How do I begin to write about 37 years at Alverno College? As my colleagues and students know, I often use a story to make a point or, more likely, to raise a question or to begin a philosophical conversation. It is not surprising, then, that I have decided to start with a story. It may be even less surprising that it involves something a student said.
Early in my Alverno career, I taught a course that met for four hours on Friday evenings, and most of the students would come to class after a long day of work. On the first day of class, a student who looked particularly weary walked into the room and sat down with a sigh. I greeted her, and she looked at me for a moment before saying, “This better be good!” She eventually broke into a small smile and we shared a laugh but I have always remembered what she said. As I look back, I think that moment captures some of the most important things I have learned and experienced at this incredible College.
First, it reminds me how much I admire our students. Over the years I have been sometimes overwhelmed at what students have been willing to do, at the sacrifices they have made, and at the responsibilities they have gracefully juggled. It is certainly the case that a college education does not come cheaply, but the financial costs are just the tip of the iceberg for so many. I know I speak for my Alverno colleagues on this point. We regularly talk with one another about how to assist our students in their learning given all the challenges they often face. It is a source of pride and gratification to me that those conversations have always been conducted in a spirit of appreciation for our students and with a commitment to doing what will serve them best.
And students come to expect the best from Alverno. It doesn’t take long for them to notice some of the unique qualities of an education here. They recognize that the abilities they are learning will serve them well in all walks of life. They see that their teachers know who they are and, even more importantly, make a concerted effort to determine what will help them learn most effectively. Students benefit from learning experiences and assessments that actively engage them in the practice of what they are studying, and they regularly receive feedback from their instructors. We know they come to expect this because they tell us if they think we are falling short of the high standards we set for them and ourselves!
It was perfectly appropriate, then, for that student to expect her education to not only be good, but excellent. In fact, it could just as easily be considered the mantra of all of the faculty and staff here at Alverno. Let me tell you a secret about myself in this regard. Whenever I walked into a classroom, I always had this sense that all of the faculty and staff were standing behind me saying, “This better be good.” You see, I felt if I didn’t make good on our educational promises to our students, I would be letting down all of my colleagues, as well. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Alverno community is this: we take collective responsibility for learning. There wasn’t a time in my teaching when I was alone in there. I had the privilege of bringing the effort and expertise of all my colleagues with me, and with that I carried the responsibility of our shared commitment.
Believe me, I know as well as anyone just how deep that commitment goes. One of my responsibilities for many years was to assist in the planning of meetings, workshops and collaborations focused on the improvement of teaching. I’ll be honest; I always found this intimidating. Not because Alverno faculty and staff were reluctant to participate in these efforts but, on the contrary, it was because they were so interested and willing, and so capable and expert, that I feared only the best would do. They were a tough audience in that respect, but I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to have worked with them.
I guess tough audiences go with the territory at Alverno. Whether it is students reminding us of what we promised, or colleagues challenging each other to continually get better as educators, we expect a great deal from one another. As I look back on my many years here, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have had it any other way.