Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Touch of Class

It was a great sadness, while I was in Iraq, not to do any teaching.  I have always loved learning, and early on in my own education discovered that one of the best ways of learning was to teach.  In Iraq, besides missing my family and so many of my friends who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings, I really felt the absence of my students and colleagues from the University where I held my day job.

I especially missed my Army ROTC Cadets: Jimmy, Ann, Ally, and Oliver.  Mike, too, though he left the program early.

When I discovered in Iraq that one of my buddies from Chaplain Basic Training who was on a Post not far from where I lived was teaching a college course in philosophy a couple of evenings each week, I was very intrigued, and a tiny bit jealous.

Well, actually, more than a tiny bit.

The University which had hired him to teach is very reputable, and not some fly-by-night diploma mill. It actually has extension courses on many US military bases around the world, as it turns out.

After finding out that CPT J was teaching philosophy (he's working on a PhD in theology at the moment, in his civilian life), I found myself wondering whether that school offered any courses in biology, in Kosovo. (By that time I knew I'd not be returning to my University position, but rather would be deployed again for another year.)

So I wrote a snail-mail letter to the European headquarters of that University and mailed off copies of my post-secondary transcripts (all six of them), as well as some other stuff which I don't quite remember now. I do recall that it turned out to be quite a sheaf of paper, but seeing as I was mailing it from one APO (Army Post Office) address to another, I didn't have to pay postage.

I'm pretty cheap, so I liked that part.

About a week later, the envelope was returned to me, with a rather severe warning that the 'package' needed a customs form, and needed to be inspected before it could be mailed.


I returned to the Post Office with a different envelope, and all the sheets of paper to be mailed, and stood in line, patiently (can you believe it?), for about twenty minutes before I finally got to speak with one of the civilian postal employees. She looked at me as if I were from Mars when I showed her my materials, and the customs form.

"Now why ever would you think you'd need a customs form to mail a *letter* from one Army Post Office to another," she clucked at me, obviously exasperated.

It had been well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit as I walked, almost a kilometer, from the office I shared with then-SFC McG to the Post Office. I'd mailed that *same* letter more than a week earlier, once, and then wound up standing in line -- part of the time outside, in the not-so-easy-bake-oven that is Baghdad -- for twenty minutes in order to mail it again, BECAUSE SOME POSTAL CLERK HAD DIRECTED ME TO DO SO.

And now this woman was giving me attitude for doing what someone else at her place of employment had directed me to do.

I say again: Sheesh.

Drawing upon inner resources I did not know I had, I remained demure, composed, and almost gracious. I thanked her for helping me with the task at hand, mailed the materials -- again, and sans customs form -- and left there to trudge back to my office, all the while hoping against hope not to parboil my innards along the way.

About two weeks later I received an email from someone at that University wanting to know whether I'd "feel comfortable" teaching philosophy. In my letter I'd asked them about whether they ever offered biology classes in Kosovo, and the University responded by asking me whether I could teach philosophy.

Clearly someone had actually looked at my transcripts, because he or she had noticed my M.A. in philosophy (which I'd not mentioned in my cover letter). Go figure.

I emailed back that it just so happened that I had been spending several months slogging through a philosophy/theology text with my buddy from Chaplain School (who was teaching philosophy for them at the time), so I'd be open to the experience.

The next day I received another email from that University congratulating me on being pre-approved (sounds like I was getting a reduced-fee credit card or something) to teach any of six philosophy courses AND any of six biology courses listed in that letter.

While I was at Summer Camp - North training for this mission (read: in September), I heard from the University representative in Kosovo that the University would list a philosophy course under my name for the Fall term.  He indicated that at least a dozen students would have to sign up in order for the course to run.

I wanted to say, "Hey!  You ran the course taught by CPT J in Iraq with only nine students!" but figured that might appear a bit nit-picky, sniveling, and ungracious.  So I said nothing.

When I arrived here in Kosovo, there were eight students signed up.  This was two weeks before the start of the term here.  I finally was able to get copies of the book(s) used for the course (I didn't even have text titles before showing up) so I could read through them prior to the alleged start date.  Having taught bioethics for several years running nigh onto a decade ago now, I was gratified to learn that my association with that course could stand me in good stead regarding the teaching of this one.

Fourteen students signed up for "Contemporary Moral Issues," as it turns out. I taught the first two classes this past week, and had a good time. It's great to be back in a college classroom! The course should be fun, especially as there are several individuals in the class who, like myself evidently, seem to like saying outrageous things just to get others all excited, upset, or angry.

Which has already happened.  Several times.

We made it through the first week without any serious injuries, but there are no guarantees with this class (as with life).

(Perhaps I should bring SPC C along to run interference.... I'll keep you posted.)

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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Robert said...

Spec C. is there to protect you so you might want to bring him along. Besides, he might be very useful for visual aids. ;-)


Diana said...

My goodness! Causing trouble around the world :-).

I'm glad to hear you'll be teaching again.

We'll have to share our respective colloquial Arabics when we're on the same continent next. I'm applying to Middlebury College's summer language program for next year, as well as for a Boren fellowship.

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