Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Applying for a few teaching jobs in Tennessee.

Had to come up with my "philosophy of education" and submit it. Apparently tellin' 'em "I want a job that pays REALLY well and where the friggin' administrators leave me the hell alone" won't cut it. So here's what I came up with. See what you think.

My teaching philosophy was born out of twenty years of practical experience, including intensive work as an adjunct and full-time instructor for a variety of institutions. Through that experience, teaching a variety of different courses, up to 30 to 40 a year in both conventional and online settings, one is bound to learn a thing or two.

The first thing you learn in time is whether or not you are cut out to be a teacher. Obviously, with twenty years behind me, I realized very early on that I’d found my passion. There’s nothing like seeing the light bulbs going off in a student’s eyes as the things you’ve been discussing begin to sink in.

I’ve also found that college was just the start of my own education. Loving history as much as I do, I’ve never stopped studying and thinking about the information that I’ve been expected to successfully convey to others. It’s easy to say that I’ve learned more in the last twenty years from teaching than I ever dreamed of learning in Graduate School.

When I accepted my first teaching job in the spring of 1990, I was fresh out of school. Central Texas College flew me to Naples, Italy to go aboard the USS Thorn, a Spruance class Destroyer, and teach an accelerated (4 ½ week) semester of US History (to 1877) and Introduction to Political Science to members of the crew.

It was a trial by fire. I quickly discovered that while school had taught me a lot of facts, as well as how to do research and write papers, I’d learned very little about how to effectively convey my knowledge to others in a classroom setting. Turns out, that’s very different than sitting around a table with a professor and a half-dozen other grad students.

With those first twenty some-odd students sitting in front of me, I searched my mind for anything that would help me do my job, and frankly, keep me from looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. In a very short time, I found myself thinking of a few great professors I’d taken classes from who had excited me and moved me to want to learn more. Flailing about in those early days, I did my best to emulate their techniques. In time, one class after another, one semester after another, I began to figure a few things out.

In the years since then I have primarily taught US History and Government survey courses. On occasion though, I’ve also had the opportunity to teach Western Civilization, Texas History, Naval History, African American History, and a few upper level Political Science courses. In each of those courses I have tried to encourage a greater understanding of how all these different histories and disciplines contribute to the understanding of one another.

If you are trying to foster a level of understanding, and not simply rote memorization, I feel it is critical to show how one era in history influences another, or how the issues we’ve dealt with as a nation have changed over time, while essentially staying the same. Through that narrative journey, my students hopefully develop the ability to understand things more deeply, think critically for themselves, and understand the complex history behind the issues of our own time.

Of course, after twenty years and thousands of students, my methodology has evolved. I primarily lecture, as I always have, but I also enjoy using whatever tools are available to me in the classroom. Today, that means using film clips or web sites, so long as they are relevant to the discussion going on in class and contribute to a greater understanding of the subject at hand, and so long as the classroom is equipped with the required technology.

For instance, I’ve found that when I’m teaching about Local Government institutions, it’s very helpful to use a computer and smart board to bring up the web site for the city my students are living in. After a discussion of the different kinds of city charters, I show them their own charter, their district or ward boundaries, and their representatives. Then I bring up another city charter and show the differences between the two. I can then assign the students the task of finding and bringing up sites for different cities with the different kinds of charters they’ve studied.

Along with the available technology, the methods I have used to assess student learning have evolved over the years. Starting out, I tended to give take-home essay tests, similar to the kinds of exams I took in school. In time, as I began teaching more courses, including online courses, I began to switch things up. I eventually developed exams with a combination of True/false, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-blank (no word bank), and essay questions.

At the outset of the course, students are given review points to concentrate their studies on (usually in the syllabus). But rather than simply giving them topics to look up, the review gives them a mix of topics, issues and questions to compare and contrast. They are told to study those points carefully, but are warned that exam questions can also come from other topics in the book and lecture. With three exams during the semester, I’ve found that most students adapt themselves to this system quite fast.

Through a variety of resources, including student grade ranges, faculty peer reviews, student surveys and positive comments made to me by former students, I believe my methods are sound, and help the students develop a better understanding of the subjects they studied. There’s one particular example of the latter that sticks out in my mind.

One student, a soldier on Ft. Hood who was approaching retirement and taking his first college class with me approached me after the first day as class and asked me to be gentle with him. He said he’d been put in remedial classes in high school and that it had been twenty years or so since then. It was obvious he had very little confidence in his abilities as a student.

