Ph.D After 50

My Experiences in Graduate School as a Student in her 50s

Ph.D After 50

I am me and I can be no one else.

I am me and I can be no one else.

I think I’ve known that from very early on in my teaching career. I’m not good at being something I’m not…at being something someone else is. My longest and most respected friend is also a teacher. I respect her teaching style very much, but it is not mine. I can only be me. And while I believe that the use of technology is very important, should be used, learned, etc., I think the teacher is still the most important educator in the room.

What I know about me:

I have a booming voice and I use it.

Students don’t have a hard time hearing me. I walk around the classroom. I gesture. I get excited sometimes. I also give students time to reflect and all is quiet…until I talk again. It is very similar to my “mom” voice.

I like concepts over details.

The devil is in the details and I like to stay away from the devil. Concepts in history or any subject, even math, are more interesting to me than details.

I like to teach skills and not dates.

Change over time is important in history and dates are important – but only when put in context and show the change over time. And while my students may or may not remember the dates of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (probably not) I do believe they will remember skills I teach them such as citing, writing in active voice, analyzing historical images and primary source material, learning to think critically and to write coherently.

I am organized but can change the plan if need be.

I believe planning for a class is very, very, very important; however, changing things to accommodate learning or the needs of students must be a tool I have in my “toolbox”, so to speak. Flexibility is important to me. Students learn in very different ways. I learn best in very traditional ways, but many people do not. My husband is convinced that the only way to teach is using the Socratic method. (Yes, of course I have wanted to sock him on numerous occasions.) I must be flexible to change plans on the fly or change an overall plan if need be to help learning.

I take teaching very seriously.

Teaching is a priority. The students or their parents (or the government, scholarship etc.) paid a lot of money to be sitting in the seat in my classroom. It is my duty, my responsibility to do the absolute best job I can in teaching them. Period.

I feel at ease in a classroom.

 I just am. I couldn’t bring myself to be nervous the first time I taught in a college classroom, although I probably could use a little nervous energy.

I am easy going and approachable, but set boundaries.

Thirty year olds I taught in middle and high school still call me “Ms. Skiles” and my college students call me Ms. Skiles as well, not Faith. My communications with them are on a very professional nature. Students though feel free to ask me the stupidest questions. It is amazing what connections you can make for students that they just “missed” somewhere along the line. In tutoring calculus, I find most students don’t have trouble with calculus, they just “missed” something in algebra, which you must know to do calculus. The only way to fill in these missing pieces is to be open to “stupid” questions and not to minimize their lack of knowledge. I answer emails from students that ask seemingly simple questions often with the phrase, “Good question” or “Thank you for the question.” This is my philosophy and it doesn’t have to be yours.

I like students to explore on their own.

I am happy when they tell me about something I don’t know. I am not an expert on world history from the beginning of time until 1500. (Is anyone?) I love it when students share what they know and I want them to explore the things that interest them.

I only react in strong ways when students disrespect each other.

Don’t do it. Just, don’t do it

And last but not least, although I’ve taught for going on 15 years, I am always willing to try new things.

My daughter teaches as well and we often talk about new ways to do things. She works in the communications department and her insights have greatly changed the way in which I approach power points, time in class and feedback.

These are things I know about myself as a teacher. But interestingly, these are also the ways I am as a person. My “authentic” voice as a teacher is the same as my “authentic” voice as a person. I am me and cannot be anyone else. I may be a favorite teacher for one student and not for another… or maybe for no one and that is fine.

I guess that I most closely identify with the reading by Sarah Deel when she comes to the realization of teaching as herself. I really don’t think I could have taught for as long as I have as “someone else.” I do think the outline by Professor Fowler, however, is a very good look into how you, as your authentic self, become a teacher. I also believe that despite a post that may seem status-quo, I am a Yearner. I taught my children to read because I didn’t trust School to do it. I also tried to incorporate learning beyond a classroom for my children, whether it was technology or milking goats.  And as I said earlier, I believe that technology is important and we need to move ahead in incorporating it in our classrooms, technology however, can’t replace the teacher who answers the seemingly stupid question.

Everyone is different. No two teachers are exactly same. Anyone embarking on the journey of finding an authentic voice as a teacher will, in my opinion, find it in who they are as people. And Students will benefit from the myriad of personalities, skills, voices that we all bring to the classroom.

