About My Own Education

It is my belief that learning about the career paths of others is more than merely interesting.  Reflections of others may be valuable when making choices for oneself.  Conversation regarding our experiences also serves to humanize the working relationships among individuals.  For those who share this belief, the following reflections on my own professional career path are offered.

My initial, formal schooling experiences took place in a number of small-town public schools in two western plains states.  "How small were they . . .?"  Well, my high school graduating class had a grand total of  twenty-three people.  Most of my elementary teachers were not very memorable . . .  I would guess that I was not very memorable to them, as well.   I was a quiet child, most teachers viewed me as "average" and, accordingly, I received average grades and average attention.

This changed around sixth grade when my father returned to teaching and we moved to a different community.  As a "teacher's kid " my quietness was viewed differently by teachers in this new community.  My quietness was now seen as introspection more than dullness . . . and my grades improved.  I also had a wonderful seventh grade teacher who valued my creativity in writing and in art.  One of the works of art she had us study was a lithograph called "Saved" which appears here.  My self image and grades improved for real . . . and I was indeed "saved" by this teacher who created in a small town boy the love of the beauty and wonder to be found in the world . . . and fostered my desire to be part of this larger world.

In high school I began to think of what I might like to pursue in terms of a career.  Both parents discouraged me from entering teaching.  Their two main concerns (based on their own experiences) were low respect and even lower financial reward.  Despite this advice, I had become captivated by the world of books.  I also got caught up in the social side of school; I wanted to be a star basketball player and wanted to be popular -- I was successful at achieving neither.  But I was successful at schoolwork.  My intellectual role model was my high school science teacher.  He was the only science teacher in the school;  I took freshman General Science from him, sophomore Biology, Chemistry as a junior, and Physics my senior year.  He seemed to know more "difficult stuff" than my other teachers and he had a witty, one-liner sense of humor.  He also played pick-up basketball with us after school during football season.

So, where should I attend college to pursue my career choice?  I didn't want to stay close to home.  I also did not realize I could seek to attend a college out-of-state.  Thus, my options were limited.    My high school basketball coach had attended a small teachers college in the opposite corner of the state.  Despite the fact that my basketball talents were not fully appreciated by this coach, I listed his college as one of the places I wanted my scores on the college aptitude tests to be sent.  In June, after May graduation, I received a letter from this college that offered me a $50 scholarship for the next academic year -- for both semesters!  I decided to attend there.  I decided I would be a high school science teacher . . . and I decided I would become a coach (one who would be able to recognize the true talent of his players).

When I arrived at college that Fall, I declared Biology in Secondary Education as my major and I hoped to minor in English or Social Science.  At the first meeting with my faculty advisor, I was informed that Biology majors must minor in Chemistry . . . so I did (after all, he must know).  In college I enjoyed the academic and social life.  I liked becoming "a new me" with new friends and new situations; I liked the knowledge opportunities.  What I was less sure of was my major . . . the science courses were exciting and challenging, but I really enjoyed my general courses in psychology, history, and literature.    Even though I thought about a change of major, I was very successful as a science student.  I was identified as a student lab instructor and was encouraged to explore a graduate school program in science teaching by the Chairwoman of the Biology Department.  I student taught in high school biology the last semester of my senior year.  It was my first field experience in high school teaching and, while I did okay, I wasn't sure this was really for me.  Thus, when I received an offer to attend graduate school in the east on a full-ride National Science Foundation Fellowship, there was no doubt in my mind that I would take it.  I made this decision even though I knew that by going to graduate school I might be drafted into the US Army.

Graduate school was heaven!  I found that in the program I entered there was no set curriculum . . . I could pick my own path . . . meet my own intellectual needs.  While this was certainly confusing at the beginning (after all, how could I decide what I needed to know when I didn't know what I needed to know), it turned out to be marvelous.  I was emersed in knowledge . . . classes, plays, musical recitals, coffee houses, film festivals, museums, places of historical interest, places of personal interest.  It was also the late sixties.  I experienced a few student riots, social tension, personal angst . . . I found myself drifting more and more from the hard answers provided in the sciences to the hard questions raised in literature and psychology.  At the close of the year I was drafted . . . talk about angst!






Fast forward . . .three years later I am honorably discharged from the US Army.  My last duty station was in a beautiful, rocky mountain state and I wanted to stay in that area for awhile.  While drawing unemployment, I substitute taught at various elementary schools and loved it.  I discovered to my amazement that it was possible in that state to teach elementary school on a secondary certificate.  I applied for such a position in an open-concept, team-teaching elementary school, was rejected once, then hired.  I spent the next three years teaching third and fourth grades and received tenure at the end of the third year.  I loved teaching all the subjects (not just science) to a group of children I saw most of the day.  I was part of a terrific team of teachers in an innovative school.  I enjoyed teaching these youngsters, following each change of season with them, dealing with the their growing pains . . . in many ways, these students were some of my most memorable teachers.  Despite these "wonder years," despite advice to the contrary from my principal, I decided to leave my teaching position to go back to graduate school and earn a doctoral degree in order to teach at the college level.  I was able to make this decision largely because the G.I. Bill provided veterans of my service era funds for a monthly living allowance.

