Why I Teach: An e-mail exchange

I rarely post items on pedagogy because I think professors should refrain from disseminating their pedagogical tactics. In a freer academic environment than the oppressive one currently obtaining in the United States, such would be welcomed but I would prefer we err on the side of modesty and not attempt to create templates of pedagogy which has over the decades educated little and resolved virtually nothing in the area of reform and critical thinking. However, due to this exchange, I can’t resist because of the rewarding comments and my own growth as a university professor.

The class is United States History 104: 1877 to Vietnam. I asked the student’s permission prior to a midterm examination if I could move  the scholar to a different seat. I was told reluctantly it was acceptable and I repeated the request for permission even after the switch and was again told reluctantly there was consent. I wanted to empower the student. I wanted to give this student the sense of control that is all too lacking in pedagogy.

http://www.nuigalway.ie/microbiology/cpoblab/gamidi/images/Email%20Icon.jpg

Also email is part of the pedagogical process. Note how the student evolved from frustration to acceptance to spirited glee. I did not want to share the grade prior to returning the exams but I did so anyway due to the request. I did not want the person to return to the original location but gave the person the option which was then declined. The comments about me I will certainly treasure but they were unsolicited but an affirmation of my evolving from a strict to a more tolerant professor: not in the realm of ideas which I have always encouraged pluralism but in terms of logistics, class managment and the like.

“Rutherford B. Hayes” was the nineteenth president of the United States whose election as a Republican in 1876 was as fraudulent as Mr Bush’s in 2000. I gave a talk a few years ago at Ohio Wesleyan  University in Delaware, Ohio and went to his birthplace on East William Street: a plaque on a street next to a filling station is what remains.

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From: Rutherford B Hayes [mailto: rbh@mymail.sxu.edu]

Sent: Fri 10/9/2009 3:58 PM

To: Kirstein, Peter N.

Subject: Seat Change

Sorry, at first I thought you were joking about me changing my seat. You do joke a great deal, which doesn’t bother me, not in the least. But then I realized that you were serious. It’s kind of odd to just pick me out of nowhere to change my seat. I was kind of wondering why exactly you need me to do such a thing. I was pretty content where I was sitting, which is why I sat there. Anyway, I think, with all due respect, I deserve a reason for my change of seat. I agreed to change my seat, but then I realized that I pay 23,000 a year to attend school there and I should be treated like an adult. If there is good reason, then no problem. I consider myself a good student, and I like to surround myself with other intelligent individuals. I enjoy my seat, I enjoy the people near me, and I’ve been there half a semester. I’m not trying to cause problems and I’m normally not confrontational, but if this class has taught me anything it’s that I should stand up for myself when I’m feeling short changed.

Thank you for hearing me out,

I look forward to hearing you out as well,

Rutherford B. Hayes

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From: Kirstein, Peter N.

Sent: Fri 10/9/2009 4:20 PM

To: Rutherford B. Hayes

Subject: RE: Seat Change

Hey RBH

Thanks for giving me permission to “move” you. Some folks would order it. The reason is simple: to reduce talking during class that I have found increasingly distracting. As you know, there were previous times or a time that I asked the person next to you not to talk during class. I thought gee-instead of making a scene–just ask the one who comes in last today, which was you, if you would do it. So it’s a class management issue but if YOU are really upset about this, you may sit wherever you want if you would not talk during class–even if being lively and friendly and tell folks who do talk to you about our deal. I do think the change of venue is good but I want folks to feel empowered and I know you want ME to feel comfortable and not distracted during class so I can meet the needs of the other folks.

Great job on exam today!! You will be very pleased I think.

Peter

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From: Rutherford B. Hayes [mailto: rbh@mymail.sxu.edu]

Sent: Fri 10/9/2009 4:33 PM

To: Kirstein, Peter N.

Subject: Re: Seat Change

Ok, sounds good! I don’t mind changing my seat. Sorry for my disruptive area, it’s usually disruptive because we enjoy your class so much, no B.S. just being honest. When you get into class we want to but some of us participate during class too much, we understand that you want everyone to get there chance as well. Some of us would like more of an opportunity to participate, that is why we talk to each other rather than in class. We just have so much to say and you’re very inspiring.

I did really well on the exam? No way I worked my butt off for this test! I thought I did badly. I know you probably wouldn’t give out grades early but WHAT DID I GET WHAT DID I GET? You have the opportunity to make my weekend Sir. J/K if you can’t tell me that’s cool, but I’d love to know. I’m not a History buff, but you make me get into history, you make me pissed off, and you make me want to change the world to be completely honest!

Thank for being AWESOME

Rutherford B. Hayes

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From: Kirstein, Peter N.

Sent: Fri 10/9/2009 4:49 PM

To: Rutherford B. Hayes

Subject: RE: Seat Change

It’s THEIR chance not there chance. Oh I luv it.

On the exam but shhhhhh! you got an A- – on the objective questions and A/A- on the essay and A/A- on the exam. Your essay was chock full of goodies. You might avoid the outline approach and write paragraphs to practice your writing.

Feel free to participate always. Yes sometimes “Emanuel” beats me to the punch before I can recognise another student but don’t hold back. Just let me see you before I call but holding one’s hand up while it would solve everything does sound a little too controlling.

Best,

Peter

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From: Rutherford B. Hayes [mailto: rbh@mymail.sxu.edu]

Sent: Fri 10/9/2009 4:56 PM

To: Kirstein, Peter N.

Subject: Re: Seat Change

Sorry I rarely proofread emails! Thank you for telling me! hahaha I told my mom that I may have failed it… I was terrified.

Thank you so much and I’ll try to make myself more noticeable during class!

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