Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Parting Shot

It’s looking as though my class this Thursday will be my last. No, not for the term, but for life.

Which raises the prospect of giving the proverbial “last lecture” in my “Writing for the Media” class.

I’m inclined to not let my students know that on Thursday I will have run a far longer course than the one they have been enrolled in.

Still, looking back over the years I’ve taught, I wonder just how many classes I’ve presided over since my earliest classroom assignment in western Kenya, not far from Barack Obama’s father’s village. I was in the first Peace Corps teaching program in Kenya back in 1965. The East African country was itself a mere two years old.

My math tells me I've been 45 years, on and off, between classroom and newsroom. I've literally taught thousands of classes.

Could it be?

I wish they kept “teaching stats” the way they do with baseball. I wonder what my lifetime “earned teaching average” was. Or my “strike outs” per times at the lectern. I can remember a few grand slams. A smattering of doubles. I may have stolen a base or two in my heyday. And, alas, I've had my slumps and my errors.

The demise of journalism in recent years and the on-line information diets of my students have kept me nimble. In today’s class, not a single student could name Oregon’s two U.S. senators. How strange it must seemed to them that I even thought the information was important for them to know.

I don’t know why I should say anything different on Thursday than I’ve been saying in recent years. The students in this class have no reason to see Thursday’s class as having any particular significance. No more than the names of Oregon’s two senators.

In truth, I won’t really be ending my teaching. I’ve learned to teach both in and out of class. That comes with being a journalist. I concluded some time ago that journalists are teachers. If anything, reader-students are more demanding than those in the classroom. That’s probably because journalists have to anticipate reader demands. They aren’t staring us in the face. There are no hands raised to be called on.

So I’ll continue to write — and hence teach.

I’ve enjoyed classroom teaching. I like the give and take. The theater. The stage. Reading faces for signs of learning or evidence of uncertainty or an opening for a laugh together. I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of my students. Amazingly, some of them are retiring themselves. In my early days, when I was teaching journalism at Berkeley, I was only four or five years older than my students. It’s hard to imagine that I had anything worthwhile to share.

Now, if anything, I’m overwhelmed by my experiences. I want to share the satisfaction of accomplishment and the lessons of mistakes. I’ve had my share of both. So will my students. They shouldn’t let either get the better of them. They should learn from them all.

And that, friends, sounds like the makings of — if not a last lecture — a parting shot.

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