Starting out, I recall chalk powdering my fingers as I wrote on a slate board, standing before rows of students. Occasionally the chalk screeched.

My first computer was a bulky Mac with a small screen, perhaps five inches in diagonal. Like a toy.

Every semester would be a scramble: developing writing and research exercises, creating quizzes on books, writing sample essays, and checking piles of papers. And meetings. I generally enjoyed individual conferences, discussing papers. Explanations were easier and I got to know students individually.

Books orders. They were trial and error; finding the balance between course material and student engagement. You learn to shrug, sometimes, knowing you cannot reach them all.

As a retired English instructor, I maintain my love of books. And I still find myself reading in view of the classroom – would Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s "World of Wonders" work for Nature Writers? Would Jon Meacham’s "His Truth Is Marching On" work for a Current Issues class? Then I remember. No space for that. No need. After finishing books, that I still annotate, I slip them back to a bookshelf.

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After 30 years of college teaching, I have seen dubious educational trends come and go. Years ago, I studied educational theory. The three purposes of education were to prepare for employment, to develop good citizenship, or to develop a critical thinking. I lean to the last, but why not all? Why compartmentalize?

I have seen the complexion of my student population change. In Minnesota, my student population changed from all European American, to a mix including Latinos, Arabs, Asians and Africans, first or second generation. From all my students, I came to grow from their insights and experiences – from the children of foster care to refugees who witnessed the slaughter of their parents for their Christian faith – true religious persecution.


I have seen disrespect for the field of education. Some dismiss teaching as “babysitting.” Recently, Dr. Jill Biden was mocked for her doctorate. Besides the sexism, the dishonor also slighted education. I know there are diploma mills in many fields, including business, but Dr. Biden worked hard and is well-respected in her challenging field. My own.

We see the need for education in everyday life; from basic math, science, English, to economics and government.

Ignorance of basics hurts in ways, big and small. At the community college, we found many students had no handle on fractions or percentages. I remember telling students, after a test of 50 questions, to double their score and add two points (because one question had been tricky). Students took out calculators, marveling when I did sums in my head. A savant.

Some debate mask mandates, saying they want to breathe oxygen, not carbon dioxide. As if a mask turns you into a tree.

One senator, just installed, could not identify the three branches of government.

We still need education. It’s a lifelong pursuit. I am grateful for my parents’ sacrifice for education, grateful for good teachers, and students. I’m grateful to have played a part. Yes, I have regrets, wishing I had encouraged a little more and criticized a little less; exercised more patience. Yes, flawed. But hoping I did more good than harm.

Even as I shed whiteboards and class schedules, I am still learning.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.