By Julia Cooper
Ms. Goldner has been a tutor at St. John’s College for three years and in those years she has taught four tutorials, three seminars, and one preceptorial. Ms. Goldner graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in the Classics: Greek and Latin, with a minor in English. After college, she became a high school Latin teacher for five years. After her first year teaching high school, she discovered the St. John’s College Summer Program, originally designed for teachers, and during her five summers at the program, she got her masters in Liberal Arts. During her fourth summer at the St. John’s GI program she decided she wasn’t done learning and went on to get her PhD in philosophy, inspired by the philosophy and theology she had been studying at St. John’s.
Tutors at St. John’s, like the students, come from many diverse backgrounds, and how they ultimately find St. John’s is always a fascinating story. Speaking with tutors about their beginnings and the inspiration they had for teaching at St. John’s is very interesting. There are both differences and similarities which can be found from a tutor’s perspective to that of a student. Speaking to any Johnny about St. John’s will always leave you talking for hours because of the passion and dedication they have to the program and their school. A discussion with a Johnny tutor, however, is like having a seminar on the values of learning.
As a student, deciding on your college is like deciding on who you want to be when you graduate; What kind of thinker and learner you want to be. It is valuable to speak to a tutor about the values of learning and the value of St. John’s because of the critical role they play in molding your discussions and education and how you have grown when you graduate St. John’s.
Having formerly taught at the high school level, Ms. Goldner found both similarities as well as differences to working at St. John’s.. As a high school teacher, Ms. Goldner felt limited at times by the structure of the classes the necessity, at times, of teaching to tests, and the concern for grades as the goal or end of the class. In high school “there is a lot of emphasis on rubrics and standards, which become almost a contractual theory of education. I had to lay out, in the form of a contract (or syllabus) what we are doing in the class, what my expectations for the students were, and what the standards of grading were. Because here we don’t give syllabi and there is very little focus on grades, I think this has allowed me to have a much more open judgment of my students. It allows me not just to see my students as having to meet some standard I had already chosen before they have even walked into the room. I can see the student in front of me and honor the strengths they bring to the class.” There are tendencies and characters of the student’s learning which cannot be anticipated, and without the structure of a syllabus, Ms. Goldner says, so “[For example, I can] allow my students to express themselves artistically or creatively or thoughtfully in ways that a more traditional rubric or syllabus would not have allowed, where I would have had to show how every point in their GPA got calculated. I can see my students for who they genuinely are, in a way that I had never had the freedom to do.”
Even before becoming a tutor here at St. John’s, Ms. Goldner was very influenced by the great books: “The commitments to the western canon the great books were very strong for me and I saw language as a way in, as a real access to those books. Thinking about the structure of language and sharing that with students, not just so that they can learn Latin or learn Greek, but can become better writers because they understand more about language– all of those things were very important to me when I became a teacher.”
As a tutor for some of the freshman classes, Ms. Goldner recognizes the difficult decision it is to come here. “I am constantly impressed by the students who come here.” It is a very difficult and personal decision to come to St. John’s. You cannot simply be convinced by someone else’s reasoning to come here; you have to have your own reasons and believe in the commitments of this school and of the type of learning we engage in here. St. John’s does not give you a lot of choice in your study and Ms. Goldner has always been impressed by the students and the courage in their decision to come here. “When I see the students walk across the stage [at convocation], I already know that we have something to talk about, because you’ve made the choice to come here. You haven’t made an easy choice to come here. You know you are sacrificing things like course selection, and majors to come here, and you know (or will soon find out) that you are going to work harder here that you might work at any other school in the country.”
St. John’s alumni are dedicated and hold a set of skills which are very valuable for life after college. Ms. Goldner believes in the importance of the school and the rigor and intellect of the students who graduate. “They know how to have a real conversation with people who see things differently than they do. They know how to listen, they know how to respond, and they know how to cut through the conversation to get at what is important about what they’re discussing. I also know that they are going to be some of the most well-read students you’re going to find coming out of college that year.” Students who graduate St. John’s can talk about, for example “fundamental laws of nature and how to arrive at them, what principles guide morality and which ones are most important to help determine how to behave as moral individuals. The greatest works of literature of our cultural history. Things that are not just academic. They can talk about the issues and concerns that are raised by those texts.” After an education at St. John’s, the students have “commitments to the world that will spur the students to act in certain ways—to go out into the world and live the kinds of things they’ve been thinking about for four years.”