Monday, January 21, 2008

Teaching About What Humans Do

Education Historian Sherm Dorn has tagged me to discuss why I do what I do so I am snagging his post title and running with it. Finally meeting Sherm in person was one of the highlights of going to the Social Science History Association meeting last November. Sherm discusses how his work allows him the opportunity to "navel gaze" and puts his teaching into the larger context of his students' higher education.

I've taught at five distinct types of state institutions and now teach at a former normal school in a rural area. Many of our students are first generation college and are still learning what it takes to do well in school. As with students everywhere, many are still doing more work to try to avoid doing the consistent and thorough work usually required to be a successful student. In many cases, students are so busy with their jobs and/or families, that most studying takes place late at night right before the exam or paper is due. The change I've noticed in the last few years is that students are more willing to overtly to assign outside blame when they do not do well - missing a deadline or not fulfilling the minimum requirements is somehow irrelevant. On the other hand, there are numerous students working really hard and trying to fit quite a bit into their busy, overscheduled lives.

Working with pre-service and in-service teachers allows me some unique opportunities to explore a wider variety of topics than my stated doctoral fields (20th century US political, diplomatic, Borderlands, oral, and local history, and teacher education) and explore new research options that overlap into my scholarship. Our 12-hour teaching load means that teaching dominates our lives and finding research and focus time is especially critical. One of the ways I've managed this is by teaching online and teaching 3-hour classes instead of a 3-hour class one-hour slice at a time. I find we get much more done and students have plenty of time to fit in the reading given the week between classes or the usual two weeks between online assignment due dates.

My primary mission is helping my students - many of whom are already teachers themselves or will soon be - become lifelong learners and enhance their quest for new knowledge. And, as with most other humans, those who are the busiest are the most likely to find time to do this. There's always something new to learn around the next corner and hopefully I inspire students to keep finding their own paths to discover their own learning.

Another important facet of what I hope to instill in students is the ability to trasncend the facts and dates of history (not ignore or forget but actually build on them as a foundation) to develop their own theories and analysis of the history of the world aroudn them to better inform them about their world and what part in it they want to play.

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