John Lamb


I’m John Lamb; I’m Professor of Chemistry at BYU and Associate Dean of General Education, in the office of undergraduate education.

General education is the education of the whole student in a bo---broad spectrum of subjects which is designed to help the student prepare for lifelong learning, uh, to face many of the questions that, uh, a good citizen and, uh, a good human being will be faced with, uh, over the course of a lifetime, and address those questions intelligently, with balance and make wise decisions relative to social issues and personal issues as well as professional issues. 

A well-educated teacher is one who not only is a master of his or her particular field, but who, uh, presents to the student a model of, uh, a---of a love of learning---as exhibited both in their expression and also in the example that they set.  In the way they talk, in the way they move, in the way they treat other people.  In the way they formulate opinions about controversial issues, perhaps.  In the way they interact with other people, uh, under stress or when questions arise for which clear answers aren’t always there---all---aren’t always apparent.  Uh, we talked about this today in our group around the table.  A well-educated teacher presents a moral model, also, to students in the sense that, um, coupled with the idea of morality is the ability to---be tolerant and open to other ideas beyond, uh, one’s own personal training, and able to, um, discuss one’s opinion intelligently and with balance and, uh---uh, tolerance with other people of different mind sets, for example.

Well, again, I think that the well-educated teacher is one who is able to, um, both with his words, or with her words, and with, uh, her model of living is able to, um, provide the student an example of what a well-educated person is like.  Students tend to model what they see as well as what they hear.  They tend to follow both the example of the teacher and the teachings of the teacher, and, uh, so a well-educated teacher is going to, um, set that kind of pattern that students will look to, both for their professional development and also for, uh, for their personal development, I think.

I think that it’s important that a student’s educational experience be integrated.  That’s a focus that we’ve had in our office now, uh, uh, recently because we’re in the process of considering the general education program so that it dovetails better with the other aspects of a BYU education, the major and religious education in particular.   Because I think, uh, to easily we as academics---see ourselves as fitting into individual boxes without seeing the larger picture of how one discipline is able to enhance another discipline.  For example; as a chemist---my ability to function as a---as a teacher or even if I were to, uh---uh, work as a chemist outside academics, uh, is very much influenced by my ability to communicate with other people.  Writing, for example, is an important part of my ability to function as a chemist and as a professor.  Um, in fact, I’m teaching a writing class right now within my own chemistry department.  Because we feel, as a department, that writing is so important for our graduates that we require them to complete a writing course in chemistry.  Now that is one simple example of how one’s, um, education, uh, in one area, for instance in writing, can impact one’s ability to function in a completely different area like chemistry.  And I think that’s true of virtually all the fields that a student might encounter, all of those skills and understandings that are developed over that four-year period.  Come together to form, uh---uh, person’s professional and personal character to a certain degree, and make them what they are and will become, what they’re able to become, depending on their ability to continue learning and progressing over time.  So hopefully the general education program coupled with these other aspects of the student’s experience will add together to prepare that student for lifelong learning and learning in the broadest sense of the word.  So that, uh, the student finds fascination in coming to understand the world around him or her, the people around him or her, and be able to face the challenges that society and life throw at, uh---at---at us, uh, everyday.

I think probably the best measure of a teacher’s preparation is how well they’re able to connect with the students they teach.  Students may or may not migrate towards a particular subject, but I can remember better the teachers who stood out in my mind as a student than I can the subjects.  It was teachers who drew me to chemistry in the first place.  And---so I see that---a teacher has a responsibility and an opportunity to do more than simply impart information.  A teacher can actually inspire.  And I find---for me, that is the most exciting part of teaching.  Going beyond the im---imparting of information to sharing with students the excitement that I feel about my discipline and beyond that, the excitement I feel in learning---in all disciplines.  Because learning has a certain joy associated with it that, uh, can’t be compared to any other joy that, uh---that, uh, I have found in my professional life at least.  Um, so---teachers have the opportunity to inspire students and where that happens, I think the teacher has found success.  The student is edified, the teacher is edified and, uh, as a result, uh, great things have happened.

But let me just say this.  Many students, and even professors, discount general education as being a hurdle over which students need to quickly jump in order to get down to the real, uh, problems and, uh---uh, the real reason for which the student has come to the university.  I think especially for an LDS community we need to appreciate the, not only lifelong, but eternal value of knowledge and learning.  We of all people should understand that learning is something that will provide for us an eternal progression and a progression, not only of---of---of ability, but of joy.  And we should take joy in learning in all of its aspects, in all of the subjects.  And so general education offers us a golden opportunity to fulfill that, uh---that need that all human beings feel to progress in knowledge and in learning and that, uh, in our own doctrine we see as so central to, uh---to the life that we look forward to in the eternities.

Now by an entering teacher you mean a student coming to BYU (interruption) who is going to become a teacher? (interruption)

I would say, uh, try to set aside, uh, the selfish and very temporal, um, motivations for coming to college and see the big picture, and the long-term picture, and take joy in the fact that you have an opportunity to here to start building something that will remain with you forever.  And upon which you can build forever.  There are very few things that we can take with us beyond the grave; our connections with our families and the knowledge that we have gained here are among the few, and that knowledge ha---has---comes with a certain joy all by itself, but beyond that it builds the foundation for something that can endure for eternity.