The fall semester class was POS 115: Issues in American Politics. I had just met with my advisor to pick out my final classes that I needed in order to graduate from Mesa Community College with my Associate’s degree. I needed 3 more credits under social and behavioral sciences. So after running through all of my options, I made my selection.
I enjoyed attending my community college classes. For me it was a chance to meet people of all ages, experiences, and backgrounds. It also allowed me the opportunity to continue working full-time to pay my tuition. So it was with wide-eyed curiosity and willingness to learn that I attended my first evening class for POS 115.
As soon as I entered the classroom, I realized my mistake. If I had a better memory, I never would have picked this class by this particular teacher. I had previously registered for this class and dropped it for a singular reason, the teacher. The teacher was a little crotchety on his best day. His comments were direct and sometimes painful to hear. He was demanding and had unrealistically high expectations, or so we thought. He rarely smiled, but he loved the subject. He never used a textbook, standardized curriculum, or multiple choice exams. He did not allow but one absence and it had to be accompanied by a doctor’s note or death certificate.
He would hand out photocopied articles he had collected along the years. Some on current events, but mostly old articles. We were required to read them aloud in class and then dissect the various arguments to develop personal opinions on the spot. We were required to watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in class so we could write a detailed position paper on the various ideologies presented. Every week we were sent home with political articles and had to write a minimum 3 page summary and argument/opinion papers which were due the next class period in addition to larger project papers spaced sporadically throughout the semester.
He would publicly challenge your opinion and require you to defend your position in front of the whole class which by now consisted of just 9 other students who were unlucky enough to need these three credits to graduate.
Whether he intended to or not, this crass and unforgiving teacher taught me important life lessons.
- Understand your audience. To pass this class with an “A”, I needed to understand my teacher and his expectations. In work, college, or life in general, in order to be heard you must first understand your audience. Until this point everything I had loved about my community college experience no longer applied. I was not there to joke around during evening classes with my teacher or make new friends, I was there to learn about specific events in American politics and formulate an educated opinion. You have to understand your audience before you can effectively communicate your opinion or point of view.
- Formulate an informed opinion. As the saying goes, “opinions are like noses, everyone has one,” but for most people developing a solid opinion and standing behind it are the most terrifying things they can encounter. It exposes our most internal beliefs. It opens us up to having our beliefs and opinions challenged and rejected. However, it’s these strong beliefs, when shared with the world that create change. Steve Jobs was not an easy man to work for or with, but he was a visionary. His staunch opinion of how technology could change the world created advancements no one could imagine.
- Listen and understand other opinions. I did not always agree with my teacher, but I learned the valuable skills of understanding and tolerance. It’s important to develop good listening skills and be able to hear what another person is saying so you can better understand their point of view. It is also important throughout life to develop tolerance for others who have opinions different from your own. Life requires everyone to “agree to disagree” and for some this skill comes easier than for others.
- Valuable skills of reading and writing. It seems pretty basic, reading and writing. Both of these subjects are learned at an early age. This was by far the most intense class I had taken during my community college career. This class forced me to critically read and analyze at a level not required in my previous classes. I had to develop opinions which could be supported by evidence by clearly articulating them through written assignments.
As I reflect back on this specific class, I realize that what I understood to be a mean teacher was instead a teacher who placed high expectations on his students and challenged them to defend conflicting opinions with evidence resulting from many sources. Those lessons and challenges prepared me for so much more than just meeting minimum course requirements, student outcomes, passing standardized tests, or understanding American politics. This course prepared me for life.
What did you learn from your "meanest teacher ever"?