Professors can’t fulfill calling without students

Dr. James Tallmon

Dr. James Tallmon

I had a great conversation with a dozen of my colleagues, representing many disciplines across campus, last Friday. I’d like to convey to you, dear readers, the gist of what we discussed. I suspect I speak for more professors than those 12.

We made teaching our vocation for noble reasons: we wished to earn a living talking about ideas, we wished to work closely with other people, honing their intellectual skills, equipping them for success in their career as human beings, and we wished to instill in them a love of learning. We fill our offices with books because we wish to pass on to you the riches they contain. There are moments, but by and large, these expectations for a life of service to truth, beauty and goodness are unfulfilled.

Many an office hour is spent twiddling one’s thumbs, waiting, hoping for students to stop by and ask for help on an assignment, or an advisee looking for a true mentor, or for one stumped by a difficult and engaging problem. Eventually, one feels obliged to spend time more productively; twiddling is not highly regarded! And so one serves on yet another committee or begins another research project. But this is more occupational than vocational. It has more to do with earning one’s keep than fulfilling one’s calling.

We realize you’re busy, dear student, but please help us feel as though we’re drawing our pay with some honor. Drop by, and we’ll be delighted to visit with you, “noodle” about an idea you’re working out or to discuss a favorite work over a cup of coffee. We anticipate your visit. We can’t invest ourselves in you if you don’t stop by and make an occasional withdrawal.

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