"Exploring Teaching at a Deeper Level"
- PhD, Educational Psychology
How did you decide to go back to graduate school?
I was teaching science at St. Louis high school, and our department chair was in the Educational Psychology department. At the time, I wanted to explore some questions about teaching, in regards to student motivation and self-regulation. Coming from a science background, I was thinking of Cognitive Neuroscience but the program didn’t have evening classes. I looked into the Educational Psychology program and found that I could take the classes around my teaching schedule.
Were there benefits to teaching and taking graduate classes at the same time?
I really wanted to know why students struggle with motivation and I could take what I was learning in my classes and research and test it out the next day. In a sense, I could use my teaching as my research. I was able to appreciate what I was learning more because of the practical application.
How has your participation in the program and your research changed the way you teach in the classroom?
My research looked at how a student’s motivation changes as you change the characteristics of the learning environment. I did a qualitative study; talking to students and seeing how they felt changed as the environment changed. The most important thing was that the student needed to feel a connection or an interest in the material. The more they were able to connect themselves to the subject matter, the more interest they had and thus more motivation. The bottom line is: Why aren’t the kids motivated? It could be that they’re not interested in what you’re teaching.
I now get to know my students when I first start teaching them. I find out how I can make the material interesting and relevant to them. I find out things they like to do and want to do. I allow them to direct their own learning. For example, today we built schools. We talked about what they believed schools should be, about what works, and what doesn’t.
What’s in store for you now that you’ve finished your PhD?
I am now a teacher educator at Leeward Community College (part of the University of Hawai‘i system). Leeward has started a brand new, Associates in Teaching program. We teach foundation classes, including educational psychology and classroom management. Once they complete the program, they have a portfolio and have amassed the 40 hours of classroom experience necessary to apply for a four-year college or university to receive their degree and gain licensure.
Why have you dedicated yourself to teacher education in Hawai‘i?
My wife and I really love Hawai‘i and are both educators here. I also believe in keeping teachers local. When a teacher is from the community, students can relate better, they create a bond, a feeling of belongingness. Students need that consistency. I believe it makes learning stronger that way.
What do you appreciate most about the Educational Psychology program?
The program really allows you to pursue your interests. They put the structure in, but you can take the exploration as far as you want to go. The faculty practice what they preach. In the classroom, they employ the very principles they are teaching.
In addition, I feel indebted to and grateful for the faculty & staff. My advisor was Fred Bail; his feedback and guidance was wonderful. Lois Yamauchi and Shuqiang Zhang helped pushed me to finish my degree at my own speed. Marie Iding helped me publish my first paper. Ann Bayer taught me my first learning theories, and which she showed me through her own classroom teaching. Stacie Odo, our department secretary, was phenomenal at keeping organized and letting me know everything what that I needed to do. If she wasn’t so wonderfully organized, I don’t know if I would have graduated!
Jeff joined the Educational Psychology program in 2003 and received his PhD in Fall 2008. Prior to coming to Hawai‘i in 1995, he taught for 3 years in California public schools and 2 years in Japan at the Yokohama Business School.