September 1, 2020: Retiring in the Time of COVID-19

Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively. Carl Rogers

After a bit more than 29 years of teaching in the college setting, some 25 years full-time, I retired last June—something that was planned a year in advance, though there was no way to know that a pandemic would turn teaching upside down during my last semester.  But teaching and learning are about many different environs requiring one to be mentally, emotionally, and physical agile.

Another very basic principle of teaching and learning is to listen and be listened to—both helps to relate with the instructor and the material.  It took me awhile to get it.  

After high school, I went to a four-year university, but in 1966 I dropped out after a bit more than a year. I could not relate to being schooled by being told how much I didn’t know. 

After a couple of years, I went back to college—a community college.  I did alright, but college still seemed unrelatable, though at least I became interested in the academic process of learning. Then I dropped out again. 

When I returned to the same community college in the fall of 1973, I found professors who actually listened, for whom teaching was not about downloading onto others what the professors knew, but about asking questions and encouraging examination.  Suddenly, college was relatable.  By the time I received an AA from Riverside Community College in June of 1975—ten years after graduating from high school—I had made friends, learned much, contemplated more, and was enchanted by interacting with folks who knew more, but listened without brandishing that knowledge

I did not continue with formal schooling until eleven years later, though I kept in touch with those professors who had taught me so much—two of whom became life-long friends.

I taught my first college class at a four-year university in the spring of 1991, the year Moreno Valley College, one of then three colleges in the Riverside Community College District, came into existence.  In 1992, I was hired at RCC.  While I taught classes at both RCC and Norco College (the third college at RCCD), I wanted to teach at MVC.  As a nascent campus in a community much invested in having its own college, I saw an opportunity to be part of a positive contribution.  I owed it to those who taught me how to listen and to make myself and the information relatable.      

In 1994, I came to MVC, where I remained until I retired this June. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity and for the career, though I know better than to romanticize my predilection and my luck.  Teaching and learning are not the ivory-tower position many may think. Both are difficult.  And for a professor it is not just the classroom, it is also a contribution to the institution. It is work, and if teaching and learning, listening and relatability are not a vocation, it’s likely to be torture for everyone.

For most of my career, a young MVC was in flux and it was not always clear to me where we were really headed. As these present times of division makes clear, humans can be on very different pages.  Listening and relating can be incredibly difficult for a plethora of reasons and MVC was not above the fray.  It still is difficult—all educational institutions seem a bit like square boxes going down the highway—but somehow through effort and an unfailing compass heading, MVC has come a fair piece even as it still has a fair piece to go.  But without educational institutions, with community colleges, without RCCD, without MVC, many would not be traveling at all, many would not feel listened to at all. 

Sometimes beauty shouts to be heard, sometimes it waits with aplomb.  MVC is both those things.  If we listen carefully, we can hear the beauty in the struggle and see the beauty in the place. If we listen carefully, we can embrace stewardship and avoid domination.   

As I finished MVC’s 2020 spring semester, in the midst of the struggle with a pandemic and with social division, I saw in the virtual graduation, in the efforts of so many, the stories that can help us listen, learn, and relate.  Those three attributes are what make us both a college and a community. 

That career is now behind me, but what I learned and what I have yet to learn, will never belong just to the past. My education all the way through earning a Ph.D. taught me how much I do not know, and that is a bit of learning I’m reminded of on a daily basis.  Perhaps that not knowing is one key to healing a social divide as well as being physically safer and healthier.     

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