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The Rigors of Academia

D. Cecil ClarkRunners are philosophical: “There is no finish line!” Gliding into retirement is no different, only a shifting of gears. Traveling the world, attending plays and concerts, mowing the lawn, visiting the doctor, learning from grandchildren, serving missions—fulfilling all; yet one misses the grind, the everydayness, conferencing with colleagues, that moment in a classroom. C. S. Lewis once said, “The cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.”

From a family lineage of physicians, I defaulted to psychology as a BYU undergraduate. Having found my niche, with BS and MS degrees in hand, I dreamily entered Stanford’s PhD program in educational measurement and evaluation. Four wonderful years of ignorance reducing, mind expanding. The rigors of academia. I loved them! Parchment in hand, naïvely self-assured, I joined the faculty at the University of Washington, a shiny assistant professor.

“Climb the professorial ladder—conduct experiments, publish, present!” I did. Credentials, rank, accolades accumulated over those nine years. A call from BYU. Arriving in Levi's, sandals, and sporting a beard (the ’60s were days of student unrest), a cultural shock: “Oh, Brother Clark, we wear white shirts and ties here at BYU. And the beard!”

Given my training (or lack of it), the then College of Education was never quite sure where to place me, nor was I. Over the next 27 years I burrowed into one department after another: the original McKay Institute, elementary education, secondary education, teacher education, and instructional science. Heroes appeared before me in each department, men and women dedicated, competent, and ever patient with my restlessness. True friendships developed.

Finally, my passions centered on the preservice and in-service development of teachers—and remain so today, but in different contexts. My latest book, The Teacher Within, attests to a hopeless enamorment with the complexity of teaching—indeed, how the inner self inescapably bursts through every aspect of one’s behavior in the classroom. After years of preoccupation with methodology, I have concluded that good teaching, above all else, is rooted in relationships. And why is it, after a lifetime of learning to teach, loving to teach, stripping away diluted agendas, becoming vulnerable before students, I find myself—Education Week tenure used up—sitting in the pasture with only cows to listen?

Happily, and I hope productively, I spend my days building our family’s relationships, nudging teacher training and cultural change at the MTC (How do we “train” missionaries to effectively serve in the year 2025?), working as a sealer in the Provo Temple, adapting to my incurable disease of running (jogging more slowly), and impersonating the average golfer. Life is good. Teaching remains in my bones. I’m on the lookout for a Sunday School class.