Field of Science

Moments of educational gratification

There are times when I wonder why I am in the business of education. These mostly occur when dealing with the bureaucracy, including the silly and wasteful efforts of my employer to make certain that I am not unethical and am working my full 37.5 hrs a week, the utterly absurd curricular process, and most people from our college of education. I certainly am not in this business for the money because even after 3 decades and considerable academic success my salary is laughably low. A member of our foundation board asked if my salary was under $100K. I told him you could almost hire a new faculty member with the difference, and at least he was shocked.

What keeps me going are those occasions when you have one of those breakthrough moments. One of those times that you finally realize something really important or fascinatingly interesting about your research or when you finally see students catch the spark and get really interested in the subject or gain some fundamentally new insight.

Yesterday in a very mundane laboratory on cereal grains was one of those times. The planets must have been in a very special alignment because several students figured out some very fundamental concepts about some very common things. Mostly these labs are about connecting the commonplace to the science of botany. Realizing that there is perhaps a scientific and botanical basis for many of the things people do. And it is these little moments when you know you are actually succeeding as a teacher, as an educator, as a mentor, that keep me going.

Of course, students can bring you down quickly. People who think 30 is ancient cannot even begin to understand what you can know and remember when twice that age, especially when those additional 30 years have been spent as a professional student. So they will have to figure out why Quaker puffed oats were "the cereal that's shot from guns." That marketing phrase was introduced in 1904, way before my time, but line was still being used in ads when I was a kid. This will be real ancient history to people who have never used a typewriter, a rotary dial telephone, or gotten up to change a TV channel. Each of these moments gives me another gray hair.

Oh, you're curious about puffed rice and guns. Well, look it up. Here's a hint. The cereal was introduced at the World's Fair.

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