TO: Whom it may concern and even to those it may not concern!
FROM: Alan M. Kirshner, Ph.D.
DATE: October 22, 2003
1. Please describe what you consider your present strength and weakness as a teacher.
I believe my primary strength as a teacher lies in my ability to develop excellent rapport with my students. I feel this rapport stems from the sincere warmth I show my students as well as my sense of fairness. I temper my interaction with students with a bit of aloofness. A teacher cannot be a close friend to students or s/he will lose the respect and mystique necessary to impart knowledge.
My rapport with students allows them to feel free to ask questions. When dialogue occurs, learning takes place. I must admit that at times students seem to think I am rapping with them rather than imparting information and so they may fail to take notes. Yet, maybe, just maybe, their memory banks are retaining more than if they simply placed the material in a notebook for future cramming.
Tied to my primary strength as a teacher--this rapport with students--is my sense of humor. Humor can stimulate a student's interest in the subject matter when used with proper timing, appropriate delivery, and warmth. Humor should never intentionally belittle a person—well, except maybe oneself.
I would conclude my interpretation of my successful ability to relate to students with my listening ability. I have a sincere interest in student growth, both academic and non-academic. Most students realize they can talk with me--even if they do not. I am approachable. I am always thrilled at the number of former students who return to talk with me about their successes. Aside: Dr. DeWitt says that I am the only person who ever listens to him. I deny this, as most of the time he listens to himself.
My secondary strengths as a teacher include my diverse use of teaching techniques, strategies and methodology. After more than forty years in the classrooms of Junior High School, Senior High School, University and Community College, I have fine-tuned a vast variety of instructional approaches. I might add that my major growth in the use of diverse strategies, facilitating student learning, occurred when I taught courses in teaching methods at a university. To learn, students must be stimulated--motivated--I have that ability.
All my rapport and creativity would likely come to naught if I lacked strength in my subject matter. I refuse to calculate the formal and informal training I have concluded in the social sciences at five universities. I will note that my undergraduate History Department presented me with the outstanding student award upon graduation. I also attended New York University graduate school on a scholarship and obtained A’s in all my courses but my last one. I received a B+ in that seminar. ;0(
Another strong suit of mine would be my ability to structure my courses. Material, introduced through course objectives, word lists and outlines, enable the students to better know where I am in the course and, what I expected. I refuse to feed information to my students. My students absorb the material without usually being aware they are learning. Some students might refer to this approach as Kirshner's deception.
I prefer an indirect approach to teaching. I force students to think about the material--critical thinking. I never viewed teaching as parroting the instructor or the textbook.
My primary weakness in teaching has remained constant over the last few years. I have been academically lazy. I have failed to keep abreast of the literature in my discipline. I have rationalized that it is because few of my students are demanding of my academic largesse--and there may be some truth to that statement. I do more reading when I have students knowledgeable in my discipline. Presently, I prefer to exert my limited resources into diverse interests and specifically, my family and non-profit corporation.
My secondary teaching weaknesses include my rapid-fire presentations and excessive examples. A few students each semester point this out to me through their evaluations.
My rapid pace of speaking fails to bother me. I do not believe students should be able to place every one of my brilliant words in their notes. I prefer they simply relax and participate in, what we called in the early ‘70’s, “the happening.” At the beginning of each semester I spend a good deal of time describing to students how best to take notes from my unusual and rapid paced lecture style.
I almost refuse to define words the same way twice. I do not want the definitions, or for that matter the concepts, to go from "the notes of the instructor to the notes of the student without going through the head of either one." I firmly believe that if students have divined what to place in their notes, if they define terms in their own words and if they analyze concepts, they will remember much more. I refer to this methodology as the Kirshner Gestalt Syndrome.
I inform my students at the beginning of each semester about the best way to take notes from me: “Listen to the things I emphasize and hear whether I am repeating what I am saying. At the point you hear me say anything repeatedly, even if I do not repeat the exact phraseology, you should know it is time to place something in your notes.” I tell my students to stop my lecture or slow me down with questions if they are getting writers cramp. I also encourage them to speak to me after class or during my office hours if they are insecure as to the material (or lack thereof) in their notes.
