To my students of the spring 2017 semester:
The first thing I’d like to say to you is congratulations. All of you produced college-appropriate Research Papers, and thus, every one of you passed the class, most of you with flying colors! It was a long reading process, per usual at the end of the semester, but your papers were interesting: some were provocative, some were contentious, and all were effectively argumentative and expository. I often admit to people that the main reason I like teaching college classes is I learn as much from my students as they may learn from me. Your arguments are worthy of consideration, and that’s ultimately what I ask students to produce in my class. If you have any questions or comments about your evaluation (or if you can’t read my writing…I get a bit scratchy when I have 300-plus pages of homework to grade in a week), then feel free to ask before you leave today.
I ‘d like to offer some revelations for you: My students, I want you to know, that I came this close to breaking my contract in January and walking away from the teaching game, all because of Donald Trump becoming the President.
It’s difficult to explain it; it seems like forever ago, but at the end of last semester, I felt deflated, realizing what the daily grind would be like during Trump’s first trimester as President, and I had just finished a few classes that had some defiant, Trump-loving students in them. I didn’t think I’d be able to maintain the necessary decorum, and I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to be a teacher in Trump’s America, where schmaltz and bullshit are the order of the day. This is hard for most of the people I know to understand about me, but try to imagine what it’s like to teach rhetoric in a society that devalues the nature of language every day. At any rate, I was having quite a few second thoughts about teaching in January.
Here in May, I can tell you that I am very glad that I did teach these classes this semester because you students are such interesting people, and you are, mostly, receptive to my methods. I learned a lot about myself by opening up a bit more to these classes; I’m usually more withdrawn and anxious, but this semester, I managed to relax a bit more and be myself. I took some chances with lectures this semester…not that every speech landed, but I think the majority of them were still solid. I took a more improvisational approach than acting from the meticulous notes I worked from in the past. This semester, I was more honest with my students, and I think, perhaps, these qualities may have been a benefit to you.
I always fall in love with my students, without exception, and that’s also why I was nervous about starting another semester this past January. In my mind, a good teacher invests in his students, and for me that requires getting to know them as people. I’m glad I did, and I thank you for investing equally in me.
So, in our final day of class, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts, little lessons that you won’t find in your textbook, but I think these are valuable and worthwhile to tell. Some are based on the Nicomachean concept of moderation, some are simply good-natured, and all are things I’d like my students to think about after we conclude this class:
- Be honest, in all things. The second we start stretching the truth with others is the second we start having to keep track of the lies we tell. Seriously, though, as a writer, I’ve learned that honesty creates good rhetoric, as I mentioned on day one!
- Learn how to have conversations with others…Seriously! Stop looking at your phone, and learn how to talk to people.
- Try not to devalue yourself. There are all these messages in our media that tell us we’re not good enough, that we need to look, talk, and act certain ways to be valuable (usually by spending money on yada, yada, yada). Don’t fall for the marketing game, and stop worrying about what other people think. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and people will like you! (Understand, I devalue myself ALL the time! This is something I’m working on.)
- The line, “When they go low, we go high” drives me nuts! In case anyone noticed, it didn’t work. John Dickerson went on a self-righteous tear a few weeks ago about swearing, stating that since Trump swears, that doesn’t mean we sink to his level. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and such. If I were going to suggest a tired, old cliché, it’d be “fight fire with fire.”
- Play the long game, but live in the moment. I try to use patience in all things, and I sometimes stop what I’m doing and just stand, look, and breathe. Stay where you are, look around, and take a gulp of fresh air. The other day I came to some conclusions about this summer while White-Crowned Sparrows, Purple and Gold Finches, a few CatBirds, some beautiful Red-Breasted Grosbeaks, and a fifteen-inch Hairy Woodpecker ate from our feeders, all within an hour’s time. Some may call it a waste of time, but I wouldn’t give back that hour for anything.
- Be kind to your neighbor; however, do not be so kind as to be taken….This is a tough one. We Americans definitely need to be more neighborly, but the American illness seems to be all about grifting and tricking others. Everybody’s selling something, including the President! Simply, it’s a tough living out there, and you need to be aware that people may take advantage of you in this country…and usually the one who waves the flag, fears for the children, or thumps the Bible more than everybody else, that person is definitely selling you something.
- Also, be careful not to let the people closest to you prevent you from becoming a better person. This is not the case for everyone, but some need to understand that sometimes our loved ones are not giving us the best advice. Family is a helluva thing; we are bound to one another, and we feed emotionally off each other. We hurt one another to feel pain ourselves, and family is often the dominant thought running through our minds when we let them wander.
- As such, we need to actively maintain our relationships with those with whom we are closest. Understand this, with all the complicated concepts we study here in college, the absolute hardest thing to do in your life is keep peace and solidarity with those with which we choose to coexist and cohabitate. See the above item for an explanation as to why….
- Here’s a personal favorite: Money is not the most important thing in our lives. America just makes it seem that way, especially in Trump’s America. If you haven’t seen Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue from this Monday, then check it out to get a good example.
- Without qualification, always celebrate life. It’s too damn fleeting and fragile to not elevate each other because we are all, very simply, alive.
This is my letter to you at the conclusion of the semester, so if you could perform one final writing for me, then please today write me a letter letting me know what you thought of the class…and again, please be honest. I know that some of you do not appreciate my unorthodox tactics, and I know that I often am very preachy…I try to be preachy, believe it or not, after reading you those ten life lessons!…I do ask, however, to consider why I say and do the things I do, and how it may have affected you positively or negatively. I’d also like you to consider some things, such as the textbook, the ICWAs, the Writing Projects, the Additional Readings, the library visit, any specific day that bothered you, the films we watched in class, my appearance, my lectures, my writing…anything, just please be honest, and write me a letter. I will eagerly go home tonight to read them, so I can see if this class worked out for you or not, so thank you in advance for being honest in your evaluation.
Again, I wish you congratulations, and I hope you all can breathe a happy sigh of relief today. Have a happy summer, and if you can, in a fleeting moment here or there, remember our time together. Thanks.
Scott C. Guffey, M.A.