By Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, Program Director, Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University
Education has changed a great deal since the days of the one-room school house, but the impact of a passionate teacher has not. I have seen many versions of that passion as both a student and educator.
Passionate Teaching in the Traditional Classroom
I asked a former faculty colleague, Mary, to explain why she still teaches after 30 years and why she believes in the power of passionate teaching.
She said, “Fresh out of college, diploma in hand, I was going to be the female version of Bob Woodward of Watergate fame! Got myself hired at a weekly paper. For newspaper virgins, at weeklies you do it all: write the copy, take the pictures, pick up the ads at the local grocery store, write the headlines, answer the phones, type in the classified ads, take out the trash, and on print day, drive the whole newspaper to the print shop, wait for the final product to be loaded into your family car and then deliver the sucker.”
Mary added, “Each time you go back to the paper, call about another story, take another photo and you’re off to the races for the week. And people look forward to what you do. And what you do drives you and you love it.” That is passion for work.
But after decades of coaching cub reporters (and there were a ton of them), she began to look for more. That shine on her passion for daily news work was fading. She thought that there had to be more. Then, she found it in teaching.
Mary continued, “Teaching, for me, has its greatest reward when I look out at a class of twenty blank and bored faces and see one, just one, who gets it, who asks a sensible, intelligent question, who knows, really knows in their gut, that everybody has a story inside them and it is your job to get it out, to ask the questions that bring the information forth.”
“If there’s a breaking news story that’s controversial, then we discuss that. I force them to put themselves in the story in order for them to see the story from both sides. It works. That’s my passion.”
Mary finds reward in the students who take time to thank her. One young lady who graduated with a degree in philosophy wasn’t able to connect her college work with real life. She made those connections in a journalism class with Mary.
After she graduated, she stopped by and asked if she could speak to the class. She told the class, “Listen to this teacher. She’s for real. She knows how to help you.”
Mary said, “My passion is the students and connecting with them every day. My passion is people. If you have it, work it. If you don’t, talk with those who do and listen to them.”
That is the story of passion in the face-to-face world. Can we have it in the online world?
Passionate Teaching Online
An American Public University (APU) instructor, Jere Ferguson, described his life as an adolescent with dyslexia. At the time, educators did not understand his condition and he was pigeonholed as not good enough for continuing education.
Jere was fortunate enough to have a teacher that saw more in him and took the time to help him learn how to overcome his disabilities. In one school year he went from a C- to an A student. He found out that his problem was not his intelligence, but simply a learning approach. This one act of kindness, a stranger’s passion for teaching, changed his life.
Jere decided as an adult that he wanted to make this kind of difference in the lives of other adults. He wanted to teach, mentor, and coach others as a profession. He started by working with dyslexic adults and learned that he was a good teacher.
The experience led him to earn his masters and start working on his DBA, which is in the ABD stage today. He says, “My goal is to become an adult educator and give back to my community.”
As a retired naval officer, corporate executive, and now educator for APU, he is another poster child for being passionate about making a difference in the lives of others.
APU Program Director Dr. Bill Owen says, “Those of us who teach are helping to mold future generations for the better. The impact of effective teaching influences many lives beyond just those we reach, because they will reach out to others, the way ripples in a pond move far beyond the initial impact. What better way to leave a legacy for good?”
Detlef Klann, another APU instructor, describes his passion to teach as, “it’s a chance to give back and share or pay if forward as I had some very good teachers who did the same for me. I enjoy helping others succeed and see myself as an enabler and catalyst toward success.”
Elizabeth Gray, an APU faculty development instructor, notes, “My passion to teach stems from a passion for learning in general. I’ve always loved the process of learning and the sense of fulfillment and achievement that comes with it. As a teacher, I am also a student in many ways. The icing on the cake is being able to share the joy of learning with students, to help them find their own passion for learning!”
Making a Difference
I teach because I know that teachers make a difference. I stumbled into the coaching and mentoring aspect of teaching. A young lady once entered my office at the University of Alaska in Anchorage to say goodbye, having decided that she was not cut out for college and had wasted nearly ten years as an adult student.
I told her to delay that decision for a few days. I found that she had been ill-advised in taking courses she did not need, and changed majors three times. After a few days of working with the academics department, the dean, and admissions staff, I called her back to my office to share that she would graduate in one month; she had taken all the courses needed for her major in logistics.
Mr. Klann concludes that, “Teachers at all levels are nurturers as we provide the ability to feed knowledge hunger pangs and quench thirst to prolong and deepen the journey of life-long learning and putting effective tools in the toolboxes and hands of our students so they can exceed beyond those who taught them. As a teacher I beam when I see or hear a student say ‘the light came on’ and/or ‘I so get it now’. Many times I hear from students who tell me about how a course helped them in a meaningful way. Helping someone else, to me that’s the epitome of paying it forward and the essence of teaching.”
The passion to teach face-to-face and online is real. But, can the passion be taught to other teachers? The evidence says the passion stems from overcoming personal pain. Age does not seem to determine when passion arises. Gender does not seem to be part of this passion.
The passion for anything may have to be born in the individual. It also may be honed and perfected by another passionate person in in any field.
What is your passion for teaching, for teaching online?
About the Author: Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.