In my enthusiasm to have students understand my points I may use a few too many examples. Students often perceive this as wandering off the subject. I figure, however, better to have too many examples than too few. I want students to get the point of my lecture.
Sometimes I do wander off the subject matter as ideas flutter through my head. Almost all the wanderings wind up pertaining to the course, however. Students are always amazed (and sometimes so am I) at how I tie things together. When these breaks occur in my direct lecture, I call them Kirshner’s sermons.
My directness sometimes scares students. I attempt to warn them about my New York heritage at the beginning of each semester. The vast majority of students adapt to my personality and accent--do they have a choice?
2. Professional Growth:
a) What are your goals and aspirations as a staff member of this college?
My goals and aspirations as a staff member of Ohlone College is to continue to grow professionally. I want to continue to excite student learning. I also desire that my involvement in the college community, the local community, the national academic and non-academic communities will provide a more conducive atmosphere for education in my classes and on the campus.
b) What specifically have you recently done, are you doing, or are you planning to do to increase your effectiveness as a staff member of this college?
I became a pioneer in using the Internet as an aid to my classroom teaching along with introducing an American Government course taught completely online. Before Ohlone even allowed instructors to post material on their web server, I placed my course outline, my course materials and even my course grades on my personal server. I developed a website for our department. When Ohlone’s administration finally understood that the Internet could be a useful learning strategy for students—well, candidly, I think they felt they could increase enrollment and make more money, but whatever—I was one of the first instructors to offer a course completely online. I might add that I think I am still the only one who has had students take the course from foreign countries—specifically, Italy and Canada. My course integrated the visual media and research capabilities of the Internet. Last year, I ceased to teach my course online. I found it consumed a disproportional amount of my time, especially since I would go online with my students, in chat, late Thursday and Sunday nights—the only times I could get almost everyone to attend. However, while my online course has become history, much of the materials I developed for this program are still available for my in class students. Among the most beneficial of my postings are the transcripts of all my lectures. I do warn students that it is deadly to real the lectures verbatim. I have placed a search engine, specific to my site, to enable students to locate specific information that they might feel could be beneficial to their learning or to their course grade.
In the Spring 1999, I had a deaf student in class and she had a court reporter record my lectures. I received permission to place these lectures online. At first I had to scan the lectures and OCR the pages. However, the court reporter finally figured out how to convert her program to Microsoft Word and that saved loads of time in posting the material at my course site. A year later, I had another court reporter take notes and I updated my lectures online.
Simon & Schuster Custom Publishing contracted with me for a fourth edition of my textbook, In The Course of Human Events. My revision was published in the Spring of 1998. I rewrote a good portion of the text and have added a new chapter about the Congress. A few years ago I added an extensive workbook section to the textbook. This section is now online and students can submit the work to me through e-mail. I might add that these interfaces (worksheets) have aided student interest in my essays and increased their learning far beyond any of my expectations. I do need to find time to do a revision for the 21st century. Considering the outrageous price of my book, I will leave out the workbook in the next edition—it is online. In this manner, at least students can recoup a little of their money through selling it back to the bookstore which they cannot do at this time.
I will distribute this self-evaluation to my students at the beginning of each semester, in an abbreviated version. Translation--my students will only have to suffer through an abbreviated recording of my ego. I will leave my full ego for any administrator who may be driven to read this self-evaluation. The reason for presenting mini-me to my students--segments of this self-evaluation--should reinforce the requirements and direction of my courses. Hopefully, my personal expectations, expressed here, will supplement the green sheets and promote a more productive learning atmosphere.
c) What specific objectives do you have for the coming two years?
I will maintain my love of teaching and hassling students. I intend to avoid, or at least not listen to, those burned-out faculty members who view their students as the worst in their teaching career. I sometimes feel that such instructors would argue that student accomplishments have been declining since the Roman Empire.
The only closing of the American mind that takes place is with those instructors who no longer enjoy messing with their students' heads and with those administrators who would not know a student if they tripped over one.
