It really wasn't until college that I began to take my learning seriously. I largely treated high school as one hoop after another until I finally managed to graduate. I did whatever a teacher forced me to in order to earn a C or better. I never applied myself to really learn, only to earn a grade. Everything changed after my first year in college, though. I discovered that I really was interested in learning things; it's just that I had a hard time being engaged when what I was supposed to be learning was so pre-packaged and boxed up. College let me learn about anything I wanted, from American history to ethnomusicology (yes, that's a real thing). I became fascinated with anthropology, economics, sociology, astronomy, psychology, and biblical history. None of those things were offered in high school, and I wanted to soak up as much of it as I could. Along the way, I started to see why they forced us to learn all that packaged curriculum in high school. If I really wanted to study astronomy, I needed to understand physics. If I really wanted to grasp macroeconomics, I needed to have a good understanding of statistics.
The result of this newfound love of learning was a marked rise in my GPA and the amount of time I spent studying. Also, I tended to idolize many of my professors. I loved the idea of academia and the amount of knowledge and experience many of them held. It wasn't until later that I realized so many college professors lack the interpersonal and pedagogical skills necessary to be truly effective teachers (case in point being the overly stuffy academic conference I just attended in which none of the professors there were at all interested in talking to me once they found out I taught high school). So for this post, I'd like to appreciate one of the college professors I had who was not only incredibly knowledgeable but also an incredibly great teacher: Dr. Glover.
I first had Dr. Glover for US History 221 (1492-1865). I'd heard many people who'd had her previously say that she expected too much and graded too hard. I later decided they were just lazy. Dr. Glover did expect a lot from her students, but she also assumed they expected a lot of her in return. She began all her lectures by playing a song that had something to do with the topic. I still remember listening to Bruce Springsteen's song, "The Rising," before a lecture on The Second Great Awakening (it's a great song - in fact I think I'll go to youtube and listen to it now as I write the rest of this post). I stole Dr. Glover's idea and now play as much music in class as possible, especially in my history classes - it's such a great way to engage students. But it wasn't just the music. You could tell Dr. Glover put A LOT of work into her lectures. They were utterly fascinating. I often found myself leaving class with no notes because I was so interested in what she had to say that I didn't want to miss any of it by taking the time to write it down. The lectures were also thematic and played off of each other. She did write rigorous tests, and she did expect a lot from students' writing, but it wasn't too much; it was the kind of work college students should have been producing.
I didn't only have Dr. Glover for US History though, she was also an advisor for my senior honors thesis that I wrote on Richard III (who, by the way, is super interesting if you're at all interested in medieval English history). In that role, Dr. Glover was one of the kindest, most helpful people I ever worked with while I was at the University of Tennessee. She responded to e-mails incredibly quickly, smiled every time I saw her, and offered more help than I ever asked for in assembling the panel of professors to which I would have to defend my thesis. At the same time, she made it very clear that the very small group of us who chose to go through the honors process would be held to very high standards, and even asked one of the original members to step down after it was clear that this member wasn't holding herself to the same standards as the rest of us. I was very impressed. Dr. Glover made it clear that while she cared about our success, anything other than excellence was simply unacceptable.
So I just wanted to let you know, Dr. Glover, that the honors program seriously increased my understanding of what it means to do history, and it's informed much of my teaching. My students are better for it. I'd also like to thank you for instilling in me a drive for excellence in my work. Anything worth doing is indeed worth doing well. So this one's for you, Dr. Glover. Thanks for all of your hard work!