I can recall my dad exclaiming many times growing up “I’m here to be your dad, not your best friend.” This of course was after I’d done something stupid, as teenagers tend to do, and was being reprimanded for it. Of course in the moment, I always thought “why not both?” But that was part of learning while growing up. I already had friends that were my peers. Looking back now, I realized what I really needed was to be held accountable. That was what my dad was teaching me. He was tough on me, but not unfair, and I feel like this helped to mold me into a reasonably responsible adult. Reading Sarah Deel’s journey in her development as a teacher really resonated with me in many of the same ways that my relationship with my dad did. She described this delicate balance between being a teacher and being a friend. While I still think “why not both,” I can appreciate that certainly one is more important than the other. Much like Sarah described, I’ve tried to mimic some of my more memorable professors while I was an undergrad, and even a grad student. While this has provided some guidance, I think I found myself trying to be more likable than someone who was truly teaching. Once I came to this realization, I reminded myself why I came back to school, and why I wanted to teach.
Much like the rest of the class, my journey to get here has been unique. Watching the set of College Gameday on tv this morning echoed my time here as a freshman in that glorious national championship run in 1999. Yes, I’m a little older than the traditional grad student but I hide it well. In the fall of ’04, I finished grad school down the street at Radford, got married and at a youthful 20 something, I was hired as a police officer in the town I grew up in.
While I was always fond of academia, I didn’t think I’d ever return. I told myself that I’d love to go back to school, get my Ph.D. and teach as a “retirement” job once my law enforcement career ran its course but doubted the possibility as something I’d really follow through with. I dove into the job head first, and loved it. Growing up, it was all I ever wanted to do. Of course, my dad being my dad, he always asked “what’s next?” While he respected my career decision, he was always nudging me to strive for more. I think he just didn’t want me to settle for what I already had.
I learned very early on, that while I learned an enormous amount from my time in college, the thing it did not prepare me for was this job. I was a first generation police officer so I just learned as I went. In college, I had only one instructor who ever had any personal experience in law enforcement. She was a medically retired officer from one of the Carolinas that taught my “Intro to Criminology” course while she was working on her Ph.D. The irony of the situation is now clear, but I digress. The lack of personal connection between instructors and the actual job became something I really focused on as I began to close in on ten years of working. I began to see fresh recruits from the academy who were entering a world that academia had not prepared them for, much like myself a decade before. That voice in the back of my head reminded me of that “retirement” job that I entertained when I had graduated, but I only let it linger for a few moments. By this time, I had made detective and several specialty teams, and promotion was on the horizon. Why give this up to go back to school?
I recall the events unfolding very vividly from here. Around 2pm on a Friday, I recieved a call from my mom. College football kickoff weekend was only a day away, and I had made plans to have my family come enjoy a BBQ at my house and watch the Hokies. I expected this was a call about the ensuing details. “Dad’s been in an accident, you need to come to Hylton” was all mom said. Lights an siren, I raced to the main entrance of my old high school to discover dad was gone. He was fatally struck by a car of a student at the school while he was waiting at a crosswalk. I didn’t know it then, but this moment was the reason my dad wanted me to always strive for my best, and not settle. Because life can change at the drop of a hat, and regret is far more powerful than you’d ever expect.
To make an already long story a little shorter, I made the decision, with the support of my family, to reinvest in that pipe dream of a “retirement” job. I moved back to the New River valley and was admitted into school as a part time Ph.D. student while I worked 12 hour night shifts for Blacksburg’s finest. My passion for academia was reinvigorated, motivated by the thought of influencing students who had the same passion for law enforcement as I once had. This began the molding of my teaching voice. While I may not take the same line in the sand approach of “I’m here to be your friend, I’m here to be your teacher” stance like a father-son relationship, I can certainly appreciate the perspective. Much like Sarah Deel, approachability is huge, but so is accountability.