I have taught in higher education for 14 years at both universities and community colleges. I have been cloistered in that proverbial ivory tower, surrounded by true scholars and academics.
I have felt like an imposter for many of those years.
Not because I’m not qualified. Not because I can’t teach with the best of them. Not because I lack intellect or ambition.
I feel like an imposter because I don’t see the world the way academics and scholars do. I don’t function the way academics and scholars do. Yes, I value intellect and reasoning. Yes, I believe in education’s power to transform and improve lives. Yes, yes, yes.
But here’s what I don’t value and believe in: Over-intellectualizing and over-academizing subjects to the point all of the life has been beaten out of them. All of the subjects and disciplines in a college or university fuel a part of humanity’s achievements and advancements. Each and every one of them has passion and insight involved in them. Yet I’ve come to see and realize that many of my fellow teachers simply don’t know how to teach the subjects in ways that show the subject’s heartbeat or pulse. Through too many activities and busy-work assignments and assessments, they actually end up stripping the joy and life and beauty out of a subject.
Of course, students should expect assignments and activities and assessments. Absolutely. I’m not talking about watering down the work or the subject matter, but what I am talking is giving students the chance to work with and see how interesting and vital the subject they’re studying really is, regardless of the level of the class. And that comes directly from the teacher and is solely in the teacher’s hands.
When I have students tell me they love my class (which are developmental reading classes, mind you) because of how I teach what I teach, and that they feel like they’ve really learned something valuable about the world and themselves, I know what’s unsaid, or what will be said soon after the praise: They don’t get that in their other classes.
So that’s what I mean (mostly) when I say with pride that I am not an academic. I am a human being who happens to teach in higher education, and who strongly believes in teaching students how to be better human beings themselves through what I have them read and do for class. My goal is to make what I do as alive and vital for my students as it is for me. That depends solely on how I teach. That is solely in my hands.
I can’t intellectualize or academize that away. I’m a humanist, not an academic.