To listen to the podcast from this session, click here
Our second provisions session of the year explored the theme of “What Keeps You Motivated”. An audience of 30 were in attendance to hear presentations from Dr. Mary Ann McLoughlin, Professor of Mathematics, Prof. Julie Demers, Adjunct Professor of English, and Dr. Stephen Birchak, Professor of Counselling.
Dr. McLoughlin kicked things off by providing us with a history of both The College of Saint Rose and her own journey that brought her there. She graduated from St. Rose in 1963 before continuing her academic journey with graduate school at Washington University in St Louis. After successfully obtaining her Master’s Degree, she went on to teach geometry at high school level. In 1965, Dr. McLoughlin returned to St. Rose as a teacher, where she was younger than many of the students in her current class. Speaking back on her time as a student, Dr. McLoughlin stated that she could have studied anything, given her overwhelming motivation to learn. As a teacher however, given that St. Rose was a Catholic College at the time, it was not initially easy to gain authority due to her age and the fact that Dr. McLoughlin was not a Sister. Throughout her time at the College, she took on the roles as Chair and Head of many committees. As chair of humanities, Dr. McLoughlin carried out formal class observations, running the rule over teaching staff and learning from them in the process. Ever seeking to learn and improve, Dr. McLoughlin also spent two years teaching at the Albany County Jail. During these 50 plus years of teaching experience, Dr. McLoughlin emphasised the importance of mentors. Her parents were her very first mentors, followed by teachers in her Elementary and Secondary Schools, as well as important figures at St. Rose. Dr. McLoughlin noted the value of having retired mentors familiar with the world of academia, who can offer outside yet expert perspective. Dr. McLoughlin herself has acted as a mentor to student teachers, sharing with them her experiences and wisdom. Variety, too, has been an important factor for Dr. McLoughlin; she explained how she took her students all the way to Egypt on a field trip. To conclude, Dr. McLoughlin stressed that teachers must have a passion for their subject and be able to convey the most important elements of their subject to their students.
Second to present was Professor Julie Demers from the English department. Demers announced that she wanted to focus her presentation on her favourite subject and biggest motivation: her students. As a student herself, Demers recalled an activity organised by her teacher where the students would have to write down in a letter what they like about class and what they would change about it if they could. Having now adopted the same activity with her own students, despite initial dread about what they would say, Demers found that it proved to provide an insight into the lives of her students as they both informed her of the positive feelings they had about the class and of constructive changes that they would like to make. Thanks to this activity, improvements were initiated and the classroom experience was improved. In her moments away from teaching, Demers explained that she felt a longing to get back in the classroom with her students, who fuel her passion for the profession year after year. Demers confessed, however, that even with the passion, it is not all plain sailing. Despite all the hard work and detailed, engaging lesson plans, her students do not always match her enthusiasm. For Demers, the most rewarding side of teaching comes when her students ‘give back’. In order to achieve this process, Demers uses reflective and metacognitive based assignments as well as free writing activities to foster introspective thoughts from her students. Demers encourages her class to ‘stop and think’ so as to reflect on their own learning and growth as a student. This is what is most motivating for Demers. Rather poignantly, Demers brought proceedings to a close by showing examples of students’ admissions of struggles and revelations of progress.
Here are the handouts Julie brought for the audience – Reflective Exercises2 ProVisionsWriter’s Reflection in 3 Parts
Last up on stage was Dr. Birchak from the Counselling program. He began by reflecting that we should all ask ourselves the question“What keeps us motivated?” every day, such is its importance. Having taught since 1980, Dr. Birchak failed to recall a single year when he was not excited about the upcoming teaching term. Positive psychology plays a big part in Dr. Birchak’s life right now. Although it involves a lot of hard work, Dr. Birchak insists that we can make ourselves happier if we really want to do so. Rather worryingly though, Dr. Birchak explains that suicides have doubled in the last 50 years, and accompanies that statistic with a quote from Earnest Hemmingway – “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know”. He, however, fervently disagrees that there is a meaningful correlation between intelligence and unhappiness, stressing that some of the most intelligent people he knows are very happy. Dr. Birchak proceeds by pointing to research revealing that our happiness or indeed unhappiness is in our own hands. 50% of our happiness is genetic, only 10% is said to be due to our circumstances, while 40% is down to intentional behaviour. Dr. Birchak validates this research by referencing Viktor Frankl’s inspirational perspective on his days imprisoned in a World War II Concentration Camp. Dr. Birchak listed five active reflections that help to maintain happiness and motivation: I am free, I like my best me, I have grateful perspective, I promote kindness and calm aggression, and I love and I am loved. True freedom, Dr Birchak says, is to hold the ability to choose your own attitude and rise above the insanity. Perspective, too, is particularly crucial, as is avoiding any forms of pettiness and drama. In terms of motivation, Dr. Birchak falls in love with each and every new year. He chooses to cherish the new moments that he experiences, and, significantly, avoids becoming apathetic. Dr. Birchak described how by becoming apathetic, cynicism enters the equation, and soon enough one loses the control of their own life. He explains the importance of finding freshness of appreciation, enjoying every new class, and in turn, every graduation. Finally, Dr. Birchak declares that sharing his passion with his students is what motivates him and drives him to continue.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, there were only a few minutes of the post presentation discussion. Despite this, the following points were made:
- Former teachers acted as great motivators in each of the presenters’ lives.
- Students will benefit from teachers seeing the best in them and showing unwavering faith.
- There is always hope in every situation, and it can help you triumph in adversity.
To listen to the podcast from the session, click here.