Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Administrative Note 9

Due to official travel and Spring Break at my home institution, there will be no posts this week and next. Please return to this blog on April 13, 2010 for a new essay.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blog XLVI (46): The History Ph.D. as Public Historian

What is public history?

It is okay if you do not know. Consider this comment from James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian who served as president of the American Historical Association in 2003: “I cannot remember exactly when I first encountered the term 'public history.' It does not seem all that many years ago. And I am embarrassed to confess that I initially thought public history was the story of public events—the kind of history that most of us taught and wrote before the private lives of ordinary people in home and family became an important field of historical inquiry.”

Public history is a fairly broad term. A public historian works for historical societies, state preservation offices, historical parks, non-profit organizations, museums, archives, libraries, records managers for government agencies, or businesses. They design historical displays, publish in electronic media, design historical tours and guide books, give public lectures, and write books designed for the general public. In fact, most of the authors of essays about employment outside of a history department that have appeared in this blog are probably “public historians.” According to a study the AHA conducted in 2008, almost a fourth of all public historians work for museums (23.8 percent) and another 20.5 percent work for some sort of government agency—be it at the federal, state, or local level. The chart displayed above shows the employment distribution for public historians.

McPherson is not the only one who is confused about this term, “public history.” In that 2008 study, which included a survey of 3,856 individuals doing public history, 364 rejected that job description. “I don’t have the qualifications for that title,” one of them explained.

Whatever term is used, the acid test for public history--or any other field--is employment. Who is getting hired and where? According to the AHA study, most public historians hold the MA as their highest degree (55.6 percent). Only 20.9 percent have a Ph.D. These employment figures represent a decline in the number of Ph.D.s finding in employment in public history. Another study the AHA did back in 1980 found that 38.5 percent were Ph.D.s.

This decline makes sense. There are now roughly 120 public history programs and the MA is generally the terminal degree for those programs. With that point made, there is strong ancetidotal evidence that the public history MA degree is insufficient training for the actual job. Phil Cantelon, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of History Associates, Incorporated, a firm in the business of public history, observed, “I think in all the years at History Associates, we’ve hired only one person out of a public history program. The curricula for those programs tend to be pretty narrow.” In a 2003 study that the AHA conducted on the background of public historians, one correspondent remarked that “the public history graduate programs don't give students enough history.”

Most of the subjects in that 2003 study emphasized the importance of administrative skills such as time management, budget planning, computer literacy, personnel supervision, oral history interviewing, historic preservation, archival management, museum-based education, marketing, and fundraising. Almost everyone of those respondents said what separated the successful candidates from the others was having some type of internship on their resume.

Women also seem to be drawn to public history. Employment of females in this field jumped from 36.0 percent in 1980 to 65.5 percent in 2008. The second chart makes this significant starkly clear.

The female domination of public history makes sense. Unlike men, women must make a choice between family and career. More significantly, there is an inverse relationship between education levels and fertility. Public history positions only require the MA degree rather than the Ph.D and force less of a choice between family and career. Finally, despite what most people think, traditional academia is not that supportive of family management concerns—like spousal employment for two Ph.D. couples, and child care. See Blogs XII: Sex in Grad School and XIII: Marriage and Grad School for more discussion on these issues.

What options are open for the Ph.D.? In some ways that degree is a liability. The simple way around this problem is to realize that many public history employers are looking for skills rather than a credential. These talents include good writing skills and oral communication ability. The Ph.D. can give individuals these traits, but often does not, and a job applicant needs to make it clear that they have acquired competency in these areas. The budding public historian needs to be aware that good writing is not the ponderous, jargon loaded text that often passes for style in Ph.D. dissertations and that good public speaking comes from undergraduate teaching, which may or may not be something that a graduate program develops.

What do public historians do on a day to day basis? The short answer is: it depends. There are several public history firms. There are, however, only three major companies: History Associates, Incorporate; The History Factory; and Historical Research Associates, Incorporated. Most other public history firms are one man or one woman shops, and their success is often the product of word of mouth. The services these firms provide include writing corporate histories for their clients. They also do research for hire. Much of this research is for litigation, which requires research in state and federal archives with which lawyers are unfamiliar or do not have the time to do themselves. This research can often be crucial, and can save firms millions of dollars. The corporations also do records management.

