Alex Allison is a high school English and journalism teacher who wishes she could instead be labeled professionally as an English and journalism savant. Originally a farm girl from Texas, adventure drew her west—first to Pepperdine University in California, where she earned her degree in creative writing and her teaching credential, and then to China and northern Iraq, where she taught, wrote, and felt gobsmacked, in the best way possible, by the East.
College is a space where students can de-adult their worlds.
They simply seem no longer necessary for survival. Once students leave home to step onto new campuses and into new freedoms, they can navigate this new world without contacting mom, dad, or professor except on the rarest occasion.
And many choose this path; after all, age does not necessarily indicate wisdom or kindness or goodness, and for some of us, the actions of the adults in our pre-college lives only propelled our desires to leave home. Sometimes it’s easier and happier if the only adult in our world is the recently-turned-18 freshman-next-dorm.
I realized, however, almost too late that professors on campus can help us find ourselves, our passions, and our way in places we might not have otherwise been looking.
Below, find three ways to invest in professors — and allow them to invest in you — whilst in college:
1. Select courses based on the professor, rather than the subject matter
The subject matter may not seem interesting, but the interesting and interested professor who teaches the subject matter can make the most obscure or unintelligible information practical, relevant, and engaging.
Classes didn’t change my life — the people who taught the classes did. A truly good teacher, one that perplexes and cares and questions (and doesn’t always answer those questions), is as rare as a bit of perfectly apt and perfectly timed advice.
I was lucky; I discovered one such professor in my second semester of college. And then I took every class he offered in the subsequent three years. He directed the Great Books Colloquium—a four-semester course on the ideas in philosophy and literature that have influenced Western thought for thousands of years. This professor taught me about existentialism, and humanism, and the difference between Augustine and Aquinas, and how to think.
2. Ask professors what they research, and why
Each professor pursues a specific area of research that correlates with his or her doctoral degree. I did not realize this — perhaps I was too absorbed in myself to care — until my senior year in university.
Once I began asking questions, though…tiptoeing to the professor’s podium while my classmates fled for daylight, I discovered that each professor possessed a strange and oddly specific area of intrigue — a topic on which he or she truly was the expert.
My Native American literature professor, for example, researched the writings of naturalist writers who wrote in urban settings. My education professor researched the efficacy of student teaching in teacher preparation programs. My English professor researched the implicit themes of faith and spirituality in fairytales.
Each of these adults were giddy about their subject matter: intelligent, highly educated, interminably credentialed, and giddy. They loved what they did and what they studied, and with me they shared that passion so I might experience even the realization that that sort of passion for learning very much exists — and that I might find it in myself, in my own subject, too.
3. Continue conversing even after the graduation ceremony
We don’t get to choose our parents, and the older adults to whom we’re not related often fill the role of accountant or doctor or boss in our post-college lives; they may not be the helpers and mentors we look for. If, however, we discover a professor to whom we can become mentee or friend, we may likewise receive the unexpected relief that comes from wise, funny, smart people (whose life experience eclipse our own) speaking into our lives.
I graduated college almost a year ago, and in the past two weeks I’ve shared conversation and Thai food with one professor, attended a high school track meet with another’s family, and spoken to the class of a third to supplement her current unit.
Through these shared relationships that began in the classroom and continue in the living room or the restaurant down the road, I now dwell in the security, wisdom, and adventure that investing in professors provides.
My hope is that incoming students will do the same and feel the same — knowing that, no matter their experiences with adults before, our worlds can become a little bit bigger, and a little bit better, if we invite our professors to share them.