Volume 3 Issue 1 (Spring 1999)
Categorical Imperative: "Teach!"
At this time of the school year, all of the processes of academic life are in full career, and faculty and staff members find themselves engaged in a welter of activities demanding time, physical energy, and intellectual stamina which test the individual's and the institution's ability to prioritize correctly and focus accurately on essential things. Committee meetings, faculty organization activities, evaluation portfolio preparation, budget planning, accreditation review, and a hundred other to-be-completed-yesterday things, all of which inevitably require substantial faculty input and participation, loom ever larger in the teacher's schedule as the hours remaining available for the classroom and for dealing with the very real problems and needs of students dwindle irretrievably away. Dr. Stephen Byrum, formerly head of the Philosophy Department at Chattanooga State, once wrote of what he termed institutional entropy, the tendency of organizations to expend more and more of their energy dealing with internal functions and operations while producing less and less output, with the final stage being characterized by a near-total absence of end products or results. The typical faculty member can appreciate his concern. "Perfect attendance at all these meetings, and what do I have to show for it?"
Coupled with demands on the instructor's time inherent in the organizational structure of the typical institution is the absolute requirement to deal intellectually with the broader and more complex challenges posed by quantum changes in instructional technology and the demographics of an increasingly multicultural and non-traditional student body. To possess time resources and institutional encouragement to give serious consideration to such issues is likely, for most college instructors, to be an idle dream.
In the rough and tumble of the academic week, pulled every direction and confronted all too often with deadlines without guidelines, lacking the time to read, to study, to reflect, to plan, to create, the instructor with full-time teaching duties may seek in vain the still center of the turning world. The center is there, however, and we teachers, even perhaps if we are members of the beleaguered and multitudinous adjunct cohort, comprehend that. Dr. James Conant once stated the case succinctly and well: "Let no professional activity take precedence over teaching." This admonition is well to be taken, because it is certainly at the heart of the classroom teacher's commitment to each individual student taught and to the profession at large.