If the public historian works for a government agency, they might be doing some of the same things. The federal government even has a civil service designation: “GS-170 Historian.” These historians do research and write official histories. The histories might be written for a specific community in the government—but could be classified for decades and not available to the public—while others write histories that are designed to made available to the public immediately. Government historians also produce important reference works. A good example is Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, which historians working for the U.S. Senate produced. Declassification of the documents is another major activity. The most famous effort along these lines is the Foreign Relations of the United States series that comes out of the U.S. Department of State’s historian office. Titles like these are important projects.

Government historians also serve as the historical memory for their agencies. Basically their job is to provide policymakers with information about past efforts of their departments and bureaus. This might be collecting information on how many military personnel were deployed to Germany, Japan, Okinawa, and Austria for occupation duty, so that the decision makers have that information when they decide how many people to send to Iraq or Afghanistan. Historians also collect information that is often the result of public and congressional inquiry. Apparently during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the Senate Historical Office spent a lot of time responding to journalists who wanted to know who Andrew Johnson was and what he did to get himself impeached.

The challenges of being a public historian are often different from being an academic one. The first thing is that most public history positions are basically office jobs. That means it is an 8 to 5 position. You have to be in the office at a certain time. That is far more structure than what many people see in an academic environment. Vacation time is often more limited. Forget getting a month off in December and three in the summer.

The good news is that with most of these jobs, work stays at the office. There is no grading papers at home, at night, and on the weekends. More significantly, the pay in these positions is generally better than what you will find in academic positions. That is as it should be since you do not have the same time off that you get in the summer and the holiday season.

A reoccurring theme among public historians is that there is a good deal of on the job training. “History Associates has a training program for all our young people. We’ll train them on research. We train them on how to do a budget, how to track a budget. We, in effect, give them a little entrepreneurial training,” Phil Cantelon explained. The fact that many people commented during the 2003 AHA study on the importance of having an internship is an indication of the importance of hands on training.

Another major difference between the public historian and the academic historian is that they must be generalists. If you work for a government agency, you need to be prepared to work on any time period or topic involving your employer. A military historian cannot respond to an issue involving the Vietnam War, by telling a general or an Assistant Secretary of Defense, “I don’t know, I am a Civil War historian.” They need to be prepared to respond to issues involving the artillery in the Korean War or the Chaplain Corps during Vietnam. The same is true for the private for profit firms. “HAI historians must be generalists, not only because they must be prepared to handle a variety of topics from book to book but also because clients, understandably, want general rather than specialized histories,” Kenneth Durr, Senior Historian and Director of the History Division of History Associates, explained.

Most public historians also work as part of a team. “I do not think we often think—as historians—about collaborative efforts, but it is great to be involved in one, and it provides a wonderful pool of knowledge form which we can draw. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I learn something new every day and as a result of researching new topics frequently, I am constantly learning,” Melissa Jane Taylor of the U.S. State Department’s Historian's Office, observed. Cantelon has a similar view. Group work is something that does not happen in history graduate programs. “Teamwork’s hard, for trained historians especially, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

A big problem that public historians face is the perception that they are glorified publicists; that they must offer the interpretations that policymakers want or that their clients demand. "We realized that being paid for our work would open us up to remarks about being court historians. We never thought about public history; we thought about being history professionals, serving clients who needed the very best history, and being paid for it,” Cantelon recalled. His colleague Durr argues that market forces work against such manipulated history. “The demand for historical works by paying clients is, of course, a small one. But that works in our favor. Those who come to us almost always value history and know that somehow their organization can benefit from it. Still, few know exactly why this is, and our first job is to help them reach that understanding,” he explained. “It can be argued that we don't pay as close attention to the negatives in an organization's history as journalists or academics might. But that is a luxury we do not have. We do not cover up the blemishes (most of our clients, in fact, insist that we do not) but we do paint with a broad brush, and from that perspective nearly every story we've told is a generally positive one. Our clients have all provided society with valued services, products, and expertise.”

