*Preceptor – a fancy word for teacher
A burbling, bubbling geyser of thoughts struck me nearly every Friday morning around 10:30 a.m. when I made a certain left turn the past four months.
That’s the turn off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and onto something called FGCU Lake Parkway West.
It’s an unwieldy name for a winding road leading east into the Florida Gulf Coast University campus just a bit south of Fort Myers.
It’s not an iconic and snappy street name ringing with history and tradition such as Broadway or Wall Street or the Champs-Elyssees.
But to me that short winding road wending its way past palmetto bushes and pine trees and scrubland on both sides of the asphalt holds special meaning. It resonates, positively rings with significance.
I was on my way to a part-time job that is far more than a job.
As the headline says above – preceptor.
I am wrapping up my third semester at FGCU in the school’s journalism department for a class called News Literacy. We met in Griffin Hall 111.
A bit after noon today I walked out of the final class of the semester.
I’ve now navigated my way through three semesters, dealt with dozens of students, graded hundreds of papers and exams. I know my way around campus and sort of can find my way through the university’s on-line learning system.
So far, so good. As far as I can tell.
I keep getting invited back to FGCU.
What keeps me going back and being invited back?
Part of the answer might be that geyser of thoughts that struck every Friday morning
It’s a mixture of pride and wonderment, profound obligation and the sense that in some small ways I may help students.
I hope I never lose a powerful grip on the notion that teaching is a profound and sacred responsibility. Each visit to campus as an employee is a great honor. I never forget that.
Duties remain before we can put a -30- on this semester. Papers remain to be graded and the final exam is next week and I will grade that.
I’m sure “my” students would not catch that -30- reference. In the old days of typewriters and copy paper and ink pots and Linotype machines at newspapers, reporters typed -30- at the end of a story to signify its end
If I ever lose the the feeling that precepting is an extraordinary honor it will be time to turn in my FGCU employee card. When and if that happens I might scrawl -30- on the card before handing it over.
For now, that card remains securely tucked away in my crumbling old wallet.
I never lose sight that being even a part-time preceptor is a great honor. When FGCU associate professor of journalism Lyn Millner asked me to do this nearly 18 months ago I was gobsmacked.
Little ‘ol me?
You want me to do this?
I agreed immediately. By gum and by golly, I agreed as fast as I could say yes.
Lyn had countless other options. There must be hundreds of journalists within driving distance of FGCU along Florida’s southwest coast. From Marco Island to Englewood, from Chokoloskee to Bokeelia, from Ochopee to Matlacha and places in between that are easier to spell and pronounce.
There is a veritable army of journalists either still working or retired or unemployed Lyn could have asked. But she asked me to do this precepting thing in December of 2017.
That was for the spring semester of 2018. I was invited back for the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019. And she has already extended an invitation for the fall semester.
It still astounds me I’m in a role that finds me standing in front of a roomful of students every Friday. It’s just me, a grey-haired codger chatting with students who have yet to see the first strand of gray popping into view on their heads.
It’s a profound honor to share the campus with scholars such as Lyn and her husband, Jesse, an FGCU English professor.
I’m not a professor, merely a doddering, ink-stained newspaper wretch asked to work with students one day a week.
The word wretch reminds me that last semester I had a student confuse wretch and retch. I gently pointed out the difference.
Anyhow, I’ve never thought of myself as a real professor or scholar. Heaven forfend. I’m not delusional. At least when it comes to that.
I know my role. I’m the wizened, veteran writer with more than 40 years experience brought to campus to work with students.
Each walk across campus is special.
The sense of responsibility toward the students and the job doesn’t dissipate after I turn into Parking Garage 1.
The sensation doesn’t go away as I take my MacBook Air and notes for class out of the car’s trunk and sling the computer bag over a shoulder.
It stays with me as I walk through the garage and then down the steps and through part of FGCU’s 800-acre campus.
I retain the sense of wonderment as I walk by Sugden Hall and the Cohen Center and McTarnghan Hall or stroll across campus to the library and finally make my way back across campus into the Griffin Hall lobby.
Every Friday through my three semesters I’ve tried making the class enjoyable while still teaching students about journalistic concepts such as transparency and context and how to separate fake news from real news.
One week every semester News Literacy students are given an exercise called Be The Editor. The class breaks into groups.
Lyn provides a list of 12 news stories. Part of the assignment is spotting three fake stories planted on the list, judging the newsworthiness of the real stories, designing either a newspaper front page or news website home page.
The story list includes one about something called Rumblr, which is a website where people can schedule recreational fistfights.
As the students reviewed the story list a couple of months ago a young man asked me about Rumblr. It didn’t seem real to him. He pegged it as a fake.
But I assured him it was real and I use Rumbler to schedule my own recreational fist fights. He looked skeptical and asked why my face wasn’t scarred and bruised from the fights.
I told him I won all my fights and that he should see the faces of the guys I fight.
I’m pretty sure he thought I was kidding. It’s also possible he thought I’m an addled old coot and he needs to get out of News Literacy. But his group didn’t fall for the Rumblr ruse. And the student remain and did very well.
Any recounting of the semester and my “teaching method” should include my use of a four-letter word in the semester’s first week.
The students didn’t know me at all on that first Friday. I didn’t know them. But I wanted to make a point.
I told them I was going to project a four-letter word on the screen in front of the class. That seemed to get their attention.
I clicked on the computer and a dictionary definition of the word “zero” was displayed on the screen. Zero has four letters. I told the students I hate posting zero grades. I urged them to make sure they do all their assignments.
Any recounting of the semester must include a mention of my mentee, a young student named Maria.
She asked me in the fall to be her mentor. I was flattered beyond measure but had to check with Lyn on university mentoring policy. Lyn said she thought that was a dandy idea. I’m pretty sure Lyn did not use the word dandy but whatever she did say amounted to saying dandy, as I recall.
So nearly every Friday afternoon this semester I met Maria. Through the Florida winter when afternoons are pleasant we sat outside by the campus Starbucks. Now that we’re into April and afternoons are toasty we’ve moved our talks into the air-conditioned confines of Starbucks.
We’ve chatted about journalism and writers and books and grammar and history and movies and the theater and Broadway musicals.
I like to think I’ve been a positive influence on Maria. I am humbled that this young woman asked me to be her mentor.
She was in News Literacy in the fall semester. That means I first met Maria last August. In the eight months since then I’ve seen Maria grow as a student and writer and gain confidence.
I’m proud of Maria.
Now, as spring wraps up I’m starting to look forward to the fall semester, returning to Griffin Hall and meeting a fresh batch of News Literacy students, young people without gray hair.
Unlike their preceptor.
If you know any FGCU students signing up for News Literacy you might warn them that their preceptor will spring a four-letter word on them the first week.
But also tell them he hates posting zero grades.
To be clear, that -30- is for this blog post and nothing else.