As I get older, I am spending more time surfing the Internet of memory. I’m finding it more and more imperative (and enjoyable) to find out what it was that changed the me of then into the me of now, and how. Seriously.
I’ve been trying to recall the specifics of my transition from student to teacher. It doesn’t to think about a transition from learner to teacher. If you think about it for a minute, you’ll see how silly that notion would be. Yet we have the notion that we do, those of us who teach, outgrow student-hood somehow in the process of truly becoming teachers. Thank you for playing, but WRONG!
We have to have a framework for thinking about things, though, and what I’m really thinking about is how, when and why my attitude toward learning changed. Because it did. That’s not when I went from student (or learner) to teacher. It’s when learning ceased to be a joy and became an imposition for me.
The prelude to this took place in the summer of 1973. I was between junior and senior years of high school, and I had been selected to attend a statewide JETS camp at the University of Colorado in Boulder, along with one of my classmates. JETS stood for Junior Engineering, Technology and Science camp. My classmate and I were selected on the basis of our grades, not on the basis of our interesting in E, T and S. In retrospect it’s a pretty dumb way to pick kids to attend a camp that is supposed to expose them to careers in engineering and the sciences. Nobody bothers to try to find out if the kid selected to go has the least bloody interest in these things.
I didn’t, except that I was a science fiction fan, but the idea of four days and three nights in Boulder was enough to sell me on the deal regardless.
I was dazzled by the experience. My older brother had gone to CU, so I was predisposed to be dazzled. Even though, they pulled out all the stops on this one, and we got a wide-ranging but mostly misleading exposure to both the aforementioned careers and college life.
When I went home, I wanted to go to CU and study engineering. So, it worked on me. The one tangible thing we took away was a plastic case, sort of like a flattened ring binder with the rings gone. On the left side of the open binder there was a slot for loose papers. Up at the top of the right side was a horizontal slit that went all the way across. The idea was that you could slide the backing for an 8 ½ x 11” pad of paper down it, and the pad would be held in place.
It had a University of Colorado seal on the front cover, and a dedication line at the bottom of left-hand side of the open binder. It said something about “presented to __________________ in recognition of his coming to this camp.” The letters were in gold leaf, and my name had been written into the blank in gold leaf.
Forty-six years later, I still have the left side of the binder. The seal on the cover is as good as new. The words of the dedication/inscription/what-have-you are pretty much illegible, so much ink has flaked off. But it’s still a handy little unit to carry a few loose papers in when you’d rather not fold them. It is also the item I have had longest in this life.
As I think about it, I realize that I’ve kept it as a reminder of how, starting that next year as a freshman engineering major at CU, I slowly had my joy of learning partially stifled, and more importantly I had the notion of learning as a chore or an imposition first cross my mind. Maybe I kept it as a reminder that a nexus you don’t perceive at the time is a nexus nevertheless, and if you do only figure it out later you might find it’s caused all kinds of compications. As for me, I lost something then that it’s taken me years to begin to retrieve.