I will continue my enthusiasm for my students and for teaching. I will remain a gadfly, calling the administration to task while fighting for professionalism, albeit, far reduced from years ago. I will continue to remind them, even on their fortified hill, that the students, classified staff and faculty firmly hold up the base of the hill.
d) (Optional: The self-evaluation will be considered complete if
you do not wish to discuss this segment.) How has your personal development enhanced your professional growth?
Most important for my professional growth was the realization of a greater self. I believe this awareness provides me with a more relaxed and mellow attitude to life and people then when I first arrived at Ohlone. Since this process developed over the years, I expect it to continue to expand my horizons. I hope I will always retain enough life energy to confront head on those forces I perceive as evil or misdirected--to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way--after all, Superman and I were born in the same month and year.
3. a) How are you involved in the educational community?
There are, have been, and always will be many facets to my involvement with the educational community at Ohlone College: I participated as a member of the Committee, which created this form. As Chief Negotiator for the union a number of years ago, I helped tie the whole evaluation procedure to our contract. I have been a member of so many committees I am unable to remember them all. I spent eight years on CAPAC. As a member of CAPAC, I served on the Cultural Diversity sub-committee. I am on the Distant Learning Committee.
Over the years, I have actively participated in the Faculty Senate, including President. I was the first President of the United Faculty of Ohlone. I served in that post three other times. Each semester a fair number of faculty come to me for advice on how to deal with professional and work related problems. I no longer serve in any official union or senate capacity, yet I am grateful, even thrilled, that my advice and intervention have almost always proved fruitful. Being a gadfly is often more rewarding than having a titled position. With a titled position I feel ethically bound to control my personal opinions and express the views of the organization. As a gadfly, I speak for myself. In recent months I have been quoted numerous times in the press on diverse issues pertaining to the college, education and government. One reason the reporters call me is that they know that I will allow my name to be used when I am quoted. I cannot understand the fear of so many of my colleagues to have their names appear with their comments, if what I am told by reporters who cover the college is true.
I am a born volunteer; I guess my volunteerism results from to my inability to keep my hand down. I have always believed that if one opens his/her mouth, then s/he must act. Since I have a difficult time closing my mouth, I am always acting.
I have served as faculty advisor to numerous clubs, from the Vietnam Veterans Against the War to the Honor Society. Most recently I was advisor to the campus Chess Club. In 1972 and 1977, student government honored me for my activities and contributions to the college with its award for full-time faculty members.
Other than Ohlone: I have always belonged to a number of professional organizations. I have published about twelve academic articles and five books.
Certainly, I can count my two-year membership on the Weibel Elementary School SITE Council, my two-year membership on the Hopkins Junior High School, and my membership on the Mission San Jose High School SITE Council (curriculum committee) as involvement in the educational community. My work over the years with various PTA’s should also be listed as involvement with the educational community. Oh, and least I forget, I continue to help raise funds for PTA’s at a number of Bay Area schools through special chess related events.
b) (Optional: The self-evaluation will be considered complete if you do not wish to discuss this segment.) How are you involved in the community at large?
Being a political animal, besides teaching courses in political science, my community involvement is substantial. Over the years I have worked in political campaigns. I have spoken to many community groups from Parents Without Partners to the local Optimists’ Club.
Information on my courses, teaching, power lifting and chess have appeared in a number of Bay Area papers and even the Fresno Bee.
I have had the opportunity to be a guest celebrity on local cable TV shows. My most memorable interview about 25 years ago was on “Mickey Mouse” and an Ohlone College Board Trustee. I have also done a KGO-TV talk show and a number of radio shows.
I worked as a parent volunteer at Weibel Elementary School. I volunteered years ago for my older son, now 34, and, deja vu, I did it again for my 20 and 22 year olds. I started a chess club at the Weibel Elementary School fourteen years ago. I have 250 members this year and I teach there two afternoons a week. I have expanded this chess activity into a non-profit that presently has 2000 students in 60 programs with 50 employees in the schools in the Bay Area. A side note: One of my chess students three years ago nominated me as one of seven speakers for the Fremont Unified School District’s Leadership Conference. I was humbled, not too usual for me, by the company I was on stage with.
