2012 Outstanding Baccalaureate Professor of the Year
Professor of Psychology
Dalton State College
I've been traveling quite a bit presenting my research on millennial learners, and I have to begin by saying this is not my ideal time slot. Typically what I have to share goes over best as an evening address after an open bar! Then, everybody seems to love what I have to say.
When I'm teaching or speaking to faculty, my sole intent is to offer up something of value, and I am often bold enough to begin by saying my message can be transformational. It will be quite a challenge to do so within the time limits of these particular remarks, but that is not going to keep me from trying.
When I contemplated how I could best serve you in this limited time frame it occurred to me that you should not be hearing from me, but from our students. I don't have time to share all the highlights of my millennial learner research. For that, you will have to invite me to your campus, or better yet, buy the book when it comes out.
However, I'd like to begin with a student quote from an official evaluation of a professor. It is a comment most of us might save in a scrapbook as the student began, "If I only had one hour to live, I would spend it with my professor." Heartwarming, right? However, the student then went on to say, "because my professor can make an hour seem like a LIFETIME!" Clearly, the message is we need to embrace more engaging, evidence-based pedagogy.
Yet, engaging and motivating this new generation of learners can be quite a challenge. This point was made clear to me by my own nine-year-old not too long ago as we participated in family fun, dragging ourselves up the side of the ridge near our house. I asked him if he might like to go hiking on an overnight camping trip in the mountains. He paused, looking up the side of the ridge, and said, "Well, maybe, if we could build a big bonfire and roast marshmallows." So it is with our students. We must constantly be thinking about what's in it for them—making our content come to life in a way that is interesting and relevant to their lives.
That said, I do recognize that motivating our students and moving away from more traditional methods is difficult. A frustrated faculty member who participated in one of my workshops provided an interesting analogy lamenting that in his day, "They tossed you into the pool and you learned how to swim!" Continuing on, he bemoaned, "Nowadays, they've got those little floaties on!" I'm not an advocate for educational floaties, but given the diverse abilities of our student learners, if we are going to maintain high expectations, we are going to have to do it in an atmosphere in which we provide high levels of support.
Which brings me to the most important part of my message. When asked to describe the characteristics of their ideal professor, it is clear that WHO WE ARE and how we interact with our students matters most to them. When I recently asked students to write down what they might wish for me to share with you, I received responses such as:
The reality of our situation is that it transcends achievement of learning outcomes. Whatever the content, our students should be better people for having experienced the learning environments we create. They will tell you we have much more influence than we might think. So, if we were all to go back and ask our students one critical question, it would be not only "What can I do to assist you in achieving course goals?" but "What can I do to support and inspire you to learn more, become more and accomplish more?" Because inspiring teachers at their very core are simply great people who make us feel that, we too, can become great.
I personally am so fortunate to have been impacted by some of that greatness throughout my life. We are all here thanks to CASE and the Carnegie Foundation, but it is the support of those closest to us that really makes us who we are. My parents and siblings have always been supportive and incredibly proud of me. I also feel as though this award particularly belongs to my colleagues at Dalton State where I have been so inspired by a recent revolution in learning-centered teaching among our faculty, and I need to thank Dr. Sandra Stone, our vice president and my nominator, as the catalyst for that movement.
Finally, a few years back when our son Cal was little, I was working feverishly to meet a grant proposal deadline. He approached, asking me to play with him. I frustratingly explained to him that the proposal I was working on would be worth a lot of money so I did not have time to play. A few minutes later, he reappeared with his piggy bank on the verge of tears and asked, "If I give you my money, then can you play with me mom?"
This business of teaching and transforming lives can be time consuming. Lately, I have been traveling so much. What I am most thankful for is that I have the sweetest child and an amazing partner who deserves an award just for putting up with me for the last 15 years.
I will tell you that when my nine-year-old heard about my winning this award, he seemed concerned and said, "You're not going to become so famous that someone is going to assassin you, are you?" I had to reassure him that would not be the case, yet nine years ago when my partner and I decided to have a child, I did have some hesitation based on the harsh realities of the subculture in which we live. Well before I was born, Martin Luther King Jr. said he longed for a day when "little black boys and black girls" would be able to "join hands with white boys and white girls." Now, 50 years later, just last week, our president in his acceptance speech said he still hopes to create a culture in our country where "it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, black or white, Hispanic, Asian or Native American, young or old, rich or poor, abled or disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here if you are willing to try." It is my greatest hope that through our influence in the classroom, that is the future we will create for my child.
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