GUC: Students should appreciate feat teachers take on

Opinions Column: Macro to Micro

I am, more often than not, guilty of inconsistent participation in class discussions. I tend to sit quietly, sometimes with questions brewing in my mind that I do not deem worthy enough of being verbally articulated or just completely tuned out from the entire conversation, lost in my own mental meanderings. I do not doubt that most students have experienced something similar to the following: a professor will ask a question and silence will weigh itself down upon the enclosed four-walled space as no one raises their hands or speaks up. I never felt guilty when this occurred until I found myself on the other side of the room. This semester, I had the privilege and pleasure of teaching a 1-credit class to first-year students called “Exploring Philosophy,” offered as part of the First-Year Interest Group Seminar (FIGS) program. The program allows certain juniors and seniors to teach a class of their topical interest and presents an opportunity for upperclassmen to advise and mentor first-years on navigating life at Rutgers. It was the second week of September when I had my first class and met my students for the first time. I was excited until I suddenly realized that I was faced with the herculean task of gauging out comments and responses from 22 students, not all of whom seemed particularly excited about sitting in a hot and stuffy classroom. 

These past 10 weeks have cultivated within me a sincere appreciation for the tasks and roles of teachers. Teaching has always, in the past and even now, intimidated and frightened me. There is an enormous degree of responsibility embedded in the profession. The words, ideas and thoughts one shares must all be weighed heavily. They all have the power to shape and influence another’s life in unforeseeable ways. And so, I never quite saw myself fit to be in such a position of “teaching” — after all, I hope to always be a student. But these past several weeks have actively demonstrated to me that teaching, if anything, is a disguised and subtle art of learning. I count myself as having learned more than any of my students this semester. Each of their questions spurred in me further questions and each of their comments led me to further research and inquiry. I had hoped from the very beginning that if I could achieve at least one objective in my classroom, it would have been to kick start a process of questioning and investigation. Yet, it was truly the students themselves who contributed to paving my path of constant self-growth and self-realization.

I was once advised that it is not of benefit to enter a classroom with the thought of “changing” or “inspiring” or inflicting any external verb unto others. Rather, the measure of an act’s worth should be determined by the impact it has on one’s own life. While that may seem rather self-centric, it is the continuous and honest engagement with the self that one may actually derive any benefit and insight worthy to be shared with others. In contrast with my first class in which I stood in front of the room hoping to induce a process of reflection, I am now preparing for my final class, understanding that teaching others is a continuous process and state of reflection itself. The most I am capable of is engaging with my own experiences. But the acknowledgment of such a fact is what permits authenticity in the classroom, which opens the door for transformative learning. 

Students in my class are welcome to take this short reflection as my token of gratitude. Whenever possible, I try to fight the urge for passionate speeches or sentimental declarations. Those are little remembered. It is always the arduous process, the questions themselves, and the seemingly insignificant and mundane moments that end up being treasured. More than my procrastination in reading and grading papers, and preparing lesson plans, it is the discussions, and the accompanying feelings and questions they invoked that I will happily make use of and recall. And, perhaps, in classrooms where I am once again sitting on a chair and behind a desk, I will remember to more actively and with more empathy raise my hand. 

Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in philosophy. Her column, "Macro to Micro," runs on alternate Mondays.


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