I was on the National Scholastic Chess Committee and I am a voting representative for California Chess to the United States Chess Federation. Until this month, when I decide to take a sabbatical, I was on the Board for the California Chess State organization as Scholastic Coordinator. In the spring of 1997, the 80,000 member United States Chess Federation’s magazine, Chess Life honored me as their volunteer of the month. In 2000, the Chess Educational Association of the United States honored me as their chess coach of the year. I am also on a chess advisory committee to the University of Texas, Dallas. They have a nationally renowned chess program and offer 5 + full chess scholarships to the University each year.
I helped raise funds for the Weibel PTA by running chess tournaments. For five years I organized the State Scholastic Chess Championships—one of the largest of its kind in the United States. I drew 1200 kindergarten through high school players in 2000 when I decided enough! I was spending a disproportional part of each year on this event. I do a number of other small tournaments during the year—about 300 children in each. I am also a writer and photographer for the California Chess Journal. My photos and articles appear in almost every quarterly issue. I place on the web 100’s of photographs of children and adults from chess tournaments that can be downloaded without charge. The Chess Journalists Association’s selected my photograph for the California Chess Journal for their award for the outstanding cover four years ago and last year I was honoredfor taking the best chess photograph. Each month I write a scholastic chess newsletter that is distributed throughout Northern California. I set up and maintain websites for CalChess Scholastics, Success Chess (my non-profit) and numerous websites for the various programs I personally run.
Each year I take my Weibel Elementary School Chess Team to various inter-school matches. In the Spring of 1994 the National Scholastic Elementary School Chess Championship was held in San Jose. Our team, divided into various divisions, produced some immense trophies for the school. In April 1996, the Hopkins’ Junior High School Chess Team, in Orlando Florida, accomplished what no other Northern California team has been able to do--they won the National Junior High School Chess Tournament. In 2000, my Weibel Primary School Team and the Weibel Elementary School Team took first place in the Championship Divisions of the Chess Education Association’s Nationals in San Jose. In 2002, Weibel Chess placed 4th in the National Scholastic Elementary School Championships in Portland, Oregon. The school failed to find a place to exhibit the 5 foot trophy and, sadly, they placed it in a closet. I suspect this is the way they treat us now that we did not get a first place.
In 1989, I ran my last state power lifting championships at Ohlone College. I put on that event for 6 years to raise funds for Ohlone Athletics. At about the same time I resigned my five-year post as the United States Powerlifting Federation’s Record’s Chair.
Because of my immersion in chess, I gave up coaching soccer a few years ago. I also left my post on the Board of Directors of the Fremont City Soccer Club. My job with the Soccer Club was to run the City and Director’s Cup tournaments each year. I have a second-degree soccer-coaching license, a soccer referee license, a chess coaching license, a chess Tournament Director’s license, not to mention my National Powerlifting Referee’s license in two different associations. In August 1996, I acted as a chaperone along with ten other individuals for 90 young Jewish athletes attending the Youth Maccabiah Athletic Games in St. Louis. I was also the Track and Field coach. In 1997, the coach of the Maccabiah girl’s soccer team heading for Milwaukee resigned. I became the coach of this team of 14 girls 16 years old and under. Not having any girls of my own, I must admit that this was quite an education. I was also on the Bay Area Jewish Community Center Maccabiah Games Board of Directors. Are senior citizens supposed to be this active?
While I spent a lot of time with my photography in the past, I have substantially reduced this activity--except for hundred of pictures of the kids. Well, I also made use of my digital camera to place my students on my course pages. I did have a few photographs published a few years ago, earning a couple of extra dollars. I still get photographs published, but without any remuneration. I hope that is not a statement on the recent quality of my work. I did feel a little better four months ago when I received a check for $10 for a photograph I had taken that they published in Powerlifting USA.
I have not entered a photography show since 1981 when I won a best local entry award. I have added a few new photographs to my already cluttered office wall and to my office ceiling. Of course, every time I come out with a new edition of my textbook I am sure to add a few new photographs. Dr. De Witt uses my photographs in a number of his works as well as one that has become the cover of a recent textbook. I am also having fun editing my photographs with my computer. I, recently, developed a number of screen savers using my own photographs.
