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Martha Gehringer, Instructor in WRC

“My teaching has always been person-oriented rather than knowledge-oriented.”

Martha GehringerWhat I hope distinguished me as a person who chose to devote my life to teaching is my interest in students as persons, my concern for them as individuals. My approach in the classroom has always been to encourage students’ personal identity, to help them recover the “self” they have come to college questioning and, in many cases, laboring to obscure. 

Mine has always been a sort of intuitive approach, much like the intuitive approach I have always taken in my own life as a learner. I have always tried to impart to students a desire, like my own, for a “life of the mind,” an interest in cultivating social and cultural insight, a curiosity about the truths that tend to be hidden. My teaching, thus, has always been person-oriented rather than knowledge-oriented, and my concern for students more about who they are and who they want to be than for what knowledge I can impart to them. 

The whole idea of education, I think, is to help people develop as thinkers. I hope I have succeeded in that. I have always urged my students to recognize their own intelligence, celebrate their strengths, develop their talents, and most of all trust themselves and be, thus, generous. I was blessed with such teachers; I have felt I owe it to them to pass along this practice.

The poet/teacher Thomas Merton has served, to a great extent, as a model for me in my life as a teacher. “Not only knowledge but also wisdom,” he advised. Teachers, he warned, should “not confuse the ends and means of education, and [they should] recognize that the goal is to…develop a free and mature personal identity—not a pseudo-identity formed in response to some model in popular culture or an image of the ideal… but one based on a realisation of our true or authentic selves, our interior selves beyond ego and pretense” (Thomas Del Prete, “The Contemplative as Teacher: Learning from Thomas Merton,” 1996). 

By putting students, as persons, at the heart of my work, I have sought to be true to them, to my own teachers, and to myself.


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