Such considerations also come into play for the public historian working for a government agency. “Federal historians do not adopt an ideological approach to their historical narratives that castigates government, nor do they write under the interpretive direction of agency administrators as ‘court historians,’” Victoria A. Harden, president of the Society for History in the Federal Government, explained in 1999. “In general, when a federal historian is writing a scholarly article as an authority in the field, he or she enjoys the same degree of editorial freedom as do scholars in academia. This is not the case, however, for highly controversial topics—the only topics for which the concept of academic freedom has important consequences. Federal historians, whether civil servants or contractors, do not speak or write from a personal viewpoint when acting in their official capacities on matters that have political consequence for their agencies. Their work, whether an exhibit, a book, an article, or a web site, is subject to review and approval by agency administrators.”

There is a good deal of self selection at work in these positions. “Now it is true that a historian who believes that the American military basically consists of a gaggle of cement-headed Neanderthal fascists is unlikely to apply for a job as an army historian in the first place,” Stanley Sandler, a historian with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, observed. “Conversely, anyone simple enough to look upon the military as the spotless repository of all that is good and true in America will also not get far beyond the first interview. Army historians, of course, can point out that there are prevailing trends and fashions that academic historians up for tenure violate at their professional peril.”

The court historian issue gets to a bigger issue—that there is a deep divide between the academic and public history communities. “Public historians may sometimes feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of the profession (‘don't get no respect’),” Sandler stated only half in jest. Ann Deines, a National Park Service historian, added, “When someone discovers I work for the National Park Service, they invariably ask if I get to wear the Smokey Bear hat.”

There are many reasons for this division. Few--very few--academic historians, particularly those at the supposedly leading schools have ever been outside of academia. Good grad students, or so the conventional wisdom holds, will go into tenure track positions. It is the weaker ones that will have to look for non-traditional history jobs. “While researching about different careers and the many ways in which one can practice history, I was struck by the academic community’s failure to regard those outside academia as historians engaged in scholarly and valuable work,” Alexandra Lord, a historian for the U.S. Public Health Service observed. “Having embraced these foolish prejudices as a graduate student and then a professor, I have come now, as a nonacademic historian, to wonder why these prejudices are so pervasive. What does it say about our profession when we believe that historians who work with senators, reporters, policy analysts, and the general public should not be the among the best of our profession? What does it say when we dismiss the historian who uses his or her degree in a unique and innovative fashion that promotes the study of history?”

There is also a certain amount of hostility among public historians towards the academic community. “I watched as the job market fell apart in the early '90s. Other than hand-wringing at dismal statistics, the AHA didn't give a damn" one public historian told the 2003 AHA study. Another remarked, “A PhD is not likely to be hired—[it] indicates a professorial candidate who lost tenure.” Cantelon of History Associates said, “The company is a source of great personal satisfaction to me. But it is also my frustration. One of my biggest challenges as a professional historian outside the academy is convincing the academy that there is a potential market for historians other than teaching or going into archives.”

Cantelon also provided a possible reason for these divisions. “Almost every profession in the academy has a division between teaching and doing. You can teach law, or you can practice law. You can teach medicine or practice medicine. But in history, you can only teach, or that’s what historians think. But it’s not really true. You can do work, you can practice history outside, you can apply history, and do excellent professional work.”

If, with all these considerations in mind, you are still interested in public history, where do you go to find a job? There are several different places to look. The National Council on Public History has a website with job listings.

The civil service designation for a historian is "GS-170 Historian." Almost all jobs with the U.S. government are listed on:

The Historical Research Associates, Incorporated has a page listing its current openings.

The History Factory has a listing of available jobs.

A good website for finding jobs with state and local governments is:

The American Association for State and Local History as a listing of open jobs.

H-Net's job listings have a category for public history jobs, but most of these seem to be for faculty to teach public history.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a listing in its job advertisements for "organizations other than colleges."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blog XLV (45): The History Ph.D. as Historical Editor

Marc Selverstone is an associate professor at the University of Virginia. He spends most of his time working with the Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center. His main responsibility is to conduct historical editing. More specifically, his job duties are to transcribe and annotate transcripts of White House audio recordings. He is an editor of three forthcoming books: The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy, vol. IV and V and The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson, Digital Edition: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War: Escalation, July 1964-July 1965. He joined the center in 2000 after receiving his Ph.D. in diplomatic history from Ohio University. At the Miller Center, his work focuses on the recordings of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, with a special emphasis on their foreign policy, particularly that involving Vietnam. He is author of Constructing the Monolith: The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945–1950 (2009), and The Kennedy Withdrawal: Camelot and the American Commitment to Vietnam, which is under advanced contract with Harvard University Press.

