Merline: Students are key to an engaging course

Anne Marie

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. Guest columns are the view of a campus community member who periodically contributes columns. Anne Marie Merline, Ph.D. has been a professor for the CSU Honors Program since 2003 and started teaching at CSU in 1998.

The students in the college classroom are just as important, if not paramount to the role of the teacher in the cohesiveness of a class. This past semester’s junior level seminar about the Beat Generation Writers allows me to enter this course into evidence.

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This first week in August, I spent the first day bla-bla-blaing about the course and the syllabus and all of the rules, but by the time that the second class rolled around, I knew this group of students was going to rock my world, and that I had to let go of the few conventions that this course normally holds. 

The first activity in the class is a “poetry read aloud.” An exercise that gets all of the students primed in their oral communication skills, and we all get to hear 20 poems to get us used to poetry. As they read their poems, everyone was supporting everyone else, even though they did not know each other well at this point. I figured out that even though their chosen poems were inspirational, it was how they respected, encouraged and supported each other that made these first two classes inspirational, and we all knew that this class was going to be different. They did not take this cue from me, but from their hearts as wonderful and authentic people.

One of the best things about studying poetry is that it explores and examines life. Many simple words arranged just right got us into some deep conversations. The conversation that I remember best is one of our first discussions about war and the social issues that war produces away from the battlefield. Many in the classroom had differing opinions about both, but we discussed it at length and in-depth with some of the best dialogue I have ever witnessed in a classroom. Everyone was respectful of everyone else. The students asked for clarification and asked for different considerations of each other’s points. I think if the world leaders modeled their dialogue on this group of students, this world would be in a much better place.

This course comprised of soul searches and open discussions every week. This group was respectful, open-minded, compassionate, and much to their own surprise, creative. Many learned to love poetry. I leave this class with nothing but deep respect for each student.

During the last day of class, I do a “debrief” with my students. I ask them what went well during the semester, what could be changed, and what would help me do a better job teaching the course next semester. Through this discussion the students overwhelmingly said they felt encouraged, respected and challenged by each other. This is success in my book.

This semester, don’t sit back and let the instructor shoulder the entire burden of tying to mold a successful class. Take responsibility for creating an atmosphere of mutual respect, open-mindedness and the love of learning.

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