One of the reasons why I love Twitter is because over the years, I've been connected to many leaders, organizations, and educators...like Kris.
My colleague, Dina, introduced us I believe, and we've been Twitter buddies ever since. I knew Kris was someone I could vibe with when I interviewed him on my podcast last year. I loved his honesty and his humble spirit. I could feel it through Skype! So, when I launched this educator series, I knew Kris would help promote it, but probably wouldn't step up to the plate and be the first to volunteer. Thankfully, with very little convincing, Kris sent me his answers and I literally sat in my car thinking, "Wow...A LOT of people are going to identify with this." I really encourage you to take your time as you read this. There's so many gems you need to capture.
Who are you? How long have you been working in the education field? What school district are you in? Who am I? That’s a question that humanity has been pondering long before I came about. In a less philosophical sense, I am Kris, Mr. Giere, Mr. G, Professor G-Ride, and a number of other names that students, friends, and family have chosen for me over the years. This is my 10th year in a classroom. Even though I am only part time as an adjunct with the Ivy Tech Community College system in Indiana currently, I still identify as an educator.
What subject/ grade do you teach?
I teach English courses, primarily writing courses, at the post-secondary level. I have taught literature, basic reading, and writing of all types: technical, creative, basic, academic, research, etc.
Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? What made them stand out from the rest?
I wouldn’t know how to answer this question as I don’t really do favorite well anything. I have had numerous teachers leave an impact on my life over the years: my second grade teacher who assured my mother that I wasn’t doing anything wrong by wanting to help my peers with their assignments, my eighth grade math teacher who asked me to show him my process rather than mark my math homework incorrect because it varied from his answer key, my middle school principal that allowed me to do independent study with him instead of taking a course below my aptitude level, my ninth grade journalism teacher who taught me how to create with words in ways that I hadn’t tried before, my eleventh grade chemistry teacher who chose to appreciate my intelligence rather than harp on why I only did parts of the homework yet passed every exam with an A and offered me a place in her AP Chem class even though my B due to lacking homework grades in the prerequisite course, and my senior history teacher who enjoyed having tangential and curious discussions during his lectures and lamented that I wouldn’t need any more classes from him. After that there was my Psych 101 professor who put me on the path to being my authentic self by accepting me as I was and appreciating me without further expectations, my history professor who taught course material like an experience, my polyglot English professor who taught me that grammar wasn’t about being right but about creating meaning and connection, my anthropology professor whose courses inspired me to see education through the lens of humanity instead of content, my graduate mentor whose gruff nature turned most people off yet challenged me to defend my students and grade their assignments as extensions of themselves not simple artifacts to be dissected, or my thesis chair who was as much a drinking buddy and colleague as he was a teacher, mentor, and friend. Every one of them and many more touched me, shaped me, and are one of many factors as to why I am who I am today. Maybe I was blessed to have so many, maybe I was just lucky, but I know for sure that I cannot choose a favorite.
What was learning like growing up for you? Easy, challenging?
Learning for me was an endeavor of curiosity and exploration. School was an endeavor that teachers either made easier by connecting with me or more difficult by concerning themselves more with content and authority than growth and maturation. I can’t afford the costly testing but after in depth training with the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, I’ve come to realize that much of my differences in how I learned growing up may have been due to an undiagnosed learning variation (I hate the term disorder). It may have been dyslexia, in fact I am convinced it was, but it may have been a myriad of other things instead or in addition to it. The fact of the matter is that through healthy (perseverance) and unhealthy (guilt & shame) means, I learned in spite of my struggles, and because I could assimilate with the dominate groups, I was afforded the benefit of the doubt nearly every time.
Who or what inspired you to become an educator?
I don’t really know the answer here. For me, it was a calling. I can’t find other definitions that fit it better than that.
Describe what your dream classroom would look like.
My dream classroom is wherever my students are. While I truly appreciate the wide variety of options available to educators today, I am of the mindset “give me students and I will teach” whether that is in an open courtyard, a lounge, a room with only tables and chairs, a techno-paradise of devices, or a traditional classroom. For me, everything I do begins and ends with students. All of the rest are minor details.
Tell us about a challenging moment you’ve faced in the classroom. How did you deal with it?