I decided that I wanted to focus my doctoral work in educational philosophy.  I wanted to explore the BIG questions . . . what are the purposes of education . . . how are people's lives affected by education . . . who wins . . . who loses . . .  What knowledge is of most worth?  How is this determined?  By whom?  What gives one person the right to teach this knowledge to another?  Is teaching and learning an act of creation or of destruction?  These questions grew out of my own experiences in rural schools, the turbulence of the sixties, and my own teaching.  Of course many of my professional friends felt this focus in my doctoral work was a waste of time, I should focus in a more practical, marketable area . . . like curriculum development, school administration, or educational measurements.

By exploring the questions of interest to me, however, my doctoral work brought all my experiences and dreams together.  By my second year there, I received a graduate assistantship and was able to maintain full-time enrollment.  As part of this assistantship, I taught college classes and supervised student teachers.  Most exciting to me was my dissertation.  I developed my doctoral dissertation topic around a precept from the writings of Albert Camus.  It was extremely demanding work; but equally rewarding.  I read nearly all of Camus' literary and philosophic work (and critiques of this body of work).  In my professional world of educational "plague", I found tremendous application for his "neither victims nor executioners" approach to problems of humans living and working together.  I saw what I believed to be meaningful connections to what I had experienced, what I hoped to experience, and what, as a teacher, I wanted to help others experience.

After receiving my doctoral degree, my first college teaching job was in a small, private midwestern college.  In a small college one wears many hats.  There I taught educational foundations courses, human relations courses, educational psychology courses, and science methods courses.  My first day on the job, I was asked by the departmental chairperson to be Director of Student Field Experiences.  The Director taught one less class than the rest of the faculty plus received a small stipend for work which needed to been done outside the normal teaching day.  As the new kid on the block, I decided it was in my best professional interest to be accommodating to my new institution (plus, I could use the extra money), so I took the assignment.  I was surprised to find I liked many aspects of administrative work; and, I was surprised that a number of people liked my approach.

Because of my increasing interest in administration, I moved on to teach at a larger, state university in the west.  At this university, I was more equally a teacher and an administrator . . .on a 12 month contract.  It was there that I began to study and write about the educational use of computer technology . . . a new field of personal interest for me.  I achieved tenure; I was promoted; life was good.  Yet, once again, I decided to move.  Once again I was counseled by professional friends that I was foolish to give up tenure the other benefits I had accrued to begin somewhere else again.  Once again, I went against well-meaning advice.  Once again, I relocated.  I relocated here.

I have been here now for more than a quarter of a century.  Every time I thought of relocating (even taking initial steps to explore positions elsewhere), events transpire (or conspired) to re-involve and re-excite me here. After my fifteenth year at YSU (I had been teaching classes but mostly served as Assistant Dean, Assistant to the Dean, and even Interim Dean), I decided to step away from administrative work and focus on my main passion . . . teaching.  Over the next ten years, I found full-time teaching to be filled with challenges that closely matched the mix of professional activities I found enjoyable and engaging (some days more than others, of course). I explored web site development. I became interested in Social and Emotional Learning as the underlying bedrock of excellent teaching.

In the winter of 2011 I decided to run for chair of the Department of Educational Foundations, Research, Technology and Leadership. I was elected (I hesitate to say "I won" since I saw it more of a position of responsibility than of personal achievement). What goes around comes around . . . and I was back in an administrative role at YSU once again.

At the end of spring semester 2013 I retired from YSU . . . but I did not leave. Instead, I decided to continue to teach part-time while enjoying having more time to do "a few of my favorite things" . . . spending time with family (especially those live-every-minute-of-the-day grandchildren and their grandmother), going on regional driving adventures (at my age this becomes even more of an adventure), using time to explore through my love of books, television shows, and movies (old and new). Work at YSU continues to be a wonderful experience to be associated with so many caring and talented individuals in the enterprise of education.  It would seem that I am here for the remainder of my run.

. . . but . . . then again . . .

Back at the start of my story, I mentioned attending a graduate school in the east. There I took a course from Erik Erickson, famous for his eight stages of psychosocial development. Integrity versus Despair is the eighth and final stage of Erik Erikson's theory. This stage occurs during late adulthood from age 65 through the end of life. During this period of time, people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment from a life well lived or a sense of regret and despair over a life misspent. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.

Hello wisdom . . . who would have thought? Here's looking at you, kid!


 
 

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