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wateriswideconroyPat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors.   The Great Santini, the Lords of Discipline, Beach Music, Prince of Tides and My Losing Season have all made their impact on my life.   Yet, it is his first novel, The Water is Wide, that I often find myself rereading as I travel through my academic life.   Now the Water is Wide is largely an autobiographical recollection on Conroy’s teaching experiences as a young man on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina.  I recently came across the following lines, which struck home:

My pre-Yamacraw theory of teaching held several sacred tenets, among these being that the teacher must always maintain an air of insanity, or of eccentricity out of control, if he is to catch and hold the attention of his students. The teacher must always be on the attack, looking for new ideas, changing worn out tactics, and never, ever falling into patterns that lead to student ennui.

This past semester has been one of my best teaching semesters – ever.   Even though I am a full time administrator, I believe I have improved my teaching by staying focused on the important things – the lessons that will endure long after the class is over.   Solving large-scale, complex problems is the ‘name of the game’ in my class.   I begin by showing my students that their repertoire up to this point is not ready to deal with the complexities of organizational problem solving.   All semester, I challenge, we practice, I challenge again.   We learn – together.

Conroy writes more about teaching in his other novels.   Following are some more thoughts from Conroy that come from his time at the Citadel in the Lords of Discipline:

Great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart. A great teacher is my adversary, my conqueror, commissioned to chastise me. He leaves me tame and grateful for the new language he has purloined from other kings whose granaries are filled and whose libraries are famous. He tells me that teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. Bad teachers do not touch me; the great ones never leave me. They ride with me during all my days, and I pass on to others what they have imparted to me. I exchange their handy gifts with strangers on trains, and I pretend the gifts are mine. I steal from the great teachers. And the truly wonderful thing about them is they would applaud my theft, laugh at the thought of it, realizing they had taught me their larcenous skills well.

Here Conroy extends his theory to encourage us to learn from our past teachers.   He asks us to recall the times when great teachers moved us – made a difference.   To those in academia, don’t ever stop learning.   Don’t be afraid to be bold in the classroom.   Make your classroom memorable!   Make it spirited!  Make it yours!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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