I set my last national age group powerlift record eleven years ago. The result was far from my World Record Masters’ Bench Press Record I set in 1981 of 380 pounds in the 165 pound weight division. I am still training with the weights. I do not expect to enter any more competitions. I have to recognize the limitations of a 66-year-old body!
Any community involvement on my part, on whatever level, always brings positive recognition to Ohlone College. Well, maybe being quoted in the National Enquirer a few years ago lacked positive recognition. Interestingly, Ohlone’s Assistant to the President at the time, Dick Peters, brought the article to my attention. I suspect this identifies the intellectual curiosity of our higher echelon administrators.
4. a) How would you characterize your interaction with students?
As I indicated under my strengths as a teacher, one of my best attributes is my ability to interact with students. Students seek out my advice and I enjoy rapping with students. I like to know where their heads are. (Boy, does that sound 1960’s!) My discussions with students enable me to analyze my professional preparation.
I guess I am proudest of my accomplishments with those students whom I have helped to find themselves and to feel productive about their lives. A couple of summers ago, a young man (not so young anymore), who used to appear in my office almost daily back in the mid-seventies, turned up at my doorstep. He is presently teaching English at a college in Japan. He returned to this country for a short vacation and went out of his way to come by and say hello which he has done a few times since he moved to Japan in 1978. Another student who graduated Ohlone, and is hoping to get a Ph.D. in History to teach at the college level, appears in my office almost weekly to discuss history and politics. A Japanese exchange student, who attended my class four years ago, dropped by the other day on her way to work in Toronto. E-mail has enabled former students from all over the world to get back in touch. I now get those god-awful e-mail jokes from the Philippines from a former Ohlone student government president. Another student (27+ years back), now a Professor, asked me to visit with him a awhile back while he switched planes at the San Francisco airport as he moved his family from the University of Alaska to a new post at a university in Australia. I must admit he aged in 27 years. I guess the same must be said for yours truly. I could go on, but let me mention one other student who I am very proud of his accomplishments. Twenty years ago when he entered Ohlone he didn’t even know which side of an envelope to place a stamp on. He may still not know, but today he is teaching part-time at the college. Now if I could only report that I had a positive impact on his political views—ya can’t win ‘em all.
And, so it goes! This is the beauty of teaching; the true worth of the teaching profession. Of course, it drives my wife nuts every time a former student says to her somewhere in the Bay Area: “Oh, so you are Dr. Kirshner’s wife!” Now that she is the manager of three Fremont libraries, maybe I will hear, “Oh, so you are Ms. Fisher’s husband!”
Many times students select a life goal I would never recommend. A few years ago, I received two letters on the same day from students thanking me for everything I did for them. A young lady decided to join the navy and a young man told me he entered a ministry school. The young man sent me a copy of a paragraph he had written for his entry application to the ministry college:
I took a class at the local Jr. College on the History of Masculinity, and let myself use the materials to help set guides for re-defining myself. This was a very positive influence on my life. The professor held the main premise that as an individual you did not have to be subjected to the pre-conceived rules that society set down. He himself was a combination of conflicting types of men, however, he was molded into a unique individual. It was with this insight I obtained from him that I really was able to start accepting myself.
b) How would you characterize your interaction with the administration and other staff members?
I guess I would have to respond to this question: “Which ones?”
I am sure I am still well known by almost all the administrators despite the turn over in recent years. I suspect I am liked by most of those who know me and respected by the others for my dedication to Ohlone. I always exchange pleasantries with the administrators and they with me. I will bet a few administrators are more willing to exchange pleasantries with me now that I am no longer the UFO Negotiator or UFO President.
The one individual on the staff--a faculty member--who refused to speak with me retired ten years ago.
I realize that at times people who fail to know me or only interact with me on a superficial basis, form a dislike for me personally. I might add that a few administrators, who even though they know me well, probably deserve to dislike me. Yet, despite, perhaps even because of, my being outspoken and with my confrontive nature, I interact well with administrators and faculty.
