Monday, January 29, 2007

Words from Teachers

Recently, I went to a short story lecture led by Gunter David, a gentlemen and a writer with insight into literature and life. While discussing character development, he made a comment: People don't change. They may change their behavior, but they stay the same.

This echoed my grandfather's words to me the summer before I started college. He said, "You can't change people, but must accept them as they are." This has helped me a lot in life, especially when I was single and faced a lot of pressure to get married. My mom rolled her eyes and said I was "picky." Well, I was picky because I knew I couldn't change whoever I married. I would have to accept them as they were.

I heard a funny saying once: Men marry women hoping they won't change, and women marry men hoping they will change. So, it's about expectations. I didn't expect anyone to change, but have found we have. It's only natural that we start adopting traits of our partners -- he's become more calmer, while I've become more outspoken.

To take my grandfather's advice and couple it with Mr. David's advice, it makes sense. We are who we are and always will be. Yet, we've changed our behavior to work better together.

Another favorite quote:
Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others.
- Jacob M. Braude, author


Last night, I saw a Hallmark commerical about a woman visiting her former professor and telling how important he had been to her. People always talk about the "one" teacher that was so important to them, and I could pick out a few teachers I liked. I didn't find my important teacher until my first graduate class at Penn State in 1999.

Dr. S had experience in hospital administration and really enjoyed teaching. The dynamics among the students in our class was strong - everyone looked forward to being there and enthusiastically participated. He started the class by putting up silly slides for a game - for example, a picture of a computer had a tissue box and stuffy nose (answer: Computer virus). He had one guy keep score and at the end of the semester, gave out a prize. Yes, I won. I got a small Penn State photo frame.

The first day, he held up a picture of a waterfall. He said to visualize this waterfall cascading and how everything has a cascading consequence. It can go in so many directions. He would ask, "What is in the news?" Let's say, "There was 2" of snow and a 2-hour delay at the schools" Cascading consequences are: Some parents may have to go to work and leave their kids alone for 2 hours. Some parents might go to work late. If they go to work late, they might lose 2 hours worth of pay. If there is a delay 4x in one month, they could lose 8 hours worth of pay. One day income is lost within a month due to snow. What is the impact on employer? This can go on and on.

We would do these types of analysis on various issues. We also did role playing once where I had to be a hospital administrator and he played the complaining employee. So, I had to put on a managerial hat and handle the real-life situation he was throwing at me. It was unusual for me because for about 30 seconds, I fell into character -- I started reacting as if it were real. It was a bit of high (now I see what Meryl and Gwyneth mean about characters becoming alive). I was impressed with myself for thinking fast and combatting his quick come-backs.

Anyway, there were many other things I took away from his class. He talked about office politics and corporate power plays. He illustrated Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs by giving us examples from his own experiences. We think of a teacher talking to a class, but a teacher should also listen. He always listened and was receptive to our ideas and suggestions.

I took a break in 2001 from graduate classes to have a baby and then returned later in the year. In 2003, I was chatting with classmates at lunch about Dr. S and one said, "Isn't he the one that died?" I stopped and asked more.

It turned out that Dr. S was attacked by his son, who was deemed psychotic and delusional. I found news articles and it was upsetting to read about his last moments, My sympathies go to his wife for her ordeal. He was only 63.

The impact of Dr. S's death on me is realizing how noble teaching is. Teachers have a greater influence on society than we acknowledge. The cascading consequences of what we learn in a classroom are immeasurable. As long as all of his students carry what he taught, practice it and teach it to others, he will always be alive. How powerful is that?

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