By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels
I anticipate that this may be a two part article. I have many warm memories of my teaching activities and some not so warm. Part I will remain on the upbeat side.
I have written of my student days at Alfred State College but have not mentioned much about those who taught me. I must say right up front that I wasn’t necessarily the best, or easiest, student, especially if being taught something to memorize without understanding the why’s and wherefores. For some reason I needed to learn to understand and not just recite what I had learned. Perhaps I was prescient, not knowing at the time that I would later need to explain to others what things meant. I’ll give an example of why I needed to learn to understand, and which in turn established my teaching philosophy. When first exposed to computer applications an instructor would say: Follow these instructions to do the instructed operation.
“Press F1. Now Press F11. Now, Cursor down and select line number 6.”
I would interrupt and ask the instructor to explain what “menus” or “operations” those Function keys (F1, F11 etc) related to. They were often reluctant to go in that detail, more interested in getting a canned result and moving on. I explained that by only memorizing a Function Key I was limited to only being able to do that one function, not understanding the path and logic of those commands.
There were a number of Alfred State College (ASC) faculty that greatly influenced me. Some intentionally, some accidently. I will be naming names but only tying names to stories that are of a positive nature. Examples to the contrary will remain nameless at least “in context”. There is no particular significance to the order, well maybe except the first one. The first that I will mention, leads, as I knew him first as an Engineer at The Air Preheater Co. (APCo) when he headed up a project team that I was a part of as a Drafter/Designer. Robert “Bob” Stahlman left APCo to start his teaching career shortly after completion of that project. When I became a student at ASC in 1972 he was one of the first Faculty that I would encounter. As I have mentioned in previous articles my post high school education consisted of 8 years of twice a week night school classes to obtain my 2 year degree and eventually a Bachelor’s Degree. Over those 8 years I ran into Mr. Stahlman many times. During that AAS degree effort I achieved a 3.95/4.0 GPA. Guess who gave me the “B” grade. It took me over half a semester to learn how to learn “His Way”. He was a stickler for the process of formulating and recording your process in stating the problem, listing your formulas, showing all your work and then the answer. Just having the right answer didn’t cut it with him. As the years (all 8 of them) went by, the faculty and cadre of students, pretty much the same the whole way, became quite well known to each other. For the most part we were on a first name basis. Mr. Stahlman became “Bob”. After APCo decided they didn’t need me as badly as I thought they did, I was given the opportunity to seek other gainful employment. I was so well known to the ASC Faculty that when they had a mid-year retirement, and knowing I was looking for a job, they offered me a one semester teaching opportunity. Bob became my mentor. He showed me the ropes, took me under his wing, and got me through that first semester. I didn’t need to “shadow him” as I had done that for my 8 years of college off and on. The toughest lecture that I ever had to give was one that was for my performance evaluation. “Bob” was to be the evaluator. I only ever was nervous or apprehensive once in the teaching classroom, and that was the time he was in the audience. I had prepared a lecture that I was certain would be longer than the allotted time as I could carry over what I didn’t finish then, during the students next class. I got through all of the material designed for more than 50 minutes in 40 minutes. At first, I was flustered but eventually told the class that I had reached the end of the topic so I would let them go a little early. Later on he told me that was exactly the right thing to do. No use in trying to stretch or expand into meaningless chit chat, but to admit I was done, when I was done.
Bob was well liked by the traditional students, and they knew that you didn’t or couldn’t push him too far. He was a pretty stern taskmaster but fair. I recall being in his office one day while he had a class laboratory running. When the students were working unassisted on their projects the faculty would normally be in their offices ready for consultation as needed. One student in particular must have been a little too persistent in asking where things were in the lab, a little too often, as when the student asked, again, where something was, Bob turned his back to him, bent over pointing to his rear side and said “Do you see it up there?” I couldn’t decide whether to sneak out or laugh. I must admit that I felt a little sorry for the student, but Bob told me that the student needed a little nudge to be more self sufficient as we were no longer at the grade school level.
