its own sake. Of course, I found reading "The Self as Agent" and "Persons in Relation" by the Scots philosopher John Macmurray to be much more rewarding and inspirational. (I pretty much hectored CH J into reading those with me, since I'd endured reading Milbank with him.) It had been almost thirty years since I'd sat down and read Macmurray's Gifford Lectures through from start to finish.

Besides studying Milbank and Macmurray, CH J was also teaching a college-level philosophy course on Post to nine Soldiers, under the auspices of the University of Maryland University College. He was loving it.

I looked on, longingly.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I put together a Curriculum Vitae, assembled copies of my six post-secondary transcripts from my Official Military Personnel File, a printout of my publications, (book chapters, refereed journal articles, platform presentations, and posters) and fired off a cover letter to the folks at UMUC - Europe. In my letter I asked whether UMUC-E ever taught biology courses in Kosovo, and if so, whether they could use a hand in doing so.

I folded up the stack of papers, squeezed them into a then-bulging business-size envelope, and mailed it off to the APO address I'd found online. (Mailing from one APO address to another involves no postage, so that was nice.)

Three weeks later the envelope came back to me, unopened, with a rather severe-looking stamp indicating the contents had needed to be inspected by Customs officials before being posted.


I walked over to the post office, showed them the sheaf of papers and asked whether it would be OK to mail them without filling out a Customs declaration. The civilian behind the counter looked at me as if I were batty, and said, "Of course you don't need to fill out a Customs declaration, " with rather pronounced exasperation.

Talk about mixed messages!

Perhaps two weeks after I succeeded in sending off the letter, I received an email from someone at UMUC-E (in Germany) asking whether I'd feel comfortable teaching philosophy courses.

I guess they actually looked at my transcripts and saw my philosophy degree!

I replied in the affirmative, and the very next day received another UMUC-E missive, this time congratulating me on being approved to teach any of six philosophy courses as well as any of six biology courses, all of which were listed.

Who knows whether I'll have time or whether anyone will even sign up for the courses I'm now approved to teach for them, but it felt good none the less to be welcomed into the UMUC family.

I hope I'll be able to combine my love of Soldiers with my love of teaching in a university setting. That would be great!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Kanani said...

I used to live near Stanford on Hanover Street! Can't believe things are so tight they eliminated your position! But Stanford's shortsighted loss is UMUC's gain. Congratulations on the new direction, with an entirely different and deserving student population!

Unknown said...

I, too, hope you will find yourself teaching two of your interests; philosophy and biology to the soldiers who claimed your heart some time ago. I've not been in one of your University classes, but having attended your retreats, which are teaching venues, I know that you are among the best at transmitting information!! Enjoy Fr. Tim!!!!

admajoremdeigloriam said...

UMUC recently announced they'd be offering some face to face classes here this fall. I was wondering where they find the teachers for these classes, and now I know! Good luck with your future endeavors with UMUC!

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