Teaching is easier when students are awake

The scene: You’re a freshman,entering the intellectually stimulating atmosphere that is your first mass-lecture experience. You timidly enter the doorway and stare into a sea of faces. Where to sit? Should you introduce yourself to your professor so that he or she can be made aware of your existence? You take a seat and whip out your notebook and pen, eager to absorb wisdom from the well of knowledge standing in front of the classroom. You’re ready to learn the skills that will pave the way to your future career and bring out the utter genius that you know is just waiting to be unleashed … ZZZ (head has hit the desk and a puddle of drool has formed on your notebook).

Sadly enough, this scenario is something that almost every student has experienced. My first lecture experience freshman year was such a disappointment. I remember leaving in disbelief — I was paying hundreds of dollar to listen to a professor who couldn’t distinguish between his students and a wall? Did he have to take special classes to be that indifferent and impersonal?

Minus a few exceptions, my first impression of lecture classes held to be true until this semester. I walked into my lecture expecting the same scene as always — namely a Prof-zombie — and I was promptly taken aback.

In comes an arm-swinging, energy-bursting ‘Southern boy’ named Larry Smith. Well, actually his formal title is Dr. Larry Smith, for he has both a masters and a Ph.D., but there is nothing formal about the man. From the get go, he began to jovially introduce himself to students and spent the entire first class period sharing with us his background and asking us about ourselves. He was actually interested in relating to us on a personal level and blending our class material with things we could actually use to communicate effectively in real life.

When asked how he came to be such an effective teacher, Larry laughed and said, “I have sat in that chair. I know what it’s like to be in that audience.” Because of this common ground, Larry believes that students and professors are “colleagues” and should share a mutual trust. “I think a lot of profs don’t trust their students. This distrust recycles itself and creates a negative environment for everyone.”

When I described to him my past experiences with lectures, he shook his head knowingly and said, “They’re not working with you, they’re working at you.”

Larry chooses to put faith in a student’s word and does not demand proof for an excused absence. He finds it ridiculous that some of his fellow teachers demand hard proof from students for deaths in the family. “This obituary stuff is bull s—,” he said in reference to a professor’s need to actually see an obituary if a student says someone close to him or her has died.

Larry truly loves working here at Ball State University at such a vital point in student’s lives. He stresses to students that ,”College is a time where you get to dream,” and choose to be anything. Larry hopes that through dreaming and experiences, students will come to find what he considers the key to success in life: Service.

Besides teaching, Larry is also a writer and is writing a book titled Writing Dylan: Songs of a Lonesome Traveler. His love of writing and teaching keep him pretty busy, but in his words “I am doing things I love. I wish that for everyone.”

Perhaps this is the key to happiness in teaching and in life.

Carla Alderman, Daily News, Ball State University.