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When worlds collide: Patrick Schmidt and President Brian Rosenberg co-teach an FYC

For the first time in his twelve years at Macalester College, President Brian Rosenberg, or perhaps Professor Brian Rosenberg, is teaching a class. Previously unable to dedicate himself to teaching due to his many other responsibilities, Rosenberg has guest lectured but never before taught an official class at Macalester. This year, however, Political Science Professor Patrick Schmidt approached him and suggested they teach together.

“I didn’t really have any good reasons to say no,” Rosenberg recalled jokingly. A co-teaching position allowed him to take part in the classroom setting without the responsibility of leading a class as the sole professor. Rosenberg and Schmidt teamed up to tackle “Civic Ideals and Higher Education in America,” one of this year’s first-year courses.

The course primarily focuses on the history of higher education and issues that students and educators are facing today. Students are delving into how motives to receive education changed over time from moral formation to research opportunities. Schmidt and Rosenberg lead the students in discussions about topics such as access, equity, affirmative action and free speech on college campuses. The class discusses how these issues affect the country as a whole in addition to Macalester as a singular institution.

“We don’t try to overstructure it,” Rosenberg said of the class. He explained that he and Schmidt generally trade off leading discussion and keep the conversation pretty informal. Schmidt said, “[Co-teaching] is trial and error. It’s an exercise in improvisation.” Lectures are, of course, structured, but the two like to keep the dialogue open so students feel comfortable chiming in.

“There’s so much to learn from Brian regarding higher education,” Schmidt noted. Schmidt said that he has enjoyed sitting back a bit, listening to what Rosenberg has to say and learning along with the students. Schmidt characterized Rosenberg as an active professor, engaged in all aspects of the class. He noted that Rosenberg is not the kind of professor who’s afraid to clean off the white boards, but rather one who’s involved in everything that teaching comprises.

Although Schmidt serves as the first years’ advisor, each student had a meeting with Rosenberg so they could get to know each other. One of the FYC students, Betsy Schein, said that getting a meeting with Rosenberg is actually doable – they set up appointments via email with Rosenberg’s assistant.

Schmidt believed that Rosenberg has been an invaluable addition to the class. Schein agreed, “Brian really studies up on education reform; he’s a very useful resource.” She commented, “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it must be so scary having the president as a teacher,’ but it’s not – he’s really funny.”

Rosenberg likewise enjoys his role as co-professor. His favorite part of teaching is being able to interact with students as students. Although he often connects with students in meetings or casual settings, he rarely gets to enter into academic discussions with them, as that’s something often restricted to the classroom.

The class has a unique dynamic; first years get to share their first college class experience with the president of the college. They get Rosenberg’s knowledge of education and another excellent teacher as well. But this occurrence could be a one-time thing. Who knows when Rosenberg will teach another class?

October 16, 2015

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