Earl Woolley


Uh, I’m Earl Woolley, Dean of the College of Physical and Maths, Mathematical Science and I’m a, uh, chemist by training.

My view is that a well-prepared teacher has significant breadth but passion for---especially the discipline they have.  Uh, and that can be more than just a discipline, that can be---I know people who are, uh, scientists but are also in concert orchestras and, uh, Tabernacle Choirs and, uh, or passionate readers of history, or, uh, any number of other things.  So, they’re not as narrow as one might think.

Uh, the connection between the discipline, the---the tra---the learning in a discipline and general education learning, uh, is harder to see when you’re in it, when you’re a student.  But after you’ve---graduated and are living a life and are connected with, uh, your own children particularly, but other students, you soon find that the values of society, uh, really are not---not necessarily more important, but everybody has them and so your discipline need to fit it to that, uh, regardless of what it is.  If it’s physics that’s fine, if it’s mathematics that’s fine, you still have to relate with peo---people and society in general because they have things that are of interest to them.  Uh, and---and connections that---that we may not see in our own discipline.

Uh, you---you---you could tell that a well-educated chemistry professor, for example, it---uh, probably not by talking to them about chemistry.  Probably by having a discussion about history or politics or current events or, uh, the World Trade Center or, uh---societal values, uh, could even be politics, uh, but something generally speaking beyond the discipline.  There are some ex---there are some other connections though that are disciplines all have to do with society.  We can talk about the environment and chemistry; we can talk about disease and chemistry, or science.  We can talk physics and energy and nuclear power and all of the ramifications there.  So, some of the things in our disciplines interconnect with all kinds of societal values.  And the more we can make those connections in the classroom for our students, the more they will see the connection of whatever their discipline is with---with life.

The well-prepared teacher---uh---if---if this is somewhat---uh---there---there are two kinds of well-prepared teachers.  There are those in the, uh, lower grades, the elementary grades, where they, by nature, have to connect to societal values like reading, like history, like social studies, things of that nature.  In the high schools if we’re teaching biology or physics or chemistry or math or whatever it might be, uh, the teacher’s values have to connect also to the disciplines and it’s not just the discipline that they’re teaching, because the, uh, students in the classroom are going to many different places in their life.  This is even true in the university.  Uh, the students in our classes may not be doing what we’re teaching in our disciplines and so we have to make that connection, uh, as teachers, at any level, with all of societies values and, um---uh, people’s values.

Uh, an interesting thing happened in a, uh---between my---I believe it was my freshman---couldn’t have been my freshman or sophomore year---an interesting thing happened, uh, after my sophomore year, uh, uh, between my jun---sophomore and junior year.  I came back after my sophomore, having reviewed chemistry and science, uh, and I had an instructor, faculty member, at the beginning of that fall semester, in a chemistry class, in a laboratory class, came to me and asked me what books I had read during the summer.  And he was pushing me to find out if I was reading something other than chemistry.  And I was a little embarrassed about that and, uh, took it to heart and began reading more broadly than just in my discipline.  And that, over time, has had a great influence on me.  It’s---it’s connected me with many other things, it’s connected me with society and other people instead of just chemists.  I have plenty of connections with chemists, I don’t need to make those connections, they happen.  Um, let me see if I can think of another one. (interruption)  That was Elliott Butler, by the way.

Ok, here’s another one.   And this’ll---this is digging really deep into my memory now.  Uh, when I was a freshman, uh, at the university, I was in a---an honors class, I don’t even remember the---topic of this honors class, but I remember the---the breadth of the---honors class and, uh, it was Robert Thomas, who was the first honors, uh---director.  Uh, how he broadened our---our understanding by---by not letting us know for sure about what we were going to speak.  Because we would go into the class and we would speak about things more broadly then---then I wanted because I wanted to have a particular direction, that the way a student typically is, they want to know exactly where I’m going.  It forced me to respond to things more spontaneously instead of---coming prepared.  Uh, and that has had an affect on me, uh, throughout my life because many situations in life you can’t plan for, they happen and you---you need to respond.  And so you need to be a ‘ready man,’ uh, just to be able to respond to society.

A lot of, uh, people think that when you graduate, I thought this when I graduated, that I was a well-educated person, that I knew a lot of things.  Uh, and I knew a lot more things, probably, than I did before.  But when you get outside the university and make connections with what really happens in life, you find that the examples in textbooks are canned, they tend to be canned.  Uh, they don’t tend to be canned in real life.  Uh, and so you learn that life isn’t a textbook, life is a story that you are writing and, uh, you don’t know what’s going to happen.  The m---most important thing you can come out of a university education, or any other education is, the confidence to know that you can look and also the understanding that you don’t know the answer to everything and you’re willing to listen and interact and hear and---and learn---some more.

I think what I would be looking for in a well-educated teacher who had paid the price in, uh, the university, gotten a broad education and, uh, understood their discipline is, when they get into the classroom they will have to make connections with other teachers, uh, because the students are having that experience.  And if you don’t know what the students are experiencing, uh, you---you don’t have a complete picture.  You are isolating the student in a box in your discipline.  Uh, that’s not fair, ultimately, to the student because they will experience life just like we have experienced life when we go into that classroom.  Um, there’s a lot to learn from experience.  Experience really is the best teacher.  Now you need to be prepared to teach the discipline but that doesn’t prepare you to teach. Uh, what prepares you to teach is experience and you can get that from others.  Uh, you need to make those connections with others, you need to have someone you can go to when there are problems because there will be.  Uh, and I’m telling you this because that isn’t necessarily the way I did it.  I---I learned by, uh, thinking I knew how to do things, which is very typical of---of the beginning teacher.

There are some problems with the GE current system but I don’t think they’re necessarily related to the content of the courses.  I think it has to do more with the---context of the presentation and maybe sometimes the faculty not understanding the breadth and purpose of the general education, maybe even more so, the student not understanding the breadth and purpose of---of the education.  There are mechanical things in the way like large classes, uh, impersonal presentations, tends to be more material oriented instead of the---connected to societal values, I think, it’s been a long time since I’ve had GE.  It’s been n---nearly as long since I’ve taught GE, so I’m---I don’t know if I’m the (chuckles) right person to answer that.  I---my impression is, and again this is more from my children, uh that the content is pretty good, the breadth is pretty good.  Uh, I suppose it’s all right to get material from people who are passionate about their material because it’ll at least expose the students to a variety of material and a variety of perspectives.  It may not connect, even in the general education, to societal values.  Uh, it---it may not connect in the classroom that way but by taking those various experiences I think the student experiences the variety that is general education, at least part of it.

Well the way---I---I believe the way you can tell when, uh---a---newly prepared teacher is---instilled with the values and the charisma and the ability is when they go into the cur---classroom the students feel the personality, the connection, the students become infected with that enthusiasm.  That---that’s the proof of the teaching is; are the students connected, do they become excited, are they---do they feel the passion.  They may not have the passion but do they feel the passion, do they respect the passion, is there enough connection to them that they appreciate the discipline and what a---what the teacher represents.