The Importance of Excellent Teaching

Over the past few months research, economic development, our library, intercollegiate athletics, graduate study, quality, leadership and resources have been addressed, among a number of other topics. The center of our University, its sole purpose for being though is about teaching. Nothing there, nothing anywhere.

Teaching is our raison d’ etre.

Great teachers are found in institutions of all kinds, they are remembered for the impact they have on us.  I know you can remember one who profoundly affected you, caused you to see things differently, encouraged you to dig a bit deeper inside of yourself to find out what was there.

Sometimes even the dates and places are glued to us. I recall an occasion. It seems like yesterday. I visited a teacher in his office, and we talked about a particular design problem I was working on in his class. That was how I saw it… an act of cooperation…co-conspirators. We were confronting my ignorance about how to get something done, together. Not as my problem, but as our problem.

February of 1971 and it is clear as a bell, I left that office a different person than I went in. He talked to me about vision in design, and the idea of being able to see something that was not there, and how difficult it was, and how central to the work of being a designer. I was never the same after that and few experiences, one spiritual, one marital, one parental, have ever had that same impact on me.

It was during his office hours. I went in for advice, not teaching, but Lane Coulter understood the true meaning of being a teacher and never missed an opportunity to use it for the betterment of his students. He was always available, always wanting to help.
Generous with time and energy, emotional and intellectual.

BTW this did not turn into a life long relationship, I saw him infrequently in the next few years while an undergraduate student and never again and I don’t imagine I ever will. He was just doing his job, a craftsman. He left to teach on an Indian reservation. And I am sure he taught with energy and enthusiasm that changed other people’s lives.  That was his he gift. Remarkable. He was not an architect as I desired to be and became. He was a silversmith, and a powerfully good one, but even that was a simple vehicle for what he really was – a Teacher.

This is teaching as high art. It is always about relationships between people, and connections built around affairs of the mind. It happens in grade schools and high schools too, differently, but with the same result. People are changed profoundly by the interaction between excellent teachers, and students who they serve. That by the way is the first mark of a really good one. They are servants.

I had the occasion to visit many high schools in Southern Illinois, and  to visit with great teachers. In classrooms here on the campus I meet people who are impacted by teachers from high school and they tell me about it. There is one teacher in Carterville, I will not name her, who has come up in a number of conversations. I am not asking people about the good ones, we are talking about writing, and they are telling me about their experiences, and the experiences include this teacher. This is potent stuff and points to what educators should be.

When excellent faculty carry out research and scholarship, serve the community, work with students in clubs or organizations, or sit in their office and wait for the next one to walk through the door, they do these things because it makes them better teachers. Our university should do all it can to recognize and reward those with this high calling to guide, direct, coach, cajole, tutor, initiate, discipline and inculcate.

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