“As long as I’m learning something, I figure I’m OK — it’s a decent day.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

A math professor I had in college suffered from narcolepsy.

With some frequency, he would doze off in the middle of a lecture, usually for just a few seconds. He seemed unaware, and would resume his lesson as if nothing had happened. The students were aware.

The class endured these minor time stutters in respectful silence.

Late in the semester, the professor, who was near — perhaps past — retirement age, dozed off in the middle of a word. He was writing an equation on the chalkboard and said, “The natural log ...” His voice trailed off as his hand paused with chalk to slate high on the blackboard.

After several weeks in the class, we had become accustomed to these pauses, and some of us had taken to timing them. All eyes notched up to the clock above the professor’s head. Each of us silently counted the seconds tick by.

The record up that day had been 12 seconds.

That mark ticked past, the professor’s hand still holding the chalk in the middle of a numeral, his body mildly rocking forward and back atop rubber-soled shoes. The seconds slowly rolled forward in the silent lecture hall. Finally, at 35 seconds, the professor’s voice returned. “... arithm of any number is defined as its logarithm to the base of e.” His hand finished writing the number, with only a slight blemish to mark the half-minute delay.

I learned a few things that day. I vaguely remember what a logarithm is. I know e is a mathematical constant, but what it signifies has faded from memory. I learned that a collection of several dozen college students were capable of sitting quietly for more than half a minute. I learned that education is worth the wait.

That was a decent day. I learned something.

Continuing education delivers professional knowledge. It also helps reinvigorate attitude. It can get workers excited about work in general and about particular aspects of the job.

Much of the Record-Eagle reporting staff — along with other print, internet and radio journalists from across the region — took part in a multi-day journalism training seminar last week on the Northwestern Michigan College campus, presented by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

One session focused on discovering personal writing traits and weaknesses. I learned that I have much room for improvement. Other sessions addressed various news-gathering and writing techniques. Every session was valuable.

I learned a lot in three days. It was a decent week.

The experience brought back memories of past training sessions, all valuable, all chock full of professional and life lessons:

  • A National Press Photographers Association Flying Short Course (the organization used to assemble a faculty of teaching photographers and fly them en masse to various cities) in Milwaukee taught me early in my career that good equipment is nice, but how you use the gear you have is more important.
  • A Wisconsin Newspaper Association event taught me that it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a standard motel room packed with nine college students.
  • A series of annual internet seminars in a small New York town helped me navigate ever-changing technological territory.
  • The journey to an Associated Press writing seminar in Denver taught me that flying in a 12-seat commuter airplane over the Continental Divide during a thunderstorm can be scary. And the writing tips came in handy.
  • The drive to an Associated Press technology seminar in Detroit taught me that, even if your boss is a nice person, it can be stressful to commute from Traverse City to the Motor City and back while trying to project an unwavering aura of intelligence and competence.

Many job-related continuing education classes concentrate on basics. That’s the way it should be.

All of us, no matter how experienced, benefit from occasional refreshers in the fundamentals. The daily grind has a way of dulling old lessons, of blurring things we thought we knew.

Last week I drank in lessons about story structure, interviewing techniques and the building blocks of storytelling. This week, I’m planning how to make daily use of all that fresh information.

Some professional organizations require continuing education. Some employers offer occasional educational opportunities. No matter what industry or work situation, educational opportunities can help move employees forward and freshen their outlook.

Classes outsides the workplace also can help reinvigorate excitement. NMC offers a variety of continuing education courses. More information is available at www.nmc.edu/resources/extended-education.

An occasional step back from the grind for an organized classroom experience is a very good thing.

Learning something makes for a particularly decent day.