Dana Griffin

DANA GRIFFIN:


Uh, I’m Dana Griffin, I’m a Professor of Geology and, uh, (background noise) currently and Associate Dean in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

A well-prepared teacher has a number of characteristics, I think, uh---obviously some of those will have to do with the discipline area, uh, the content area.  Uh, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the teacher knows all the answers to all the questions and what I note is that the---the more the students become. Uh, in---in the university setting from freshman through graduate students, the more tolerant they are of professors not knowing all the answers.  Uh, they can be rather intolerant when they’re---they’re young and inexperienced freshman and expect that---professors will know everything.  Uh, in the public schools I think the same thing is somewhat true, uh---but there’s another dimension of a well-prepared teacher and I think that’s a teacher whose, uh, prepared emotionally to approach the---the children, if we’re talking about young, public school students, or the---whatever age students they might be.  Uh, my children have responded much more positively to teachers that they really thought had an interest in their understanding of the material than a teacher who was apparently dust---just doing a job.  Uh, and they could tell the difference, I think my students can tell the difference.  Uh, they know when I have a bad day, they know when I have a good day, but they, overall, I think know that I care a lot about ‘em. 

Clearly the preparation of a---of a teacher from the university perspective has to involve content and has to involve pedagogy.  I---I don’t know that you can abandon either one of those.  Uh, there’s more to it than that, uh, there are attitudes that the---the, uh, beginning teachers, uh, or perspective teachers, bring with them and I’ve, uh, I’ve had, in my own classes, uh, some teachers in, for example, the physical science teaching major, uh, who just seem to be excited about what they were going to go do.  Uh, they turned out to be excellent students.  I’ve had some students who were preparing to be teachers who simply saw it as, uh---uh, a---uh---a way to get a job, much less excited.  Uh, they’ll go out, they’ll teach, uh, they’ll be at times effective but they---there’s something they don’t bring with them.  And the students will know that.  I don’t know how we teach it.  I suspect we can’t teach it except---it---except to the extent that we’re excited about our own subjects, uh, and we pass that enthusiasm on.

A teacher, I think, who---who does not have a fairly broad general education, uh, is at a serious disadvantage because that teacher will not see connections between what he or she has as a---a specialty discipline and other things the students will be taking.  Now, for example, we have a---a course at BYU, it’s a general education course, uh, nearly all the university takes it with the exception, uh, among others, of---the teachers who---who take substitute courses for, it’s called Physical Science 100.  It involves fundamental physics, chemistry and geology.  Uh, we can approach that by treating those as completely unrelated, separate subjects, a collection of facts, or we can try to weave through it, connections.  Uh, if we’re successful the students walked out having seen connections.  Not only connections between the subjects but connections to, uh, life experiences, things that they have done, things that they will do.  I think that sort of---of theme has to run through general education for teachers.  They are not going to be simply dispensers of---history or chemistry or whatever their subject may be.  They’re going to interact with students, uh, in a broader way, beyond their subject matter.

All of the things that you could get in GE is probably a really broad, large plate.  Uh, and---and no one gets it all because there are choices to be made.  Uh, but to the extent that teachers are well-rounded, uh, have a general education perspective, they shape the attitudes of students, uh, all the way from the voting booth to---to raising families and everything in between.  One of the---one of the, uh, quotations on some material we looked at today struck me, I can’t give you the quote exactly from memory, but in essence it said that the public is in fact created by the teachers.  I---I reflect there on that, we talked about it in our little group, and to the extent that---that teachers shape the attitudes of those who will become the public that shapes the policies, I think that’s very true.  General education is---is the foundation for that because, uh, absent general education, uh, all they’ve got to go on is gut feeling and emotion, and too much of our policy is shaped with that.

When am I a well-educated person?  Uh, I’m not sure I’m there yet so I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer the question.  Uh, a focus that has developed in recent years, and at first I was skeptical about, but I’m slowly being---being won over to it, is that we---we have focused on how we teach for so long that we have not focused on what students are actually learning.  And some of the experiences we’ve had in our own, uh---in---in our own college, for example, with, uh, giving students pre-tests before they go take the next course, after the final from the last course, suggests that they don’t retain some of the material very long---in courses they got an ‘A’ in.  Uh, that suggests to me that, uh, the---the actual---the actual nuts and bolts of the course, the---the facts, disappear relatively quickly.  Maybe we only create or help to create educated people when we’ve taught them how to think so that they can revisit the subjects and---and they know how to approach them, academically, intellectually, and---and, uh, regain, for their---for themselves, what we thought we taught them but evidently it, uh, it didn’t have a---a particularly long half life.

How do we know when---when a teacher has a---when the disposition of a teacher lends itself to---to effective functionality as a---as an instructor and I think probably the recognition that not only do they not know everything but---but they want to continue learning.  They’ve not reached a plateau.  I don’t know how we recognize that necessarily, uh, often that doesn’t show up until a few years later when they’ve matured a bit.  Uh, I think we’ve all been through that who have passed that age, and recognize that, uh, somewhere in our 30s we got really excited about learning, but it was after college.  Uh, and I don’t know how you recognize that in the college graduate.