Serving as Both Teacher and Student

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For the first time, I am both a teacher and a student. I guess I have always been a student in some fashion, since learning new things is one way to keep my mind sharp. This is the first time I have been enrolled in one class while teaching another. As mentioned earlier, I am pursuing a certificate in archival management from the University of North Texas. That requires a total of 15 graduate hours, all taken online, of course. This semester I am enrolled in INFO 5375 — Archival Appraisal. I will take one more course in the spring to finish.

Here is the course description: Appraisal theory and techniques are used by archivists to determine the “archival value” of records, manuscripts and photographs. An archivist’s determinations in the appraisal process significantly affect what materials are kept or discarded by archival repositories. This course will explore the history of archival appraisal, the factors that archivists use to determine the value of records, how appraisal decisions are influenced by institutional missions and the long-term effects of different appraisal methods on the historical record.

 Six weeks in, the reading has been substantial but not overly onerous. The instructor is a bit slow to grade assignments, so I am not certain how I am doing. Waiting on my grades to be posted spurred me to be more prompt on grading the assignments in the Introduction to Photography course I am again teaching at LeTourneau University. In the five years I have taught this — including a miserable semester teaching it via Teams during the pandemic, not my strong suit — the class has always filled to capacity. Students, for the most part, are either engineering or aviation majors, so a photography elective has great appeal.

I work hard to make this course interesting and informative, bringing in about a half-dozen guest speakers scattered through the semester to provide different perspectives. Each class begins with a “Featured Photographer” segment showing examples of work by prominent photographers — Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Elliott Erwitt, Gordon Parks and others. I believe strongly that one becomes a better writer by reading a wide array of authors. The same goes for photography.

My photography students easily grasp the mechanics of using their cameras and whatever app they use to edit their photos. They can fly airplanes and build robots, so a digital camera is no challenge. The students are required to use actual cameras — not their phones. I explain at the beginning of the semester that using an actual camera with its viewfinder crammed into your eyeball will make them better photographers with their phones as well. I also freely admit that these days I take about 90% of my images with my iPhone, which has an amazing camera. But spending the first 50 years of my time taking photos using a “real” camera certainly had its effect on how I approach photography.

What I love most about teaching and working at LeTourneau is the diverse student body, with its healthy mix of domestic and international students. I teach and work with students from China, South Korea, Mongolia, Nigeria, India, Nepal, as well as a couple of dual-credit students who either attend area high schools or are home-schooled.

That diversity extends to the current UNT class in which I am enrolled. Reading the online introductions we all had to make, my classmates are mainly from various regions in Texas but also Salt Rock, West Virginia; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Seattle, Washington. We are required to comment on at least one posting for each assignment. Everyone is civil, and many of the students put a lot of thought into their posts. Me, not so much. I turn in the minimum required on the discussion posts, instead spending my time making my actual assignment submissions as thorough as possible.


The reason I have to take one course more to complete the certificate is I dropped the ball in the spring and was a few days late registering online. One of the classes I needed was already full. I was third on the waitlist, where I remained when the class began.

This time, I was taking no chances. I was at my Mac at 7 a.m. Monday when registration began. Apparently, so were most of the other 43,000 students attending UNT. That little spinning disc would eventually turn into an error message. About an hour later, I managed to get into the system, only to discover there was no place to submit the permission code my adviser had supplied. I wrote him a panicked email.

Amazingly, he quickly responded, said there had been a major error in the registration system, with courses that require permission codes not accepting them, and vice-versa. “Go enroll now,” he wrote, saying he had cleared the way for me to enroll. “And there is a backlog of more than 400 emails, so please do not reply to tell me thanks.”

I got enrolled in my last class at UNT within seconds. It starts in mid-January. I am looking forward to ending my late-in-life student career and likely will also give up the photography course after this semester as well.

I am spinning a few more plates in the air than feels comfortable these days.

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