Page 57 - foxtalk issue 2

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57
Winter 2011
Making an impression
Dr. Keith Strudler talks about his first job, teaching
and the importance of learning to be adaptable
M
y f irst job out of college
was as a junior high
school English teacher. I was 21 and looked
about 12. In fact, when I went down to the
gym, the basketball coach asked me if I was
there to try out for the team.
Given that, the school principal wanted me to establish au-
thority from the beginning, lest any of these pesky 7th graders
turn my classroom into something out of Lord of the Flies. She
didn’t want these kids to feed off my vast
inexperience in anything besides watch-
ing reruns of Magnum PI. And thus,
my f irst step towards relative adulthood
was to insure my students referred to me
by the authoritative title “Mr. Strudler,”
which thus far I had considered my fa-
ther’s name.
So on day one of my new life, I walked
in front of a room full of eager middle
schoolers and sternly announced, “Hello
class, my name is Keith.” As they began
to giggle, I realized that three minutes
into class, the battle was lost.
What’s the point? It’s that not every-
thing a teacher says in front of a class-
room should be remembered.
That goes for Marist as well.
I was happy to read from my former
student Mike Benischek that something
I said in class was memorable enough
for future use. I can only hope I have that success with all of
my students, although I won’t hold my breath. See, I know
that some of the things I’ve said from the comfort of a podium
might have been less impressionable.
For example, I told a bunch of sports communication students
that the NFL would never schedule an outdoor, cold weather
Super Bowl. I guaranteed another group that ESPN would
steal the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from CBS this
year. And I think I told some students that the XFL was a great
decision for NBC.
Teaching college classes is a bit like playing baseball. For
every hit, there’s a whole lot of misses.
Mike’s time at Marist, like a lot of communication students
I’m sure, was f illed with hits and misses. That’s true for his
work as well. One of the true gifts of college is the unend-
ing opportunity to try. Journalism students can try to write
their f irst feature story. Advertising students can try to produce
a 30-second television commercial. Sports communication
students can try to write a sponsorship proposal for a sport-
ing event or try to call a Marist basketball game. And Mike
Benischek can write a column for an instructor who uses more
red ink than gold stars in his grading.
The point isn’t necessarily the f inal product, although that’s
always a concern in a school like ours,
but instead the process of getting there.
That’s a process students will practice
over and over, sometimes with success
and sometimes less so. That’s what col-
lege is all about, trying without fear of
failure, something you rarely get out in
the real world with bosses to please and
budgets to meet.
Maybe that goes for professors as well.
In the end, I’m not too concerned about
my predictive talents. What I want,
what all professors want, is to challenge
their students, to make them engage
with their materials, to have them ques-
tion dogma – even that of their esteemed
instructors.
A long time ago as a college freshman,
when I told my dad my intentions to be
an English major, I expected the kind
of long sigh you’d get from someone
staring at four years of private college tuition towards a degree
offering worse immediate f inancial security than the lottery.
Only instead, he told me it was a great choice. See, my dad un-
derstood the great truism of college. That is, the two most im-
portant things you learn in college are how to think and how to
write. Being an English major was a pretty good way to do that.
Reading Mike’s work today like I occasionally do, I know
Mike has certainly learned both of those things. I’d like to
think us communication professors had something to do with
that. That hopeful thought keeps me excited about the next
class, the next semester, the next chance to help some young
adult move ahead in life. For a lot of my students, that means
moving on to their f irst real job after graduation.
When they get there, I only hope their f irst day at work goes a
bit better than mine did.
F