From January 15, 2004: An ‘A’ For Attitude

On the John

An ‘A’ For Attitude

Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on January 14, 2004

So here we are, back at school after dwindling away the final week and a half of break in the same old bars and basements. My excitement for returning to Bloomington is not simply because school is a change of pace from my end-of-break boredom — rather, I’m curious to see if I can appease my motivated half and work hard in required classes like L104: The Wide World of Birds.

Of course, I didn’t know I was taking a birds class until I got the syllabus. My recent academic trend has me forgetting which classes I’m taking between registering for them and taking them. When I changed my major from journalism to English last year, I found I needed to take a science, and I suppose birds seemed more interesting at the time than any of the other choices.

The idea of taking classes that have no obvious connection with my major or possible future career bothered me for a long time. I took nine years of French from sixth grade to college, and the only time I benefited from that was when I successfully ordered a muffin in a French airport. But earlier this year, I had an interesting talk with my younger brother, Mike, who told me I will never enjoy required classes as much as I enjoy stuff I actually enjoy, like writing and watching the Bears. Only when I judge classes by their own merits will I ever enjoy them.

This viewpoint has really turned my attitude around, and lately, I’ve realized I do enjoy learning just for learning’s sake. I’m beginning to round out my worldview. That tip from my brother seems to have saved my academic livelihood, though I still don’t like dealing with excessive busy work or boring teachers.

And as for all you boring teachers here at IU — what gives? An attitude adjustment about teaching would do some professors good. There is nothing more obnoxious than a professor who teaches class as if he or she is a tape recorded tour guide. “And coming up on your left is the Spanish-American war. Please feel free to press the stop button and observe.”

TO BORING IU PROFESSORS: There is no excuse for being boring. You can make any subject interesting just by being interested in it yourself and by taking an interest in your students. I took a class two years ago on how language relates to thought, and while the subject itself was fairly interesting, it was one of my favorite classes because Professor Howard Keller was funny and showed a sincere interest in the subject matter and in the students. I even remember the A.I.’s name.

I suppose some teachers are affected negatively because they are here for some reason other than teaching, such as research. This is an unfortunate byproduct of the collegiate system, but even if you are not the best teacher, you can still put forth some effort to show your students the fascinating side of whatever you are teaching.

There are plenty of wonderful professors and A.I.’s at IU, and I’m glad to have had a good lot of them. They make boring classes good, and good classes great, and many of them are willing to talk about collegiate and career questions years after you’ve shared class time. Of course, the bottom line is it is my responsibility as a student to do the work and pass the course, regardless of the subject matter or professor. Thanks to my brother, I can finally see how that’s done.

Copyright 2004, jm silverstein

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