Careers in Teaching: Teaching Inside and Outside an Undergraduate University






In secondary school, I knew I would do "science" of some kind as a career. At first it looked like it would be biology: I had an interest in forensics stemming from my father's job as a policeman. My introduction to geology and earth sciences came during geography in the 11th grade, when we had 3 weeks of geology taught by a former student. All I remember from that session was seeing the minerals quartz and biotite and listening to an introduction to a revolutionary (at that time) new theory called plate tectonics.

In grade 13, I took three math and three science classes because I knew I wanted to study science at the university level, although I was unsure whether it would be biology or chemistry. During the first-year orientation week, I attended an information session on the sciences where faculty members from biology, chemistry, physics, and geology discussed each of their disciplines. The first three were quite boring, but the geologist, Al Gorman, was entertaining. I enrolled in the three traditional sciences and geology, based on Al's presentation, plus mathematics, and after the first week I knew my major was going to be geology. I have enjoyed every day since!

I literally walked my way through my university education. Each summer from 1976 to 1985, I worked in the field. I lived in tents, often traveling each day in a helicopter, for 2 years in the Sudbury area, 1 year in the Northwest Territories, 1 year in northern Saskatchewan, and 4 years in Labrador. Each year I continue to do fieldwork either for research purposes or to collect samples for my courses. I draw on this experience when teaching, relating personal experiences about some aspect of geology and by using samples collected on these trips as part of a study suite examined by students.

I did not see myself becoming a university professor until 1985 when my doctoral studies were coming to a close and I began seeking employment. I sent out over 50 resumes and job applications for a variety of positions (postdoctoral, faculty, mineral exploration, etc.) to places all over the world. I was offered a sabbatical replacement position at Brock University where my main responsibility would be teaching four half courses and finishing my Ph.D. The following year (at the ripe old age of 30) I accepted a tenure-track position in Brock's department of geological sciences. Currently I hold the rank of associate professor and am beginning my second, 3-year term as chair of the earth science department.

My workload as a university faculty member consists of three components: teaching, research, and administration. I currently teach the required 2nd- and 3rd-year courses in optical mineralogy and petrology and a 3rd-year field camp. My department is small, with 8 full-time faculty members in their own area of specialization. We offer a well-grounded, traditional undergraduate program in geology.

My courses each week consist of 2 hours of lecture and a 3-hour lab, with a strong link between the two. Former students have told me that they tried not to miss my courses because they felt being absent for one lecture made it difficult to catch up. Enrollments in my courses are low, averaging 12 students each year. This has proven to be beneficial to both myself and the students.

I benefit because there is no teaching assistant, so I prepare, present, and grade all the labs, which allows me the opportunity to get to know the students, follow their progress, and provide assistance to those that require it. The students benefit because I am in the lab for the full time period and often stay late to assist them in completing the work. We also get a chance to talk about other interests. I maintain an open door policy toward students who are enrolled in my courses and require additional help outside of the lecture and lab and also toward students who are experiencing difficulties with other classes and require advising or counseling.

Over the past several years I have become involved in two very satisfying activities that do not fall into the normal job description of a faculty member. Both involve science education. Over the past 3 years I have been participating in secondary school reform in Ontario by providing the Ministry of Education and Training with feedback at various points dealing with the new science curriculum.

The end result of this process is a new science curriculum which will be implemented in the fall of 1999 for grade 9. As a result of this activity, I developed an association with the Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO), where I currently sit on the executive board as second vice president and will assume the position of president for the year 2000-2001. STAO's mission is to "promote excellence in science education through leadership and service" and has served the science community in Ontario since 1890. I will be the first earth scientist, and possibly the first university science faculty member, to hold the position of president.

The second, and really most satisfying, activity is in the form of outreach activities. It involves an average of two visits per month to schools (grades K-8), senior citizens' residences, and service groups. During these visits I take two suitcases of minerals, rocks, and fossils and talk about how geology and earth materials impact on our daily lives. I use examples of everything from toothpaste to coins to computers to plastics. Part of these outreach activities also involve accompanying classes on field trips to collect fossils or to discuss the use of building stone in the construction of buildings and monuments within urban areas (such as the Toronto metro area and St. Catharine's).

I also prepare and run workshops for elementary and secondary teachers to provide background information in earth sciences and help them to confidently present earth science curriculum material in their classroom.

As I tell students that I teach in my classes or meet during school visits, I am still learning about minerals and rocks and the planet on which we live on a daily basis.

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