For some reason I have always been able to interact with diverse groups of people. Perhaps the nature of my multiple of activities and my continuous interactions with individuals with all types of lifestyles allows me to work easily with the support staff at Ohlone. Many members of the secretarial and maintenance staff discuss with me their lives and problems. I am aware, though, that a few see me as a pompous aloof individual. Again, I think it is more their impressions from afar than a reflection of the real Alan Kirshner.
c) How would you characterize your interaction with individuals for whom you are directly responsible?
d) How would you characterize your interaction with the non-academic community of this district?
I am involved continuously with different communities within Fremont and Newark. People know I am a professor at Ohlone College and are constantly asking me about the school’s programs and goals. Once in awhile they solicit my comments on our Board of Trustee members. I am always willing to provide personal insights.
I have also been responsible for bringing many members of the community to Ohlone College with some of the activities I have helped to organize. People are always calling me to obtain my guidance on any of the myriad of issues they have heard me comment upon on radio, TV or in the newspaper. (An aside--a few years ago I received a call from Mrs. Blomerley, the wife of the then college president, the only time I can remember her speaking with me. She was contacting me in her capacity as secretary to the President of a chiropractic college regarding steroid testing. I use to do steroid testing for the American Drug Free Power Lift Association.) I find that I often learn more than I disseminate in these conversations.
5. Choose one course that you teach in any one semester and give an extensive analysis of the course. Outline the goals you set in the course, what you want your students to know at the completion of the course, how would you like the students’ attitudes to be enlarged by the course, the methods you use to accomplish your goals (test, labs, study guides, course outlines, reference materials, etc.) procedures used to measure the attainment of goals.
The course I have chosen to provide an extensive analysis of is the History of Western Civilization 104A. I teach this course both in the classroom and through the self-paced format.
The Ohlone College catalogue description of Western Civilization 104A is as follows:
“This course is a survey of the cultural, social and political developments of civilization in the Mediterranean through the beginning of early modern history. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Western Civilization before 1600 and includes a world perspective.”
The course objectives I state in my “Green Sheet” (not the CAPAC form) are:
1. To develop a specific knowledge of the beginnings of civilization.
2. To gain an understanding of the impact of early civilization on modern
3. To develop an awareness of the interaction and intertwining of historical events.
4. To provide specific knowledge of the history of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, the Medieval Era, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Age of Exploration.
5. To acquire through the study of the past, practical skills necessary to cope effectively with contemporary society.
6. To develop the ability to solve problems through the process of rational thinking enhanced by studying the great minds of the past.
7. To develop basic academic skills through the reading and memorization of
important events in Western Civilization and World History.
Vital to an understanding of my goals for this course is a knowledge of my philosophy of history. I hold that history should be studied so that individuals can learn about themselves and their interaction with society. In other words, history is internalized so “truth” is achieved. History must be subjective but learned objectively--studied through the proper methods and techniques of the discipline.
A major goal would be to have students glean something from the study of civilization that helps them to understand themselves better, thereby, feeling more productive in life. Admittedly, the fulfillment of such a goal is difficult to measure. Perhaps some sense of success can be seen through watching students interact, showing excitement about specific historical events, or doing extra reading on a topic of specific interest.
Goal fulfillment need not be immediate. We were told in Peace Corps training not to be frustrated by a failure to see the instant results of our work. We were told that changes could take 50 or 100 years.
While teaching a university methods course for social science instructors 34 years ago, I always made the point that to judge the success of your long-range goals you must feel success intuitively. Recognition of success is never really quantitative.
Another goal I have for students who complete my courses is for them to be aware that civilizations include common people, like us, as well as nobles and monarchs. I emphasize the impact of the waves of civilization on marginal groups, often the pariahs of history. I teach the expansion of civilization to provide enough diversity for each student to locate something of value in history that s/he can identify. I might note here that I selected the textbook for this course with these specific goals in mind.
I distribute a course lecture outline with my "Green Sheet" to aid students in obtaining my specific goals and objectives. The behavioral nature of these sections allows me to ascertain the accomplishments of students more easily. I evaluate my success through carefully analyzing class discussion, student summaries and reactions to my review of the material. Interestingly, those students who do poorly on the creative aspects of my exams are able to regurgitate the behavioral meanings of my outline sections.
