Today is World Book Day, and it’s made me reflect on a book that I found inspiring when I was a faculty member at the Coast Guard Academy.
I served on the faculty twice – the first time I taught Professional Studies (maritime navigation, and shipboard skills), and the second time I taught in the Department of Management and Economics (teaching Organizational Behavior, Leadership, Human Resources, and I had the joy of creating a course on Public Policy).
Between my two ‘tours’ serving on the faculty at the Coast Guard Academy, I read A Life in School by Jane Tompkins. I felt like it captured the experiences I had in my first days as a teacher, and elevated my thinking about my continued work.
As I recall it, the book captured the angst I had believing that I always “needed to be right” in front of my students, to have the correct answer, every time. And from reading this book, it helped shape my view that the impact of education reached far beyond the specific substance of the lessons I taught. The power of teaching – and the impact of learning – was at its most impactful when the student (or learner) learned something about themselves that expanded or changed their world view.
In my Public Policy course, my students had an assignment to “spend a day with a public manager” and write a paper to share their experiences and observations. Students spent the day with a wide variety of public servants: police officers, high school teachers, city council members, librarians, and judges. And, I had two students who were able to spend the day with then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala.
As it turned out, the two students spent the day with Secretary Shalala on a day when I was also in Washington, D.C. for other work – so, the next day, I had the pleasure of driving with them from Washington, D.C. back to Connecticut. This enabled me to hear first-hand and real time about their day.
They described their day with energy and excitement, tripping over one another to provide details. They participated in a UN teleconference on Women’s Issues which included then First Lady Hillary Clinton; they joined the Secretary in an office visit with a young child who’s meeting was made possible through the Make a Wish Foundation; they engaged privately with the Secretary who had a keen interest in their life goals, and answered their questions about policy, about leadership, about public service. In the early afternoon, the Secretary asked these 2 students to ride with her to the White House so she could spend more time with them before their day with her was over.
As we drove to Connecticut the next day, they described their day, their observations, their experiences. They said their day was life altering. I still recall the moment I heard them utter these words. They’d had a glimpse into politics, policy and the dedication and selflessness of public servants. They found it life altering.
It turned out to be more than a good homework assignment, more valuable than any questions and answers we’d covered in the classroom. And for me, A Life in School helped to give me a perspective on being impactful as a teacher. It helped me realize that education is simply powerful.
Is there a book the inspired you in some way?