By Jenny Ortiz
Martial arts film star Bruce Lee has taught me that to be a good teacher, I have to remain a student. The best place to continue learning has been in the classes I teach.
No matter how many times I teach a short story, and no matter on which campus, to be successful I have to learn from my students. Their perspectives have made me a better faculty member. They’ve shown me a multitude of ways to analyze the text, as well as the world around me.
When I taught, “Adams” by George Saunders to a group of veterans at LaGuardia Community College, I knew that it was an allegory for the war in Iraq, but given their personal experiences in the war, they were able to show me places in the text that reveal the soldier’s perspective…a perspective that as a civilian I’m not privy to. When I gave the same story to my St. John’s University students, they were quick to pick up on the unreliability of the narrator and, therefore, our discussion was on effective narration, not war stories.
By opening myself up to lessons from my students, I’ve been able to redefine concepts that I’ve studied for years.
No matter which campus I’m on or what course I’m teaching, I go in with the idea that my students will teach me something. I know, I know, I’m supposed to teach them, and I do, but by learning from them, I can evolve in my techniques and analysis. By never assuming I know everything, we all can gain more from the world around us in and out of our classrooms.
In order to nurture our students, we have to remain open to their thoughts. Granted, not every idea is original, but are we not hearing those ideas in a new way?
I overhear many professors complain that their students are unoriginal thinkers, but that hasn’t been my experience. Perhaps I’m lucky or maybe it’s because I don’t give the same lecture over and over and over. I give them the elements needed for to understand the concept of critical thinking, but I also following their trains of thought. This way, can create a whole new understanding of the topic.
Bruce Lee was my first real teacher; he taught me that I needed to be like water. As someone who jumps from one campus to the next, sometimes three in one day, I must be like water. My lecture must focus on fluidity and ease. If I don’t, I’m not teaching, I’m reciting. At the end of every semester I leave with more knowledge than I had.
Are we, the teachers, the faculty, masters of the classroom, or are we students of the universe? Can we be both?
Jenny Ortiz is a serious 23 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically, chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun). When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream. If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter.com/jnylynn.