In my 38 year teaching career, I taught Soil Mechanics I about 60 times. I remember spending an immense amount of time developing my first set of notes, but the outline I produced by the second year remained the basis for the rest of my teaching career. Every time I taught it, I would actively think about how I could make improvements on the notes, the presentations and the labs. Once I got that first set of notes completed, however, every subsequent change was merely incremental. A new procedure had been developed to include, a new concept or insight gave me something I could tweak. But, my early notes folders looked pretty similar to my later notes folders.
I was often asked if I ever got bored teaching the class that many times. My answer was always no. The topic was something I felt was fundamentally important to civil and architectural engineers and that their understanding of the material was significant to the “safety, health and welfare of the public”, the focus of the First Canon of the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Civil Engineers. To those that would understand, I said that teaching the class was “like teaching confirmation…This is what I believe”.
Visiting different Christian churches has a similar feeling. Usually the basic structure of the liturgy is similar, occasional parts are different, or there, or not there. But in all liturgies, a creed is always spoken, either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. The Apostle’s Creed is based closely on the “Old Roman Creed” which was first referenced in the 2nd century. Legend has it that the Apostles wrote it before they left Jerusalem, each contributing one article of the whole. The Creed has been consistent in all languages, times and theologies since the 8th century with essentially no tweaking. It also is a statement of “This is what I believe.” To me, it is a miracle of the faith we can profess a statement so simple yet so profound that defines to all who we are as Christians. Thanks be to God!
Thomas V. Edgar, P.E., Ph.D., F.ASCE, is an emeritus professor in Civil Engineering after teaching at UW for 34 years. He received the Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching award in 2014. He and wife Sally have two adult children, Erik and Elizabeth.