Tag Archives: Teaching

A Thank You Note to a Student

1 May

This academic year is quickly coming to an end. This week, classes ended, and, next week, final exams will be given. It is a busy time of year, and just about everyone is glad that it has arrived. Students and teachers are ready for a few months without lectures, assignments and tests.

I finished up one of my survey courses and was packing up while the students filed out of the room. I am certain that many of them were glad that they would not have to take more history. However, one student, who always sits in the back, walked up to me.Cumberland

He said that he could not let the semester come to an end without telling me how much he enjoyed the class. He said that he learned a lot about American history and told his parents about some of the stuff he learned. He also said that I was the best teacher he ever had and wanted to thank me for everything I had done.

I thanked him for the kind words. It was not enough, but I did not know how else to respond.

Through the years, people have asked why I teach. They talk about how it does not pay enough. They talk about how I could be doing a lot of other things. When I see students sleeping in class or playing on their phones, I wonder the same things.

However, I was reminded why I teach. It is for students like the one who thanked me for introducing him to the wonders of history.

Teachers do not get many moments like that one. We do our jobs and hope that the students are learning something. Often, we forget why we do the job. Well, we do it because helping students learn is a fulfilling experience.

Now, I say thank you to this student for helping me remember that.

Monty Pope – Teacher and Mentor

18 Jun

A few days ago, I had lunch with Monty Pope. Most of you have never heard that name, but please allow me to introduce him. Monty recently retired from a long career teaching history that began in the public schools of Nashville and ended at Cumberland University.

I was working on a Master’s degree when I first met Monty. He was offering a class on Historical Geography, and I needed to fulfill some hours. It turned into a class that I will always remember. Monty took us on a tour of the town that I grew up in and, through architectural styles, showed us when and how the town developed. Riding on that van, I had no idea that Monty and I would teach together for over a decade.Monty Pope

When I was hired, I did not know what I was doing. I had never taught a class. I had never made out a syllabus. I had no notes from which to lecture. Luckily, Monty was there to be a mentor and show me the way. Simply, he taught me how to teach.

Monty taught me that there is more to the job than talking about history in a classroom. We are to be mentors to the students just as he was a mentor to me. We are to help students when they have problems. We are to be advisors and counselors.

As I type those words, something should be clear. Certainly, we are to be academic advisors and counselors, but we are to be ready to face other issues. What do we do when a student comes to us crying because a family member has passed away? What do we do when a student is pregnant and expecting during finals week? What do we do when a student asks for advice because they lost their job?

Monty taught me that we advise students in history, but we also advise them in life. Monty taught me that we should go by the book, but, sometimes, situations arise that the book does not cover.

Monty taught me how to teach, but, more importantly, he taught me how to be a teacher.

Monty also taught me History. I have been enrolled in countless history classes, but my only class with Monty was the one I mentioned. However, I learned more History sitting in Monty’s office than I did in most of those classes.

He is a Jacksonian and knows as much about Andrew Jackson and Tennessee history as anyone. His tales of the old days in this area are fascinating. Monty can weave a historical narrative better than anyone I have ever known. His secret, perhaps, is that he never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. As I have heard many times, a Pope has been at every significant event in American history.

Monty has taught thousands of students through the years, and each one of them could write a post about him. I am certain that the vast majority of them would say the same thing. Monty was their history teacher, but he was also their mentor.

Annual Activities Report, or There is a Lot to this Higher Education Stuff

1 Jun

Teaching in higher education is a great job. I get to talk about history and, hopefully, fill the minds of students with information that they need to know. It is great to have a student come up after class and ask a question. It is great when they show interest in what we are talking about. There is great satisfaction in being a teacher.History Teacher

However, higher education is about more than teaching. We are expected to serve the university as members of various committees. We are expected to take part in scholarly activities outside of the classroom. We are expected to serve the surrounding community.

At the end of each academic year, we turn in an Annual Activities Report to our dean. It is a way for the administration to know that we are doing our jobs. I just finished my report and realized that it has been a very busy year.

In the Fall of 2013, I taught four classes and one directed study. Three of the classes were surveys over the first part of American history, and one was the history of Latin America. Enrolled in those courses, were 132 students. I also taught four classes in the Spring of 2014. Three were surveys over the second part of American history, and one was the Expansion of the United States, my specialty. Those classes had 118 students. In addition, I was an advisor to 18 students in the Fall and 12 students in the Spring.

In October of 2013, I attended the conference of the Western History Association in Tucson, Arizona. It was an awesome experience. I was also able to raise $15,000 for faculty development.

Did I mention committees? During this academic year, I have served on the Faculty Senate, the GEC (General Education Core) Committee, the Athletic Committee and the Athletic Compliance Committee. Those last two are part of my duties as Faculty Athletic Representative.

As Faculty Athletic Representative, I have also attended meetings of G-MAC, the conference that we are moving into. That is part of our move to Division II of the NCAA. There are several sports on campus, and I have been to games of  baseball, soccer, softball and football.

Oh yeah, I am also the Pi Gamma Mu sponsor, which is the national honor society for the Social Sciences. We also have Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society for History.

It seems as if there is always something to do on campus, but there are also plenty of things going on around town. I have spoken to the members of the First Presbyterian Church and been interviewed by three of Nashville’s television stations. Also, I have been interviewed by The Nashville Business Journal, The Tennessean, The Lebanon Democrat and The Wilson Post. I also wrote an article for Lebanon Living magazine.

Community service? There is a lot there, as well. I am a member of the board of directors for the James E. Ward Agriculture and Community Center, Fiddler’s Grove Historic Village and the Buchanan Historic Home. I am also on the Lebanon Regional Planning Commission and am a member of the Rotary Club.

When I entered higher education, I knew that I would be teaching history. This other stuff came as a surprise. The other surprise? I like doing all of this stuff.

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.