If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you might see a pattern. I rarely refer to any of my colleagues by their names. This is intentional. It’s not that I think lowly of any of my colleagues or feel that they don’t deserve credit for making their way onto this space. My colleagues recommend books for me to read and suggest instructional practices for me to try. They make comments that dig their way into my brain and make me reflect on my place in the world. My colleagues have played a huge role in my development as a teacher and as a researcher and I value them immensely. But I rarely identify them by name. I offer them anonymity because I worry about putting their names out here for all of the interwebs to see without their consent. In a way, I’m trying to protect them.
I’m going to partially suspend this practice this week and talk specifically about a colleague and use his name. I thought about asking for his consent, but he’s much to humble to feel comfortable for the type of post this will be. I’m going to sing his praises and he’s not that kind of guy. But I’m going to do it anyway. Apologies.
Steven joined our university six years ago after working several years as a research chemist. Steven is a science guy. He’s the kind of guy who lives, breathes and sleeps science. I’m willing to bet that he dreams about science, too. Steven and I were in a meeting recently where he shared his love for the smell of camphor. Locally, we’ve been experiencing an unseasonably early Fall allergy season, which has left many of us sniffling and sneezing. Steven apologized for smelling like camphor and explained that it helped with his congestion. He also explained that he loved the smell of all of the organic volatiles because “they smelled like success.” Yep, Steven is definitely a science person.
Despite having little experience or background as a teacher, Steven chose to come to our institution, a place which values teaching greatly. But he jumped right in. He attended professional development sessions, signed up for workshops, read books and had tons of conversations with other faculty. He approached teaching almost as it were a new element he had suddenly discovered. He did tons of background research and when that didn’t answer all of his questions, he started conducting his own experiments. Working in a content area that values data and evidence, he sought the same to inform his teaching. He’d try new practices in his classroom and test their efficacy by looking at student assessment data. Over the course of the last six years, Steven has become the type of instructor you’d want a family member to have. He’s demanding, yet student-centered. He’s professional, yet empathetic. He’s highly intelligent, yet approachable. Steven is a great teacher and an amazing colleague.
More than anything, he understands what teaching means. In the same meeting where he apologized for smelling like camphor, Steven discussed the importance for faculty to build a sense of belonging with students, both in our classrooms and across campus. To make a point to the group, Steven explained that as teachers, we need to remember that it’s “Maslow before Bloom.” It’s a phrase that only a student-centered teacher would utter.
While “Maslow before Bloom” may seem like a simple saying, it’s actually pretty complex. By drawing on Maslow’s Hierarchy and Bloom’s Taxonomy, the phrase says that as educators, we need to attend to students’ physiological and psychological needs before we can really address teaching and learning. By sharing this with the group, Steven was saying that before we can share our love for the organic volatiles or help students experience that “smell of success,” they need to feel a sense of connection and belonging first. In that phrase, Steven said to the group that he understands what this whole teaching gig means.
And he’s figured out most of this through his own research and experimentation. While Steven could have applied his focus and dedication to any subject, I’m glad he has chosen to teach. Our university and our students are better off with his choice.