From the Newsletter: A Long History of Teaching

For nearly 75 years, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has been developing the best and brightest to help tackle national challenges, focusing specifically in education. Great teaching has long been a central focus of the Fndn’s work, and the Generations of students have learned from Fellows of various WW programs.

A couple of issues ago, Fellowship profiled a Woodrow Wilson Fellow who had completed 50 years in the classroom—and since then a number of others celebrating similar milestones have been in touch. Here are message from a few of them. Have your own teaching story to tell? Email us at [email protected].

50 years of teaching, 50 insights
By Gary Gaffney WF ‘66

The endpoint of knowledge is wisdom.
Always remind the student of the big picture.
Creativity sees no walls.
Every discipline bleeds into every other discipline.
Edutainment is not always a bad thing.
Each student is a human being first.
Love what you are teaching.
Never stop learning.
Be prepared to learn from your students.
Just when you have a course nailed, it’s the time to start fresh.
Knowledge in the real world is fluid in the way it’s used, so it should be fluid in the way it’s taught.
Students need discipline and limits.
Much of learning is doing.
Tests are also learning situations.
Mathematics and visual art are languages, and need to be taught that way.
Every worthwhile idea is part of a web of ideas.
Connections are more important than the things they connect.
Assignments should allow students some freedom to make them their own.
Complex ideas require sophisticated language. Vocabulary and expression count.
If you expect to challenge students, you must challenge yourself.
No dollar amount can be put on the value of a good teacher.
A syllabus is built by you but chiseled into form by the students.
Each student has to know that you respect him/her.
If students respect you, they will learn.
Enthusiasm and passion are contagious.
Teach so that students will still be digesting the material years down the line.
Foster positive energy among your colleagues and your students.
Teach ideas as if they were for the world and not just the classroom.
In this visual world, the visual language is under-taught and under-appreciated.
Beauty is a part of all knowledge.
The blackboard is still an important teaching tool.
The goal of teaching is to help the student see and to want to continue to see.
Be as curious as you want your students to be.
Among your colleagues, build bridges not walls.
Treat the curriculum as a living thing.
The reward of discipline is a set of instincts you can rely on.
Innovate with your heart in it.
Teach in a circle of desks. There is no hierarchy and everyone faces everyone else. The teacher relinquishes some authority, too.
Make humor a part of your teaching strategy.
Be humble.
How you teach is the model for how students will learn.
Dispense discipline and praise fairly.
Patterns are more important than facts.
Listen to the student.
What a student wants is not necessarily what a student needs. You are teaching the future student as well as the present one.
Administration may know what’s best for everyone, but only you know what’s best for your students. Integrity means something.
When a teacher leaves the classroom, he/she doesn’t stop being a teacher.
Teaching demands a sustained and upbeat energy.
Your students are always your students.
If you do it right, teaching is a calling.

At the end of this year Dr. Gaffney will have completed 50 years of teaching in mathematics, science, visual art and humanities, 40 of them at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.


Anne Arsenault WF ’54, who holds a master’s in American literature from Columbia University and a doctorate in adult education from Boston University, recently retired from her post at the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy. She has been a longtime instructor, leading a book club for 15 years, and was the first director of the Senior Academy that became the Ringling College Academy. “I will miss my students desperately, the students who came year after year and became my friends.”

“Thank you for supporting my preparation to teach the best [that has been] thought and said, from high school honors students and community college students, to university graduate and undergraduate students, subject matter and skills from literary theory and English and American literature to primary intellectual prose from Plato to the 20th century, to interdisciplinary composition and world literature in translation.” –Sharon Bittenson Meltzer WF ‘61

Kenneth T. Jackson, WF ’61; WWDF ’64, has received Columbia’s highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Medal. “It is awarded to members of the community for both distinguished service to the College and exceptional accomplishment in any field of endeavor.” Dr. Jackson will retire this year as Jacques Barzun Professor of History after 52 years at the university.

John Ralston Trimble WF ’62 has retired from the University of Texas at Austin with the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Emeritus. “My Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1962 was enough to lure me away from Harvard Law School and into the PhD program at UC-Berkeley, where I felt instantly at home and now pointed toward a very different life. That life has proved infinitely rewarding. I will always be grateful to the Foundation for its critical role in helping me find the right career.”


This story appeared in the fall/winter 2019 issue of Fellowship, the newsletter of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. To see the full newsletter, click here.


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