by Merry Rendahl, University of Minnesota Duluth.
You might take off your glasses and bring the object close. You might step back to get the full picture. You might walk around the other side or put it under a microscope. To see with new eyes, we can move ourselves or shift the object to get a better angle, or we can gaze through various lenses to filter what we see. This term I did both to take a new look at my teaching. Under a one-year contract, I moved myself to a new place and, through my colleagues, am beginning to see with new eyes.
This fall I began teaching at the University of Minnesota Duluth, a public four-year institution, three hours from my home in the Twin Cities. The distance, too far for a daily commute, was still close enough to drive home nearly every weekend. The long weekly drives were expectedly beautiful through the fall, with the turning leaves, bright skies, and golden fields. The change of scenery reminded me that I was approaching something new, new campus, new classes.
Arriving on campus, I was informed that the shortage of space meant I would be sharing an office with three other teachers. This turned out to be a great blessing. Teaching can sometimes be a solitary profession, and having colleagues nearby was a great gift for a newcomer in a strange place. My colleagues are smart; they are devoted pedagogues and generous humans. We regularly engage in conversations about teaching (its theories and its practicalities); about students both challenging and lovely; about writing—our shared expertise; and about families, social justice, and coffee. I have learned much from this trio.
One colleague, Brandy Hoffman, has an uncanny connection with students. Current and past students come in to talk about classes, ask her advice, update her on their latest project, or just to say hello—and she always knows their names, a talent that impresses me greatly! She really likes her students and they see an ally in her. It does me good to see how good teacher-student relations can be.
Another of my colleagues, Susan Perala-Dewey, is committed to and works actively for social justice. She also writes for herself. She has the heart of a mother and an artist, often sharing snippets of natural beauty she picked up on one of her walks. She appreciates the complexity of teaching and ably guides not only students, but also fellow teachers, through the light and the dark that can arise in education.
Our third officemate, Avesa Rockwell, is exceptionally good at establishing and communicating standards. She is firm without sacrificing friendliness. She expects excellence from her students, and they respect that and deliver. She inspires me to expect more of my students, and of myself.
These professionals showed me anew the richness and complexity of good pedagogy.
Once the leaves fell, I anticipated that my drive would seem long, and my attitude about the semester would turn similarly drab. But the drives continued to supply satisfying new vistas: intricate patterns of stark tree branches, wide open fields, and dramatic skies. Likewise, through friendship and example, my three colleagues have continually presented me with a prism which displays teaching in a full spectrum, surprisingly beautiful, even inspiring light. Because of them, I return this January with renewed anticipation—new term, new students, and new eyes to appreciate it all.
Merry Rendahl (PhD, 2010, University of Minnesota Twin Cities) is an Assistant Professor in the Writing Studies Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
To read more about the importance of collegiality, especially for new faculty and instructors: