In Which Our College President Muses on Classroom Teaching

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I was very excited this morning when I decided that today was the day I would complete my “blog assignment” as a “guest blogger” for Writesomewhatnot, excited because this is my very first entry on a blog.  First time for anything, anywhere.  I’m not even sure what to call it – is it “a blog entry”, or is what I’m writing the actual blog?  Is “blog” a noun or a verb?

My excitement faded a little when my mind wandered to the question of “I wonder how long people have been blogging…?”  Wikipedia says people have been using the term since the late 1990s.  Oh my.  What have I been doing for the past 15 years?  For me, blogging is one of those things that you have a vague sense about and you know is going on all around you, but you don’t take the time to focus on, telling yourself “oh, I’ll get to that someday.”  Well, someday has arrived.

This is a busy semester for me as I am once again in the classroom teaching a course in addition to serving as the college’s President.  I first had the idea to do this back in 2011 when, with one year under my belt in the President’s office, I decided it would be a good idea to experience a class at my college from the standpoint of a teacher, and I decided to  teach a philosophy course.

Teaching is not new to me.  Once I completed my doctoral program, I was lucky to land a full-time position as an assistant professor of philosophy at a small liberal arts college in Maine.  I was there for seven years and taught mostly courses that were required for the bachelor’s degree – Introduction to Philosophy, Ethics, and Logic.  I was lucky to have great teachers in graduate school, and I think that some of their skill rubbed off.  One of them, Paul Weiss, one of the greats of American philosophy in the 20th century, warned me as I was beginning that first teaching job. “ The problem with you,” he said,” is that they are going to capture you in the administration and that will keep you from doing major work in philosophy.”

I think I remember that warning to this day because it seemed so silly and improbable at the time.  But it turned out to be prophetic as gradually my career became less and less about teaching and more and more about administering.  It is sort of like putting on weight.  Little by little over the years, it just adds up, and then one day you look in the mirror and are shocked because you don’t recognize yourself.

So back in the fall of 2011 I decided to put myself back in the classroom to see if I could still be effective there.  I chose Plato’s Dialogues for my Topics class and worked all summer to get ready.  The same familiar anxiety and nervousness returned that I always felt as I prepared for a new class and that I feel every day when I face a room full of students.  I always worry about the material, and how to make it less difficult. I wonder  if students will think it is relevant and interesting.  Thinking about it now, I realize that I enjoy that anxiety.  It makes me rethink the material and keeps me looking for new ways of interpreting and understanding the big ideas of philosophy.

This fall, two years later, I’m doing it again and that same odd mix of thrill and anxiety is there again.  This time we’re reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,  a real undertaking for both students and teacher.  We are just a few days past midterm now, and I’m exhausted from the work.  I know that the instructors who are teaching full time roll their eyes when I say that, and one very real side benefit of doing this is that it reminds me how much energy they all have to give every day.  But I’m glad I’m doing it.  My students are fantastic.  Their appreciation for Hegel’s very difficult text is growing slowly and I’m wrestling with a great book again for the first time in about 25 years.

“Doing major work in philosophy” is still out there for me as unexplored territory.  But my periodic forays back into the classroom connect me in a deep and personal way with the reason I went to work at college in the first place.

Paul Young




2 thoughts on “In Which Our College President Muses on Classroom Teaching

  1. Nice post, Paul! I love that you teach while still “administering.” I wish more administrators did so. Welcome to blogging…it could be addicting.

  2. Hegel is daunting and I love seeing your students walk out of the class every week. You are clearly making people think! Thanks for the great post.

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