Tag Archives: Education

A Great Day to Be a Teacher

14 Sep

There are days when teaching can be a drag. Those are the days when students are falling asleep, looking at their phones or staring out the windows. Those are also the days when we are covered up in meetings, bogged down in assessment or listening to other teachers talk about how much of a drag their day has been.

Today is not one of those days. Today is a great day because of a student who stopped by my office to ask a question.

Last semester, he was in one of my classes and remembered something that I said. In fact, he did not just remember it. He thought about it all summer and wanted to talk about it more. He wanted a deeper understanding of the topic but could not come up with the right words to explain what was on his mind. However, it did not take long for me to realize what it was about.

I spent a day talking about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It is one of my favorite subjects for several reasons. First, it was an international story. Second, it happened in Tennessee. Third, it has been 90 years, and we still argue over the same issues. I go into a lot of detail to weave the story and make it interesting. However, it was not the trial that made this student think. It was what I said after the lecture.

By the way, this is John Scopes.john-scopes

On Scopes Trial day, I take the opportunity to say that we should learn as much as possible about our world even if we do not like what we learn. For example, the politics of today require conservative-minded people to think of liberal-minded people as tree-hugging communists. It also requires liberal-minded people to think of conservative-minded people as, according to one of our presidential candidates, a basket of deplorables. We do this because televisions tell us to do it. We do this because the people around us tell us to do it. We do this because our leaders tell us to do it.

Instead of letting those forces tell us how to think, we should learn about both sides and make the decision for ourselves. A liberal-minded person should research what conservative-minded people see for the world. A conservative-minded person should research what liberal-minded people see for the world. It does not mean that minds will be changed or that they will agree on anything. However, it means that they will have an understanding of what they are arguing against instead of wailing about something they do not know anything about. Who knows? Somebody might say, “You know, I do not agree with that other side, but that one idea is not half bad.”

In my mind, this is what a college education is all about. Obviously, students obtain the skills to get a job. However, they also learn that there are a lot of different aspects to the world, and we should understand as many of them as possible.

They should go to Biology and learn about evolution.

They should take a Religion class and learn about faith.

They should talk to that kid with a different background and learn about their life.

They should take Art and realize there is more to it than paint.

They should take History and learn about how we got to where we are.

Once they take those classes, they can decide if they think evolution happened or if the Bible is correct. They can decide if they like a painting or wonder why someone would pay money for it.

That is what the student who came to my office wanted to talk about. A few words at the end of a class made him think all summer and realize that there is more to this world than what is in our heads. Other people have ideas in their heads, and, before we talk about how stupid they are, we should learn why they think that way. If more people were like this student, then maybe we would not be so divided.

Yep, today is a great day to be a teacher.

2,996? Really?

25 Oct

The other night, Necole was telling me how proud she is that I am a teacher and talked about all of the people I have influenced through the years. Sometimes, we teachers need such encouragement. During the daily grind, our motivation tends to get overwhelmed by grading papers and seeing people nod off in class.

As she talked about all of the people I have taught, I began to wonder something. How many students have ventured into my classes? It would be easy to figure out. Just go back and count. I started teaching in the summer of 2001, when my university needed someone to cover a night class that had three students. Since that summer, I have taught history to 2,996 people.2996

Honestly, many of them have faded from my memory. Others I can still visualize sitting in the room. Some were great students who excelled. Others only showed up half of the time and did not stay in school very long. Sometimes, I wonder where they are and what they are doing. Do they have families? Do they have good jobs? Have their lives gone according to plan? Do they remember anything that they heard in my class? Did I really influence some of them?

Those are questions for which I have few answers, but there are some things for which I am certain.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher. Sometimes, I feel like an old Rock band playing the same songs over and over. The stories I tell can get monotonous. However, those bands probably like the songs and know that each audience may be hearing them for the first time. I like the stories I tell and get satisfaction in knowing that the students have never heard many of them.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher because I like the subject. The people. The events. They all interest me. If nothing else happens, then I want the students to realize that the people actually lived. They are not characters in a book. They were happy and mad. They fell in and out of love. They were people just like us. They lived. They died. Somewhere along the way, they made it into my history class.

