Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Time – Time to File Away Those Names?

I have mentioned several times on this blog that I would strongly urge anyone who wants to become a better teacher to keep a blog. There are always two reasons for that piece of advice.

First, I just feel that working out your thoughts on paper is very helpful in establishing what you really think and believe. Until I see it on paper, I’m never sure how I feel. Thus, I was delighted to read the following in Time magazine last week from the renowned historian David McCullough. “The loss of people writing—writing a composition, a letter or a report—is not just the loss for the record. It’s the loss of the process of working your thoughts out on paper, of having an idea that you would never had had if you weren’t (writing). And that’s a handicap People (I research) were writing letters every day. That was calisthenics for the brain.”

Second, keeping a blog gives you a chance to share your ideas with folks around the world. The Internet is a marvel in that way. I can sit here in Richmond, Virginia, and have a slight impact on education in dozens of countries. School is out for the summer in many places but, last month, this blog had nearly 1,300 page views. What struck me as most interesting was that the top 10 countries for accessing the site were: United States, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Spain, India, Israel, Iran, Ukraine, Canada, and Australia. As a wonderful example, there was an average of approximately one view per day for that entire month from the country of Iran. I am so appreciative of everyone who reads my thoughts here.

You probably have as much to say about teaching as I do, if not more. People cannot benefit from your ideas if they have no way to read them. Go blog.
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I have just finished my 40th year as a college professor. From the first day I walked into a classroom, I have always wanted to be more than a teacher. What I tell people is that I want to be a mentor to my students. I think that type of relationship with students was prevalent decades ago but has become less and less the norm in recent times. Yes, I do know that a lot of professors work closely with their brightest students but I have always felt that 100 percent of the students could benefit from having a mentor.

What is a mentor? I looked up “teacher” in an online dictionary and got “one who imparts knowledge.” Sounds cold and mechanical, doesn’t it? I envision a person standing in a large lecture hall explaining to 400 sleepy students how to split an atom as each one writes down exactly the same words in exactly the same order.

The word “mentor,” though is defined as an “experienced advisor and supporter.” I don’t have any interest in being a friend to my students but I do hope to be an advisor and supporter. I want to be a mentor.

Okay, how do you go about giving advice and support? Well, here is one way. I had 62 students in the spring semester. We worked hard. Hopefully, they learned a lot. Obviously, I tried to show them that I wanted them to learn accounting. And, I tried to help them learn as much about accounting. But, I also worked to let them know that I wanted more for them than just a knowledge of accounting. College (I believe) should be more than the imparting of content.

Usually, after each semester is over, it is easy to file away the members of a class into your memory bank and assume they are no longer your responsibility. I think that is more of a teacher attitude rather than a mentor attitude. After the last day of class, I write one final email to say “If I can ever be of assistance, please let me know.”

But, I don’t want to leave it at that. So, last week, I sent the following email to each of those 62 students. I won’t have any of them in class again but I wanted to continue to influence them a little bit. Interestingly, a number of them wrote back to chat about books they were reading and recommend movies that I should see. I think that’s why I decided to become a college professor.


To: Students from the Spring Semester

Hope your summer is off to a great start. As with the rest of the world, it has been terribly hot here in Richmond but we all hang out with the air conditioning and manage to survive.

Now that your summer vacation is about 1/3 over, I wanted to take a moment to urge you to do stuff over the summer that will make you smarter. You are at a stage in your life when your mind is fast developing so make the most of that. You ought to make it a goal to come back to school in the fall smarter than when you left in as many ways as you can. You are forming a foundation for the rest of your life. Build that foundation well.

Go to museums, go to plays, go to art galleries, take in an opera. You never know when you’ll discover something unexpectedly wonderful.

And, think about business. I’m always interested that students want to go into the wars of business and high finance (and those really can be wars) but aren’t inclined to do any real work to get ready for the battle. Here’s a story I read today about Warren Buffett and his education.

“Buffett was very interested in learning about business and its workings. In his graduate years, he studied under Benjamin Graham who is considered the father of Value Investing. Under Benjamin Graham’s training Warren Buffett learned value investing. It is said that Benjamin Graham was so perfect in value investing that he never used to give A grades to his students as he was never satisfied with their answers. But when Buffett joined him as a student, he was forced to give him A grades again and again. Buffett learned to master the art of reading and analyzing financial statements of companies. He could analyze Balance Sheets and Income Statements faster than anybody else in his college. One day somebody asked Buffett about the secret of his success. He said ‘when everybody was else was reading Playboy, I was reading the balance sheets of companies.’ Even today his major time is invested in reading financial statements of companies around the world.”


So, read a lot. Read the Wall Street Journal every day and just marvel at what goes on in the world of business and high finance. But, don’t just stick to newspapers. There are lots of things to be learned out there in the real world. I am currently reading “The White Lioness,” a mystery that is set in South Africa and Sweden (and unlikely duo) and also reading “Too Big To Fail,” and I suppose everyone knows what that is about. Good stuff—expands the brain cells.

Lastly, I went to a great movie yesterday. It was sadly brutal at times but the movie was just crafted brilliantly. Marvelous. I would highly recommend it. It was called “Incendies” and it was in French with English subtitles.

Okay, you are out of my class and you can obviously ignore me. I will just repeat what I have probably told you before: the more you learn, the more the world opens up to you. And, that’s where you start creating a life for yourself that can make a difference.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and don’t get too baked out.



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