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Pancho Savery, English
I believe religiously in the conference method—the idea that students are in charge of their own education, and my job is to create the right atmosphere in the classroom so that students can educate themselves and each other. I believe in the Socratic method. I do spend the first three classes explaining my expectations: that you’re not talking to impress me, that you must respect other people. After that, I don’t sit at the table, because if I do people only look at me when they talk. So I walk around the table, and stand behind the person who’s talking, so they have to look at the other people in the room. One of the great things about teaching at Reed is that I can walk into a classroom and ask one question, and the students just take it and go with it for 50 minutes. It’s hard to imagine another place that would be as good a place to teach.
I teach Hum 110 every year. It’s why some students choose to come here. At other schools, there is often a required freshman composition course, and people take it because they have to. They don’t want to be there. Hum 110 is really important because it’s the introduction that students get to the conference method. Students become better thinkers, better writers, and better able to express their ideas in written form and verbally. I’ve had students who got Cs in Hum 110 write an A thesis. Writing is a process. You may not get it in one semester, or one year. But when you get it, you can use it in any course you will ever take. Most students seem so much more self-confident by the time they graduate because they realize the rigorousness of the educational ordeal they’ve gone through, from Hum 110 to writing a 70-page thesis and defending it in a room full of faculty members.
the means by which I try to change the world. I see my activity as not just literary, but as political,
One of the great things about Hum 110, one of the reasons I am so excited about teaching it, is the list of great books. The syllabus of Hum is as good a place as any to start one’s education and to read books, not only because people have said that they are great, but because even though they were written a long time ago, they have interesting things to say about the state of the contemporary world. We’re not just reading Plato to find out what his ideas were in 400 BCE; we’re reading Plato because he has something to say to us today about how societies organize themselves, how people use language, how people think about things.
Reed does not encourage you to just agree—Reed teaches you to critically examine everything you hear and everything you read, and not take anybody’s word. You have to have the skill to think, and investigate, and engage in rational dialogue. It’s very easy at most schools to go through four years and be relatively passive. At most schools you can be a sponge and soak up what everyone around you says and does. You cannot be a sponge at Reed—you have to be active, you have to put yourself out there.
You cannot get tenure at Reed unless you are truly an excellent teacher. The college has a wide view of what constitutes scholarship. At most schools, it is defined by how much you publish. At Reed, it is about demonstrating that your mind is working, and there are different ways of doing that. One of the ways of demonstrating scholarship is by teaching new courses. I have taught a new course every semester since I’ve been here. I feel privileged to be at an institution where that kind of work is taken seriously.
There is always a line outside my office. The reason I don’t have a computer in my office is because I realized that there are always so many students who want to see me, I don’t have time to deal with anything on the computer. It is a rare day when there isn’t a line when I get here for my office hours. I encourage students to come talk to me about whatever.
It doesn’t have to be academic.
I have a box of tissues.
Teaching is the means by which I try to change the world. I see my activity as not just literary, but as political, moral, philosophical. I believe that it is part of the job of the college to prepare students to go out into the real world when they graduate. I want my students to have skills that they can take with them and use. They are privileged in being able to have the kind of education that they gain at Reed. Therefore, they have an obligation to give back in some way. When you leave, you need to take the skills that you have gained and use them to make the world a better place.