I’ve been lucky that most of my challenging moments are typically limited to tangential conversations, impassioned political discourse, or struggles to engage. The answer often requires a conversation for me. I’ve found that because I teach adult learners most of them just want to be heard and valued. If I can give them that, they find their way back into our classroom culture so not to diminish the learning experiences of their peers. My wife tells me that I have so few distractions because I am a big & tall man, which probably has some truth to it, but I like to think I earnest desire to uplift and understand my students has an impact on that as well.
What gets you pumped up before entering the classroom? (ex. music, car dance party, coffee?)
My students. I know. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. I think about learning with them and the projects they are working on. I think about how I can give them more tools to be successful or to grow. I think about the ways they inspire me, and I look for ways to return the favor. It’s what gets me going every time. They are truly why I teach.
What makes you a great educator? (Come on, toot your horn!)
My desire to understand. I truly believe that my fervent seeking of understanding and being understood is what allows me to see my students for who they are, see the path they want to walk, and help them take the steps they choose to take.
If your students could describe you, what would they say?
I have no idea. I really don’t. I have never had terrible course reviews. I’ve had one terrible ratemyprofessor.com review (One of like 4 or something and 2 were middling. I guess I don’t inspire enough chili peppers to get more ratings there.). I once was told I can be intimidating. Overall, my students seek me out for conversation when I see them in the halls even after our time in the classroom has finished. A few have given me thank you cards. And this semester, I’ve had more than a few remark on how my course is their favorite. Being that I don’t really do favorites, I am grateful but mostly at a loss for what that means. I hope they describe me in words that are authentic to them and their experience in my courses. I also hope that they describe me in words that reflect their own personal journeys and not all about me. I am but another experience in their lifetime and if I am not described through their lens and through their authentic self, then I have failed to live up to my standards of teaching.
What was your best teaching moment?
Every time that I connect with a student. This week it was sending an e-mail to a student who’d been robbed over the fall break (they stole her book bag because it had her tablet and other electronics in it) and helping her realize that she has already learned so much in my class while assuring her that her grade would reflect that. Seeing her relaxed and still attending class gave me hope, and that is powerful and uplifting.
What do you do to enhance your personal learning?
I read articles written by a wide variety of writers and follow many of them on Twitter. I ask questions of people and listen intently to understand them when they choose to share. I do everything in my power to stay curious. If I want to know something, I look it up. If I want to try something, I push and push until I overcome my own fear and insecurity to give it a try.
What do you love most about teaching?
Learning. I learn most every day I teach. I learn about how to better communicate with my students. I learn how to present my materials more effectively. I learn about the interests of my students through their writing. I learn about their learning styles, life experiences, struggles, triumphs, humanity. I learn and I love every minute of it.
How do you balance your personal life from your teaching life?
I’m not good at this balance. I had to take a step back because of being overwhelmed. It’s why I am an adjunct now instead of a department chair.
Do you do enough to maintain your personal wellbeing?
I don’t. It’s complicated and will be a long journey to changing that, but I can proudly say that it is a journey that I am walking every day.
Have you ever experienced burnout? What/who helped you cope?
Two years ago, I had to quit my job in order to save my health. It was extremely difficult, but my life was suffering, every aspect of it. I didn’t end up coping and that was the primary issue. I chose escapes instead of coping mechanisms, and I ran myself ragged. By the time I knew I needed help, it was too late to stay in the classroom full time
If you could talk to your younger self (ex. elementary student, high school student, post-secondary) what would you say?
I’m not sure at what age I would need to send this message to myself, but I would tell him simply this “You are enough just the way you are. You are not broken and in need of fixing. You are not your failures. You are the vibrant ideas and fearless curiosity that runs wild in your imagination. Be the real you because the world needs that more than they need your conformity and your acquiescence.”
There may be teachers reading this who are in need of a reminder why they’re great educators. What would you say to help lift their spirits?
To any educator reading this remember that you matter. You matter right now in this very moment without concession or equivocation. You matter because of all the things that you already are. You matter because you are capable of nurturing and uplifting the being of another. And you will know this to be true when you step back from the paperwork and process of school to watch each student rise to the challenge of growing as they learn that they matter to you more than anything you can write on a lesson plan.
Jam Gamble - Connector of People, Ideas and Energy