I told him to relax. I’d seen this kind of fear many times before. Soldiers who were about to retire, who hadn’t been in school in twenty years and were scared to death. In the end, as is usually the case, this gentleman succeeded brilliantly. He struggled at first, getting used to the routine, but then he finished the class with an A.

He found, as I had expected, that he had matured in those twenty years. That last day, having seen his final exam grade, he walked over to me and knelt down so that others couldn’t hear. With tears welling in his eyes, he thanked me for helping him. I told him that he’d done all the work, and that he could take it as far as his heart desired.

Experiences like that are why I love doing what I do. Aside from the essential love I have for the subject matter, and the opportunity to learn and talk about it all for a living, teaching gives me the opportunity to have a profound impact on the lives of other people. Those kinds of experiences don’t happen every day, but they happen often enough to make up for all the little torments and issues that anyone might have with their life’s work. Those kinds of special experiences convinced me long ago that I was right to take up this profession.


BRUNO said...

To hell with teaching---you need to go into POLITICS! Maybe a speech-writer for our NEXT-hopefully better POTUS.

Seriously---I can only sit here and dream of accomplishing anything close to all of the knowledge and power that comes with an education such as yours, let alone in the time span of 20-some-odd years. I am humbled by your dedication to teach, it would seem, against all-odds. I salute you for such!

With that having been said: Maybe you just need an "Extreme-Makeover" in appearance. You know, just to insure they'll take you as serious.

Keep the beard. Find enough hairs to grow and braid-up as a ponytail, an' top it off with a pair of "nerd"-glasses, with a tie-dyed shirt that has "GO-GREEN!" emblazoned on it.

Which---given your luck as of late---upon hiring, they'd probably assign you to the deepest, darkest, dankest-spot in "Coal-Country, USA", just to spite you....!!!☺

Kenneth said...

I've never seen a personal philosophy of education stated more coherently, or as honestly. Texas is likely to lose a valuable citizen.

FHB said...

Thanks guys. And Bruno, as much as I know about my field, you know just as much, if not more about yours. I'd give anything to know some of what you know, since what I know doesn't seem to be too valuable right now. Maybe if I could work on a motor or run a machine shop I could get a fuckin' job!

BRUNO said...

Damn!!! I've got(had!) a FIELD!!!

I was once a productive-fella---but anymore, about all I do is lean on somethin', fart, scratch my ass, belch---and then sit down, and "repeat as needed"!

So, whatever line of expertise THAT applies to---yep, I'm your man.....!!!☺

FHB said...

Sounds awesome, for a retired, ex Marine, ex machinist, ex volunteer fireman, etc. etc. etc.

You've earned a rest. Shit, i need a rest just thinkin' about all that shit. I just sit in a room and talk to people. Easy peasy.

BRUNO said...

Hey, that's FORMER-Marine, dammit!☺

So, you just sit in a room, an' talk to people? That still beats my day, though: I just sit in a room and talk to MYSELF.

And, it's BORING AS HELL.....LOL!!!☺

*Goddess* said...

I'm behind on my reading, but wow, that was a really thoughtful, touching piece. If that isn't proof of your dedication to the teaching profession, I don't know what is. Good luck!

FHB said...

Bruno - I thought it was once a Marine, always a Marine.

Goddess - Thanks. I hope it does some good.

BRUNO said...

Yeah, but that's for the REAL-Marines who like to sit around, and remember "those good-ol' days in the Corps". Nope, that's not for me.

Oh, there were a FEW good-times, and they're easy-to-remember, because there weren't that many of 'em!☺

It was kinda like SCHOOL: I enjoyed the "diploma"---but I didn't care for the "class-room" they was usin'...!☺

FHB said...

That's a cool way of lookin' at it. you should do a post on what that "school" taught ya.

BRUNO said...

Hell, who needs a POST to do that?

It's simple, really: "NEVER volunteer for ANYTHING, before, during, and/or after your service, ever-again...!"

Well, unless you were an OFFICER, that is?☺! OOPS, sorry---you said YOU were in AFROTC for a bit, weren't you?

(Go kicking & screaming, like ME, instead...!)

FHB said...

Aaaah, I did that for my dad. Got out as soon as they started talkin' about sendin' me to San Antone. Funny, I had a Navy Chief tell me the same thing once. NAVY stood for Never Again Volunteer Yourself.

BRUNO said...