By Troy Headrick
If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve stood at the front of classrooms and talked to a room of college students, I’d be rich. Unfortunately, I’m not wealthy. If only I’d been paid by the hour, in the way I’ve just described!
Most of those who know what I do for a living would call me an “educator,” and, in fact, I often refer to myself in this way. In reality, I prefer to think of myself as an “educationist.” There’s a subtle but important difference between the two terms.
It’s Sunday morning and I’m thinking about my life, about who’ve I’ve been, about what I’ve done to earn a living. And about how and why I’ve made some of the choices I’ve made. (These are the sorts of topics that come to one as he steels himself for another Monday.)
I’m not temperamentally suited to be up in front of groups in the way I often am. I’m shy. I’m often not comfortable being the center of attention. I’m often beset by all manner of self-doubts.
I never wanted to be a teacher either. I’ve had some educators tell me that they grew up wanting to teach. Such was not the case for me. As a child, I wanted to be a professional football player. I also spent a bit of time thinking about becoming an artist and a lawyer. The truth be told, I don’t remember thinking a lot about what I wanted to do as work. I wonder why that’s true about me.
I suppose I got into the business because I’ve had wonderful teachers—people who’ve changed my life. I suppose I must have seen something in those individuals that pulled me in the direction of education.
When I was in grad school, I had a few amazing professors. Dr. H. T. Meserole comes to mind. He was a world-renowned bibliographer and researcher. I had him for a class called Research Methodology.
Meserole had a tonsure, a grey mustache, and was portly. He also wore rather conservative suits that would have looked appropriate adorning the body of a banker during the 1950s. Before every class I’d see him standing outside of Blocker Hall, near an entrance to the building, smoking long, thin, brown cigarettes. He wasn’t much to look at, but boy, could he speak.
During the term I had him, he gave us about seven or eight research projects that came in the form of questions. Each student got a different question so that no two students were working on the same assignment. He told us the questions were going to be hard to answer—in fact, some were unanswerable. The point wasn’t to come to a definitive conclusion, per se; it was to document the intellectual approach we took when attempting to solve our riddles. Our essays were supposed to show him each intellectual footstep we were taking while thinking about how to answer the questions we’d been given. I’d never been asked to be so overtly metacognitive before. Meserole got me started thinking about my thinking (and about thinking in general) in ways that have changed my life.
Now that I’m thinking about him, I realize that Meserole was one of the most powerful and influential people I’ve ever met. His power emanated from his incredible mind, and he shaped us by pushing us to our limits while expecting perfection. He wanted to show me how I could tap into that power source too and to begin to demand more of myself than I heretofore had. Thank you, Dr. Meserole, for all that you did for me.
I want to conclude by asking you to reflect on the work that you do and how you came to do it. Please share your reflections in the comments section. Thanks so much for reading.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.
If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.