8 Opinions

  • Jaclyn said:

    “The devil is in the details and I like to stay away from the devil.”

    ^^ Love this!

    This is such a great post because it is so introspective. You clearly know your teaching style, and this is exciting to me. I can’t say I know what mine is yet. I know I hate to lecture. I know I like a more hands-on approach for my students in a writing environment. I’m still figuring out the rest.

    But I really did connect with your “I am organized but can change the plan if need be” statement. I’ve had to learn this concept this semester. Last semester, I tried to stick rigidly to my schedule and never deviate because I’ve been told that it ruins your ethos in the eyes of students. I still think this is true to some extent. But this semester, I’ve already had to deviate from my schedule because of bookstore/textbook issues and because I realized a week before my new paper unit that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing when I mapped out the lessons and readings for that unit. I took down the schedule from Canvas and re-vamped it, placing new readings and broad lesson plans in the place of old ones.

    Doing something like this really made me nervous. I was scared of this change in my organization. What if my students think I’m ridiculous, wishy-washy, unqualified? But I also thought that I had to do it because I realized I found a better way to organize and teach the concepts of the Personal Narrative. I’m sure opportunities to abandon my inclination to cling to structure and organization will pop up more than once. I’m learning to be flexible. Thanks for the reminder to keep heading in that direction!

  • Faith Skiles said:

    Jaclyn, thank you so much for your comment! I think whenever you change something to benefit student learning, in the end it is the right choice. In my experience, students get much more frustrated over a plan that doesn’t work and a teacher doggedly sticking to it, than changing the plan so that it does work. I’ve also noticed that if I remain confident and communicate well that it will ameliorate much of the “wishy-washiness” students may perceive. Good luck as you continue on your journey of discovering who you are as a teacher! It is life-long!

  • Jonathan Harding said:

    Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed reading it. So many times when I’m talking to experienced teachers or reading some pedagogy text people seem to have found one way to do things and that’s the way they are going to do them, and many times they think that’s the way you should too. Or they sound ‘wishy-washy’ and like there’s no answer. You sound so confident in your methods and your teaching personality while stressing the importance of being open to change and being flexible. I think the combination of those qualities is awesome, and I feel like your students are very lucky.

  • Anurag said:

    Thank you for the post, Faith. I appreciated the insight into how you teach and what you value.

    I like to teach skills and not dates.
    I take teaching very seriously.

    ^^ Yes! I lost count on the number of times I have hated modules in a class or classes just because the teachers are either focusing on useless details instead of explaining the significance and concepts or do not care about teaching.

    I have noted all of these down and will remind myself of these things when I go to teach.

  • Amy Hermundstad said:

    What a wonderful post! As I was reading it, I found myself reflecting on my own style and preferences, agreeing in many places and identifying areas where my own style differs. Thank you for sharing! It is so valuable to hear about your experiences with teaching and your own teaching style. And your reflections have helped me reflect on my own style!

  • Julin W said:

    Hi Faith, thank you for sharing your insights. I am quite a beginner in teaching. Your post is very inspiring. It looks like you have experimented and balanced many aspects of teaching very well including flexibility and limits. That reminded me to not just focus on the rigid ways of teaching, but also the agility in interacting with a dynamic group of students.

  • Soo Jeong Jo said:

    Thank you for sharing your stories. Thinking about teaching, I feel like learning more about myself at the same time. It is my pleasure to explore your thoughts made during your teaching experiences because I don’t have teaching experiences yet.

  • Emma said:

    Faith, I love reading your writing. You have such a clear voice and manage to make sophisticated concepts and nuanced personal experience relatable.

    As a fellow humanities instructor, your note on preferring concepts over ideas rings a bell. I think a lot of people feel comfortable with details, rote information, moreso than concepts. But theories and relationships between surface phenomena always seem more interesting to me. The challenge is getting quantia- and details-oriented students on board with that.

    What you say about names is interesting to me, too. My students call me “Emma,” just because that feels right to me. But I wonder if I wouldn’t benefit from being called “Ms. Stamm.” I like the idea of pedagogy that breaks down the inequality between student and teacher, but even Paulo Freire knows that you have to draw lines somewhere. Figuring out where to draw those lines is still a challenge for me — and maybe why, unlike you, I get nervous in the classroom…


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