It was a process that I did slowly over the course of an afternoon, with the syrup reducing over low heat and me puttering around tending to kids and studio bits in between stirs. At some point I began to think of a professor that I had in my first year of university, when I was a student in an elite science program at UBC called 'Science One'. His name was Lee Gass; he spun magical narratives embedding with wisdom about ecology and science, sculpting and life; and he sometimes told us stories that made us realize he approached us as adults, too -- about the bliss of intense flavours, sensuously described.
On a whim, I decided to google his name. I was innocently wondering what he was up to; and I was unprepared to find what came up and how it affected me.
He has a website, and it is a large one, incredibly rich and deep. It is a gift of hundreds of pages' worth of stories of reflection, inspiration, and learning from his long and varied life. Reading his stories was like hearing his voice again in class, remembering how being his student affected me, being able to glimpse life through his eyes; and reminded me of a time in my life when I took courage for granted, because that's how he was.
I also learned things about him that I didn't know when I was his student 16 years ago, about professional struggles that he faced because he was a teacher first, and a research scientist second -- read 'A Notion of 3M Currency' to see what I'm talking about. I was deeply moved by this, that he faced a sort of professional discrimination for the importance he placed on pedagogy, because Lee Gass was far and away one of the most charismatic, influential and memorable teachers I've ever had.
The other thing that has affected me (so far) from plumbing this trove of his thoughts is the awareness that I am really, deeply interested in teaching -- the way he describes it. I've shied away from it in the past, not wanting to be in the spotlight at the front of the class and not sure that I was even any good at articulating my understanding.
But this year I've had the chance to re-examine those feelings; and the truth is, I do enjoy being with people and learning to articulate myself, and I want to do more. Lee's writing has lit a fire under me to go forward with a fresh context for my teaching: not as a transfer of information from a single person to many, but as a connection amongst people, the creation of an atmosphere. Do that, he says, and the specific classroom management techniques and details become secondary: the learning is carried by the will of group, not the will of the instructor.
I'm so grateful to have been Lee's student, and now to have his influence and guidance again through his writing.