Friday, October 22, 2010

Reconnecting with fundamental commitments

It is four o’clock, early on a Friday morning. I just finished a lengthy conference call to Singapore - the time difference is 12 hours - and decided I need to start blogging again. What explains the long gap between August 5th, when I wrote my ‘Singapore reflections’ and now?

I have been consumed by readjusting and by teaching. Returning to Washington I faced boxes full of stuff, needing unpacking, in every venue - the home in the country where I often spend weekends, my AU Anderson Hall apartment and my office in AU’s spectacular new School of International Service Building.

But more than that, I have found myself totally consumed by my obligations as a teacher and my commitment to take them seriously. In the semester before I stepped down as Director of AU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, the challenge of smoothing the transition to new leadership consumed me - teaching took second place and this was reflected in atrocious teaching evaluations. I felt compelled to write the students in my class a personal letter of apology, scant compensation for a semester in which I provided them far less value-added than they deserved.

This semester, I vowed things would be different. I am teaching one entirely new course and one that I had not taught for more than ten years. This has required intensive course preparation, an ongoing, semester-long process. Teaching is a craft. Like any craft, it requires practice and discipline, which takes time. Putting all else aside, to make quality teaching an overriding priority has been all-consuming, but it it is paying dividends and is intensely rewarding.

I believe I had some success as a university administrator - the Center for Teaching Excellence grew more than twenty-fold during my tenure and then survived the transition to new leadership in AU’s Office of the Provost. But I never saw myself as a career academic manager. My self image was always, first of all, as a producer of new knowledge with a commitment to making that knowledge accessible. Second I saw myself as a teacher and mentor with a commitment to empower creativity, discipline and out-of-the-box thinking in my students.

Reconnecting with those fundamental commitments has been a challenge that is ongoing. But I begin to feel I am progressing and it is good.

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