Certainly, teachers age while the students never do. I started teaching when I was 32 years old. That wasn’t much older than the students. I even had one student who went to high school with my older brother. Back then, I connect through popular culture. We listened to some of the same music and grew up with similar experiences. We could remember many of the same major events.

However, students cycle out, and a new group comes in. Every year, I get older, but the students always stayed in the same age group. They grew up with different experiences and remembering different events. The fall of 2001 was my first full semester, and I can remember being in class on 9/11. The freshmen I am now teaching were just starting elementary school that year.

In essence, I could have been considered part of the same generation with my early students, but I am in a different one from my current students. That’s a big difference. Sometimes, being around a lot of young people makes teachers feel young. At other times, it makes us feel old. In other words, it makes us feel like part of history.

I am not sure what I meant to write in this post, but it is hard to believe that I have taught 2,996 people. It’s also hard to realize that some of them may be out there retelling some of the things I told them, but I hope they are. I hope I have had some influence.

A Historian’s Office

6 Jan

Two days of constant meetings have melted my mind, and the only sounds I can hear over the drone of voices are my brain cells screaming as they leap to their deaths. As I sit in my office in an attempt to recover, I  can’t think of anything clever or interesting to write about. Therefore, I am going to take the easy way out and describe what I see – my office.

My office has turned into a popular hangout on campus, and I sometimes describe it as the El Paso train station. People are always coming and going. Students and teachers drop by to visit on a regular basis, and they often comment on the things I have scattered about. Of course, that is once they get past the darkness of it all. I keep all lights off except for one desk lamp. I have been accused of being a vampire; of trying to be mysterious; and of being a cave-dweller. I usually reply that I do my best work in the dark, but the truth is that the bigger lights hurt my eyes. Whatever the complaints and smart comments, people must like my office because someone is always in it.

With that in mind, I am going to attempt this blog experiment to test my descriptive skills. I am going to sit at my desk and describe the things I can see. We will do this in categories.

Category 1 – Wall Hangings

As I look to my left, there are four things hanging on the wall.

1. An old print of a cattle drive that I stole out of one of the classrooms. The teacher in that room is a Native American, so I figured he didn’t want cowboys in there anyway. Two cowboys are riding hard to stop a stampede that began with a lightning storm.

2. A photograph of Ulysses S. Grant. It is an iconic photo of the general as he leans against a tree. The best part is his original signature that is matted underneath.

3. A collection of Confederate money. There are six Confederate bills – One, Two, Five, Ten, Twenty, Fifty – matted and framed. There are a lot of Sons of Confederate Veterans members around here who wish the money was still good.

4. A photograph of Adolph Hitler and a Nazi arm band. It is a typical picture of the tyrant in civilian clothes. Like the photo of Grant, the most interesting part of this item is the document included with his original signature. I explain to everyone that I am not a Nazi. I simply think it is a remarkable piece of history.

Now, I move to the wall in front of me.

1. Above the door, there hangs a panoramic of the Tennessee Maneuvers. When the U.S. entered World War II, the military believed that troops needed to be seasoned with war games before going to Europe. Tennessee is geographically similar to where they were going, and the area was selected for that purpose. My university was chosen as the headquarters, as troops fought battles; liberated cities; and built bridges across rivers.

2. A plaque given to me after serving as honorary coach for our men’s basketball team. It was a resounding victory.

3. A plaque given to me in recognition for serving on the community council of a local bank.

4. A plaque given to me as the “Most Outstanding Faculty Member” for last year. I was proud of this because I beat my mentor before he retired. He had won the award a million years in a row.

5. A certificate honoring me as a Colonel Aide de Camp for the governor of Tennessee. They pass these things out like candy. It is the same certificate given to Harlan Sanders in Kentucky. He wasn’t a real colonel. He was  a fake one like me.

6. A drawing of the old county courthouse. It was consistently voted the ugliest courthouse in Tennessee and was demolished before I was born.

I hope this is not getting monotonous. On to the wall on my right.

1. My favorite plaque. It reads, “On This Site In 1897 Nothing Happened”. I got it at the Longwood Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Some of you may know it better as the home of the king of Mississippi in “True Blood”.

