If you would have told me a few years back that I would be a college professor, I probably would have laughed and thought you were insane. The thought of public speaking in front of 30 different students for around 8 hours each week used to make my brain experience a mini hurricane of its own. One whose winds flew in random directions of doubt, excitement, urgency, and “how am I going to do this” all at once.
Having now started my 13th week of teaching at Vanguard University, I can say those feelings are still very real, but there is another sense I have found that I did not expect.
Sometimes when we are passionate about something, I think there is also a tendency to assume we are not knowledgeable enough to speak what we know. It’s hard to explain, but for me – conservation and environmental sciences are two very important, immensely deep, and controversial topics to speak on. It seems more than ever the talk of climate change, global warming, and biodiversity loss are becoming sources of contention amongst world leaders and the general public – rather than opportunities for problem solving. This often overwhelming sense of conflict and sensitivity in the sciences can make it a lot easier to just sit on the sidelines and hope someone else is brave enough to speak up.
But what I have found is that this single semester of teaching has not only improved my confidence in the knowledge I have, but has also helped me to realize the extreme responsibility I have to share my views, knowledge, and the facts with others. And this new sense of responsibility I have discovered also has helped me to trump any feelings of inadequacy that continue to float around.
When I became a professor, I was given 30 blank canvases to paint with an awareness and an understanding of the intricacies of this planet. That is a HUGE responsibility. And I have discovered that one of the most important parts of this opportunity is in not taking that responsibility lightly. Sharing knowledge is sharing power. We cannot act on what we aren’t aware of. And I have been given the opportunity to share the little bit of knowledge and power I have with my awesome students.
However, I also realize the importance of encouraging others to think for themselves, to be aware of biases in any learning they undertake, and to have grace towards all points of views – whether we like them or not. I think the only way we are going to grow in wisdom and in our abilities to enact positive change for this planet is to first treat others with the value they inherently have.
I do believe that through more peaceful conversations – one where we are able to set aside what we want to be true or our own arguments – we will be able to more progressively come up with solutions taking into account all stakeholder values.
And as I tell my students, you are allowed to make up your own minds on what you feel or believe – I am simply here to present you with the well-rounded knowledge for you to do so, at least the best that I can. I do not pretend to know everything nor will I ever, but what I do know – is worth acting upon.
I think all too often we take what we hear on the news, in a Facebook article, or on a podcast all to seriously. However, in my opinion it is more important to do the research for ourselves and to remember what the focus of addressing environmental concerns actually is: to take care of our planet and the resource it provides us with, for the benefit of EVERYONE – not to continually prove someone else or a political party right or wrong.
We have strayed away from using knowledge as the pure weapon it is and tainted it with distracted motives in the form of financial, self, or temporary gain.
In my deepest heart, I simply long to equip my students with a “systems thinking” mindset. One where they don’t just look at the immediate problem, but expand to consider its causes, the players involved, and how all interconnecting parts are worth equal value – whether human, animal, or abiotic. One where they also do the research for themselves rather than piggy backing off of what they hear or would like to be true.
Becoming a professor – in any field – is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Teachers are literally given the keys to unlock the doors of others’ minds and to fill them with new knowledge. Realizing this, it is important to consider not only what you are teaching, but how you are teaching it.
We are all coming from different cultures, places, beliefs, and degrees of knowledge, but what makes us equal is our humanness. And that is a great place to start any lecture if you ask me.