A "Devout Pedagogue" Speaks

I find Professor Cowden's remarks regarding PSSIs in the November 13 Inside Chico State doubly upsetting—first, in that, despite their polite tone, they demonstrate the very sort of squabbling over funds merit awards cannot help but engender, and, second, in that any argument over how PSSIs should be allotted represents tacit acceptance of the PSSI system, a system that should be fought at every turn.

I am what Professor Cowden would call "a devout pedagogue." In simpler English, I am a teacher. I am not made a more inspired teacher by my research; with me, it works the other way around. Nearly everything I write springs from student needs—whether it be handbooks on how to teach, grammar study cards, plays for young people, aids in discussing the arts. Even the music reviews I pump out for The News & Review are essentially educational—attempts to keep music and the wonderful language it speaks alive in an area where arts education is nearly dead.

I love teaching; I come from a family of accomplished teachers and suspect my addiction to teaching is genetic. I have taught or worked at every level—from kindergarten to graduate school, enjoying all of it and learning a great deal as I went along. In my twenty-seven years at Chico, I have taught nearly forty different courses, and I appreciate the fact that the Chico State of old allowed me to advance to full professorship primarily on the basis of good teaching. Although I tell people I am broad but not deep, all this teaching has indeed deepened me. I have much more to write now than I did twenty years ago.

Teaching at Chico is incredibly hard work. In general, Chico State students are not aggressive learners. Like most students at all but the most competitive universities, they are not driven by a love of learning to gobble down, explore and internalize the information given them. This does not at all make them bad people. Most of them are wonderful people, but they need good teaching, and, by and large, they get it here.

To teach such students, one needs ways of getting them to internalize and chew over the material at hand—despite their never having learned how to do so (shame on the school system!). I teach English and Humanities and classes filled with future teachers. I have every one of my frequently well over a hundred students do daily homework—homework designed to make them read the material, to engage them, to lead them to what is exciting about a work, to help them past the impediments to understanding whatever that work is. This means they do everything from brief poem or prose analyses, to reports on outside readings, to character diagrams, to imitating poems, to writing small plays—whatever strikes me as the most student-engaging activity I can imagine.

I read everything they write. I also read their papers and larger projects with great care. Many of my students are General Studies students and write poorly. Recently I spent a half hour a paper on a first set of papers from a General Studies course, edited and made extensive suggestions on each one and returned each for re-writing. The students, if they are like former students, will appreciate the help and write a lot better in future classes (yours included!) as a result.

I work hard, and I don't mind it. I work most of the time between eight in the morning and ten-thirty at night. I bolt my lunch at my desk; I work a good part of most weekends. I work about sixty-five hours a week—the equivalent of more than sixty forty-hour work weeks a year, as I figure it. When I get overwhelmed, I disappear into the mountains for a couple of days and grade papers, or I pay people I respect to help me. Last year I spent roughly $1000 this way; I wouldn't mind being reimbursed—by a respectable cost-of-living pay raise, that is.

I look at those around me not as competitors, but as colleagues in this difficult business—whatever their approach to it. Most of them seem to me to be working terribly hard for a system that not only doesn't appreciate them, but constantly reminds them of its distrust of their professional judgments, of their failures to follow this or that fad, of their inabilities to be quite as good as the sainted luminaries among us. My colleagues are teaching more courses, giving more papers, and publishing more articles than most people I know from comparable universities across the country. Their schedules may not be as extreme as mine, but that's my fault, not theirs. They certainly do not deserve to be made what PSSIs are making them.

I find it demeaning and cynical that anyone would go along with a system that takes a lot of money from the less well paid among us and gives a portion of it back to the better paid. I weep for this university and what it has become.

The only answer to PSSI's is to take them out back and shoot them, but this will never happen. Too many among us are totally cynical about the University as a whole; too many have been bludgeoned into self-centeredness and the ego-tripping that goes along with it; too many younger faculty with low salaries and families to support see no choice but to play the game the state has laid upon them.

All the discussion in the world about how to distribute these monies will not undo the terrible evil they are inflicting upon us.

Ernst Schoen-Rene, English, former CSU, Chico's Outstanding Teacher

Commentary invites thoughtful comments on matters of interest and concern to the larger university community. Comments should focus on issues. To be considered, a piece should further the productive discussion of a topic and be in the range of 500 words. The editor reserves the right to edit for space.

Achievments| Announcements| Calendar| Commentary| Information Technology Update| Exhibitions| Sponsored Projects| Other Stories| Credits| Archives| Front Page| Publications Home Page