2. A license of prostitution given to Rosita del Oro in 1876. This probably attracts the males to my office because it is included with a photograph of a nude woman playing a harp.

3. The next item covers a lot of the wall. I took a lot of pictures of the Dumas Brothel when I researched it in Butte, Montana. Upon my return, I had a local artist paint a few of the photographs. This one depicts the interior of a crib, a one room shack that prostitutes would work out of. A woman is sitting by the window in an attempt to draw customers. I will blog more later about the women of the cribs.

Finally, the wall behind me.

1. Another painting of the Dumas depicts the outside of the building. It is a two-story brick building that the artist placed in a Victorian setting. I am not real happy about the woman in the window. She looks a lot like Morticia Addams.

Category 2 – Filing Cabinet Decor

1. A magnetic fish with legs and Darwin written inside of it. I picked it up in Santa Fe and have to hide it when my parents come around.

2. A sticker of George Washington with a dialogue bubble that says, “I grew hemp.” I believe he was the largest producer in the colonies.

3. A magnetic voodoo doll that I bought in New Orleans. I haven’t tried it out yet, but people better watch out.

4. A bumper sticker with an alien on it that says, “You Don’t Scare Me. I’m A Teacher!” It came from the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico, one of the greatest museums ever.

5. On top of the cabinet sits an original World War I German helmet – the kind with the spike on top. They would jab it into the ground and use it as a cooking pot. They used it as another got of pot as well. You can use your imagination.

Category 3 – Bookshelf Without Books

Top shelf first.

1. A miniature of the Roman Coliseum. I got it in Rome.

2. A candle from the San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona. An ex-girlfriend got it for me, and I finally visited the site last year.

3. A model of the Mayflower, the boat filled with pilgrims searching for religious freedom. Ugh. The real story of the Mayflower is a lot more interesting.

4. Two bobbleheads. One is a sheik wearing sunglasses. The other is a Muslim woman wearing an abaya. This is not an attempt at a political or religious statement. They were given to me by an ex-girlfriend who moved to the UAE. They sold them. She bought them. I displayed them.

Next shelf.

1. A textbook on Western Civilization. This is very outdated.

2. A book called, “Pauline’s: Memories of the Madam on Clay Street”. It was given to me by the university president and chronicles the life of a madam in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

3. Another book titled, “Life of Tom Horn”. He was a prominent figure in the cattle wars of Wyoming. Bad ending, they hung him.

4. And another book called, “Intimate Papers of Colonel House”. I have not read this. It is an old book gifted to me by a professor who passed away.

5. A little set of nuns and priests playing poker. This is from the same ex-girlfriend who gave the candle to me. These little guys came from Italy. I wouldn’t want to sit across the table from any one of them.

5. Along side those things is my Masters thesis about prostitution in mining camps of the American West. I don’t have much to say about this, except that I finished it.

The bottom shelf (I know. Thank God!)

1. A replica of a statue on campus. It was built to honor the laborers who built my building during the Great Depression. It is meant to symbolize the New Deal and other aspects of the era. Unfortunately, it is out of proportion and looks like a midget.

2. A brick from this building that was dislodged during renovation. It was originally laid in 1936 and looks like it.

3. A beer stein decorated with John Wayne pictures. I can’t help it. John Wayne is my all time favorite actor. Inside the stein, I placed glass sunflowers that a weird female student once gave me. Don’t ask.

I suppose this should end, but I can’t describe a historian’s office without listing a few books. We all have to have books. So, I will name the first book I see on each shelf.

Category 4 – Books

1. “Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West” by Anne Seagraves

2. “The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico” by Andrew L. Knaut

3. “Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government” by Catherine Allgor

4. “Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, and Other Stories of the World’s Greatest Unexplained Phenomenon” by M.V. Ingram

5. “Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People” by Jon Butler

6. “Mining Town: The Photographic Record of T.N. Barnard and Nellie Stockbridge from the Couer d’Alenes” by Patricia Hart and Ivar Nelson

Thankfully, that’s it. Oh, you may be wondering about my desk. Classes haven’t started yet, so there is nothing on it except sunglasses and a lamp.