On Teaching

It first ocurred to me to teach in my freshman year of university, as I was greatly charmed by the personalities and life styles of several of my professors. So I put in a lot of time to get a PhD, on a circuitous route through two different majors and several specialties, according to my delight at always finding new things to learn about. Teaching was a large component of my activities in grad school, on various assistantships in physics and mathematics, ultimately attaining the august rank of Acting Instructor in the Berkeley math dept, while still a student. My first full time faculty position was at Humboldt State University, where I taught mathematics, computer science, was highly regarded by students, and served a few years as chairman of the mathematics department. I've always enjoyed teaching and have found the positive student response rewarding, but the teaching at Humboldt eventually played out for me.

One of the great things about teaching is that to teach any subject, you have to learn it to a somewhat greater depth than ever when you were just learning it. You need to understand it to a level or two deeper than that to which you are leading the student. The first time you teach a course it's challenging, and involves a lot of learning and crystallization. The second and third times, it's fun because of new confidence. After that, diminishing returns. The teaching at Humboldt was almost all to non-majors, almost all lower-division, with a heavy remedial component. After teaching all the classes in the curriculum several times, I felt running out of challenge. It seemed that my 25-year-older colleagues hadn't learned any more than I knew then, and the opportunity to learn something new, always a major motivating factor in my career decisions, seemed to lie in other directions, in the worlds of business or government. Therefore, after nine years at Humboldt, and in the year I was up for promotion to full Professor, I resigned my tenured position to seek new challenges outside of academia.

Eventually, during a phase when I was operating as an independent consultant, on contract to Digital Equipment Corporation, I designed an intensive two-week, hands-on workshop in 3D graphics technology and programming, using their 3D workstations of the era, aimed at the sales engineers and customer support engineers for that business. I delivered it several times, on both coasts and in Europe, with a gratifying positive response from the participants. Because of the relatively serious attitude of the students, I found teaching in the industrial context in some ways more satisfying than in a college. I'm interested in finding moonlight opportunities for teaching and training in the areas of my expertise.

 

 

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