Following Bob’s retirement from ASC I saw him only once thereafter, and that was a scary occurrence. Bob lived on Rte 19 as you headed out of Wellsville just before the big bend going toward Scio. For some reason I was returning home from Alfred one day having come through Wellsville on my way home to Scio. As I went past Bob’s house I glanced over and saw him lying in his driveway. I did a quick “U Turn” right in the middle of the big bend and raced back to his driveway. As I approached him, I could see that he was moving a little and I knelt to see what I could do to help. We got the ambulance called with Amity responding and they got him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a mild stroke or something of that nature. I guess for what he had given to me all of those years I owed him my good timing and some assistance.
As my teaching career flourished, I was blessed to work with most of the faculty that had taught me as a student. I incorporated many of those teaching methods that I most admired and learned from them, into my teaching style. I also avoided some of the less desirable aspects of some teaching styles that I, as a student, found less effective. By way of example of one such characteristic, I will mention the style of one faculty member that likely made me learn the most by teaching me the least. This faculty member would literally read from the highlighted sections of his textbook or show overhead projections of a highlighted page. I knew the up coming exam was going to be drawn from somewhere in that large amount of information so I “learned how to read, to learn.” That stood me well, then, as a student and I did very well on that instructor’s tests. Later, that learning talent was beneficial, as I had to learn the subjects and materials that I presented in the classes that I taught. In my teaching career I didn’t teach any of the classes that I had taken as a student. All of what I taught, I had to learn first as I taught it. This involved some pretty “high octane” materials including several of the Bachelor level courses after ASC embarked on their (our) own Bachelor level degrees.
Another faculty member who I encountered both when I, as a student, met him, and then as we became teaching colleagues. My teaching career devolved into teaching Adult Industrial Training programs for local industry company personnel. Most of these Workforce Preparedness programs included Mathematics either as introductory or refresher. Another Wellsville resident Jim Wenslow, who passed away about six months ago, was the consummate adult education teacher. If there is one high school subject that is nearly as universally despised as English, it is Math. You either loved Math or you didn’t understand it. Jim was able to reach out to that very challenged and diverse group of mostly unemployed people and actually had them understanding it and liking it. Whenever I had the opportunity to recommend a Math teacher in one of the “Adult Ed” programs I was developing or teaching, Jim was the go to guy.
Charles “Chuck” Krebs, was another influential faculty teacher and then colleague, that was unique, and somewhat difficult to learn from until you figured out his method. Learning to learn “how” to learn from him was challenging. I used to sit through the first few course lectures scratching my head wondering where this was all going to end up and what were we learning. About a quarter of the way into the semester it all started to come together, and the early building blocks of the information started to fit into place like tight fitting puzzle pieces, make sense, and like a puzzle the picture finally became clear. Later when I became faculty myself with my own, often distraught students feeling lost in his classes, I was able to give them some insight into what his teaching style was, and they too learned how to learn from him, and were grateful to him.
The last faculty member that I will expound upon, at least for this half of the two part column, is David “Dave” Conde. Dave was the Department Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department when I was a student and then that carried over to when I was a faculty member until he advanced to be the Dean of the School. Dave taught a couple of the more educationally difficult and challenging courses in the Bachelor’s Degree program. Thermal Dynamics and Heat Transfer were upper level, brain warping subjects. Dave taught those topics like a Major League pitcher throwing high, hard, fastballs. His delivery was non-stop and fast paced. Early in my learning career I learned to take copious notes. Being able to study from my notes was a major contributor to my learning success. It was certainly a challenge with Dave in front of the classroom and putting information on the “Black Board” rapidly, challenging note taking.
That is a great “Segway” into wrapping up this much of the topic. All through my formal teaching days I taught as I had been taught and that was to write “outlined notes”, at first on a black board, and then using the white boards. As I learned it, so too did I teach it. I am fully convinced that my/our teaching style led best to complete and comprehensive learning. If you hear something said, and see it through your eyes as it is written, and then copied it into your notes it slowed the information flow down and allowed it to stick to the surfaces of your brain cells like paint running down a wall leaving a trail in its wake. Using colored pens on a white board is a “nuther” story.
Some of my other teaching faculty and teaching faculty colleagues whose names may be familiar are; Ernie Winterhalter, Don Smith, Jon LeGro, Herb Zuschin, Phil Alesso, Jim Woughter, Jim Jones, Frank Baran, Leon Lobdell, and one infamous Electrical Department faculty.
More recent Teaching colleagues, and any overlooked, will be cited in the follow up. Stay Tuned.