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For 35 years, I’ve been writing for The Teaching Professor from under an oak tree logo. I don’t know where the idea of the tree came from, but I’ve liked it from the beginning. Once when there was talk of changing to another logo, I strongly objected. But I haven’t spent much time thinking about why an oak tree felt like such a good fit for the publication.
Early on, I suspect I would have seen the tree as a prototype of a teaching professor—instructionally excellent, impressive in size and substance, wielding power, and commanding respect. There’s an oak tree in a field where I walk, a big branching edifice of daunting proportions. I feel small and insignificant when I pass by. Perhaps students react similarly to the vast knowledge and towering intellect they perceive at the front of the room. When outside the classroom, the teaching professors I imagined willingly stood up for teaching, strongly supported educational causes, and weren’t always welcome among those growing research reputations. My interest in teaching used to focus on its visible dimensions, the parts of the tree above ground. Learning happened underground, in the mind of the student, affected by good teaching but not under a teacher’s control.
But my understanding of teaching evolved over the years. I started to notice and then became convinced that teaching without learning had no purpose, that maybe it was learning that mattered most and stood tall in the field. What happened underground—all those teaching techniques, strategies, and approaches—existed to support the learning endeavors of students. The teaching professor came to exemplify the master learner, skilled in the acquisition of knowledge. I got into learning that way I’d gotten into teaching.
Now I find myself at yet another place. I see inseparable connections between teaching and learning, between teachers and students. They function separately, but they work together. Neither makes sense alone. Teaching is pointless without learning, and learning is how teaching improves. To be a teacher, you must first be a student. To be a student, you must first find a teacher. The necessity of each bespeaks their equality. Joined in purpose, their goal is growth—everything that potential makes possible.
Looking at an acorn, it’s hard to imagine a mighty tree, but every oak tree starts as a sapling. I hack away at an overgrown row beside our driveway. In it stand a few ragged trees—lots of autumn olive, honeysuckle, and hawthorn, all entangled with bittersweet. Clumps of grass and assorted weeds wedge in where they can. In the clutter, I find small saplings, spindly affairs with few branches and meager buds, seemingly unimpressive in their potential. I clear the underbrush and trim nearby branches, hoping they will grow stronger.
Growth happens in environments that cultivate it. Nurse trees provide the ultimate example. Dead on the forest floor, their remains feed small trees that take root in their bark. Teachers also have power to create and cultivate environments conducive to growth. But let’s not kid ourselves. Growing strong learners takes some of the life out of teachers too. In exchange, we may have a hand in creating mighty oak, and that’s a chance hard to pass up.
I am proud to have written for so many years beneath an oak tree, but now I need to spend time with the old oak in the field. Gnarled, weathered, and missing a few limbs, it still stands straight, tall, and firmly rooted, its branches reaching for the sun. From underneath, I look up and see new leaves everywhere. One season ends; another begins.
Thanks are in order—first to the many folks at Magna Publications who’ve supported my work. I’ve had a slew of good editors, and current management has provided stability and moved the company in new directions. Bill Haight has presided over Magna since I started working there in 1987. I am forever grateful that he was willing to take a chance on a publication that few thought would succeed. Thanks to those of you who started as colleagues and became friends. And to all of you, thanks for reading, commenting, and writing for us. With your support (regular reading and written contributions), The Teaching Professor will continue. Oak trees have been known to live a long time.
The Teaching Professor will continue to uphold its mission, established by Maryellen Weimer, of offering evidence-based ideas and advice that advance the cause of learner-centered teaching. Look for announcement about our new regular contributors next week.
Maryellen — You’ve been such an inspiration and useful resource over the years. I’ll fondly remember two dinners where we spoke about matters of teaching and learning for hours. Those are real career highlights to me. I’ll miss you greatly at the helm, but your contributions will live on in the thousands of readers who’ve been moved to act and think differently about their teaching and their students’ learning. Academia’s a much better place for your years of contributions.
Thanks Maryellen for not only starting and growing this publication that has inspired so many. Thanks also for being an excellent mentor, advisor, and friend. Your retirement from The Teaching Professor is well-deserved and while we will miss you, your grooming of our current editorial team will continue the spirit you developed for years to come. Best wishes in your next chapter.
Wishing you all the best Maryellen!
I will miss having regular fresh readings from you in my inbox.
I will continue to continuously return to your past writing for inspiration and wisdom.
Maryellen, Thank you. Reading your book led me here…reading here has led me to be a better teacher and a better learner.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, insight, and beliefs.
You will be missed! Thank you for your many years of articles, all of which were chock-full of meaningful, immediately useful ideas and information. Wishing you the best.
Maryellen … your goodbye speaks eloquently for how you’ve seen what matters in teaching and learning. You always have stood tall amongst the forest of teachers. I will miss your writing and your personal values as a teacher. Dan Pratt (Vancouver, Canada)
Maryellen: You will be deeply missed. Thank you for your leadership, insights, guidance, and encouragement.
Maryellen, I can’t even begin to estimate how many educators, and by extension learners, you’ve influenced positively over the years. Many thousands of course.
You and I were so fortunate to have met each other 35 years ago and begun this wonderful rewarding friendship and business partnership.
Sincere best wishes for the future, with many thanks for all you’ve done for me and your profession. Bill
Maryellen, You are THE OAK TREE for many of us who strive each day and every day to become better teachers not for ourselves but for our students. I’m very fortunate to have your insights, guidance, and encouraging words of wisdom through the Teaching Professor. Thank you for all you have given us. Soma