With such accomplishments there cannot be failure--simply those students who can analyze and internalize the behavioral material to achieve a more diversified understanding. A student expressed the essence of my education goal in an evaluation of this course a few years ago: "Now, every time I ask myself a question, I ask myself ten more."--Success!
This success--the expansion of thought, the development of thinking ability--I attribute to the techniques and strategies I employ in my class. I often use an inquiry approach as popularized by Carnegie-Melon's Edwin Fenton. Today we prefer to call this system "critical thinking." I force my students to think about what they are thinking while they are thinking.
The following e-mail arrived on December 14, 2000 after I submitted that year’s self-evaluation. The young woman received 100 on her mid-term exam and obtained a 90 on her final. Her course grade was obviously an A. I continue teaching because of letters similar the this one:
Hi Dr. Kirshner!
I’ve been debating whether I really want to know my final grades, and I’ve finally decided that I would like to know what they are.
What is my final grade? My overall grade?
Thanks for a very interesting semester, Dr. Kirshner. I really don’t know how I did on the final exam, and as important as that is to me, I think I honestly say that your class really taught me a lot. I came to your class knowing nothing about American government, without any interest whatsoever. I don’t know, maybe it was the whole Election 2000 that turned me around, the whole “history in the making” the media has been obsessing about, but I do feel fortunate to have taken your class at this juncture. At least now when I do say that I dislike something about politics, I know what I’m talking about. I can say it because I have knowledge about it.
I’d also like to say that as wacky as you may be, I’m glad I had you as a teacher! You really know what you are talking about, and you always admit when you do not know something. I think that’s important in a teacher. You are always very candid (as you always say) with us. And while I prefer classes with more structure, I must applaud your teaching style, where you focus on the learning process, rather than our memorization of terminology. You are very tough, but I think if students can put up with you, it would truly help them in the long run. =) Keep up the good work!
My process is to allow students to analyze a problem, develop a hypothesis and research the historic evidence. Every few weeks I place my students in groups for collaborative learning. For example, I may ask students in groups of five or six to answer a series of questions about a people and their history from nothing but a site map. Many of the student groups do conclude, correctly, that the site map was of a modern Paleolithic people. I enjoy even more the incorrect inferences. After discussion of pre-civilization, I show an excerpt from the beginning of the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” The archeological site map that I gave to the students came from a Bushman camp in the Kalahari. We then proceed to a more thorough discussion of the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras.
A side note: When Shirley Peck came on board as our Dean of the Learning Resource Center she ordered the reserve book shelves cleaned out. Jim Landovazo took her literally and tossed everything into a garbage dump. Neither of them consulted with any of the faculty as to the use of the materials or whether we would care to store them in our offices. Much of the material I lost I had purchased with my own funds and they were irreplaceable. I was at least able to recover a facsimile of the aforementioned map from a local high school teacher. He did not have the rest of the materials I liked to use for this section of the course.
In section five of this self-evaluation form you asked: "What you want your students to know at the completion of the course." I have answered the query specifically above, but in more general, perhaps more important and certainly in non-evaluative terms, I would answer in the same manner I suspect you would if I asked you what value there was in spending all this time on a self-evaluation form. Since I have been discussing western civilization, I would quote to any student who inquires of me of what s/he should know at the completion of the course, that they read the inscription found at the entrance to the Delphic Sibyl:
Alan M. Kirshner, Ph.D.
From a former student:
Einstein defining relativity: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute--and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
Dear Dr. Kirshner,
I found this card, and I instantly thought of your humor. I wanted to send this card, not only to thank you for writing me my letter of recommendation for Berkeley, but to thank you for making my education at Ohlone challenging and rewarding.
I must admit that I studied relentlessly for all your finals and your midterms. What I enjoyed about your classes was not only your candid humor, but your sense of perspective, vision and knowledge. I was always left analyzing and creating, and most importantly, questioning my views, after listening to your lectures. You made history come to life and I thank you for your passion for teaching.
I hope you are not completely surprised by my card. I am sure that many of your students have felt this way.
I honestly am very thankful for having the opportunity to learn from you.
Have a great summer!
Well, maybe I don’t have to wait 50 to 100 years to feel successful!