I feel very lucky to have landed and remained in one of the best non-tenure track jobs in our field. The Miller Center of Public Affairs offers a remarkable environment for scholars to participate in wide variety of significant and timely projects while simultaneously pursuing their own intellectual and research interests. Located at the University of Virginia, the Miller Center is a private, non-partisan institution that seeks to research, reflect, and report on issues of concern to the United States, with an emphasis on the workings of the American presidency. While the Center seeks to realize its public service mission through the sponsorship of national commissions, debates, conferences, and a vibrant speakers program, it also houses an extraordinary group of historians and political scientists studying, writing, and teaching on topics centered around American domestic policy and foreign relations. The work we are doing here—transcribing the once-secret White House tapes, recapturing the institutional history of the most recent presidential administrations, and exploring the variety and complexity of American political development—should benefit scholars for generations.

I should start by noting that I was very fortunate to have finished my Ph.D. in the spring of 2000. At that point, the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program (PRP) was just beginning to ramp up its effort to transcribe and annotate the secret White House tapes of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, with an eye toward doing the same for their predecessors dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. I was hired to work on the Kennedy tapes within a month of earning my degree. Since my boss assured me that no one in their right mind could listen to these very challenging recordings eight hours a day—absolutely true—he indicated that I would likely have time work on my own research projects and teach a bit as well.

These opportunities materialized sooner than I would have imagined, largely because professors teaching in my field at UVa were then on leave. As a result, I team-taught and led my own courses on the Cold War and the Second World War, respectively. Similar opportunities arose for my colleagues in the PRP and we soon became regular instructors for the history department; we now teach both surveys and seminars, even when the faculty for whom we had previously pinch-hit are in residence. We do so, however, not as members of the department but as affiliated faculty. Unfortunately, our status within the university’s general faculty leaves us ineligible for tenure, creating a not insignificant measure of job insecurity. More on that in a moment.

By the time I arrived at the Miller Center, it was fast becoming a busy place with lots of interesting projects afoot, and this upsurge in activity had a sizeable impact on my professional life. Within a year of landing in Charlottesville, I was approached to head up two separate projects that sought to deploy Miller Center resources via the Internet in an effort to support secondary-school teachers in history and the social studies. The first project involved the writing of historical and historiographical essays which addressed the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). Working closely with the Virginia Center for Digital History (VCDH), which is also located at UVa, we produced hard-copy and online versions of these pieces and linked each of them to relevant primary sources. The second project was associated more exclusively with the Miller Center, as I was asked to manage the content side of, a website on the American presidency that the Miller Center had recently acquired. Both of these invitations likely stemmed from work I had pursued during my graduate years designing interactive, historical decision-making simulations.

These jobs eventually consumed far, far more of my time than I imagined they would at the outset. This was especially true of Not only were we reconceptualizing the entire website and instituting a new content management system, but with numerous errors marring the original site, I now had to oversee the rewriting of all informational essays and accompanying textual passages. Work on the site probably consumed the better part of three years, allowing me few opportunities to concentrate on either the White House tapes or my own research and writing projects—including the dissertation, which needed to be turned into a publishable manuscript.

Yet within the scope of and the SOLs, I had great latitude in bringing both projects to life. Indeed, one of the great benefits of working at the Miller Center is that it rewards entrepreneurship, and aside from these two initiatives, the work we were doing with the White House tapes offered intriguing possibilities for seeing how these resources might be deployed in a classroom setting. Owing to my background and continuing interest in secondary-school education (I had taught high-school history for four years in the late 1980s), I began to offer workshops for teachers on how they might use the tapes in class. Collaboration with VCDH and the university’s Curry School of Education encouraged me to go further and build an online portal so that these tapes and associated activities might be more accessible to teachers and students.

If I were to characterize the take-away from these experiences, it would be that my varied background in both secondary-school education and the use of digital technologies has led to as many professional opportunities as has my formal training in history. While the Ph.D. was obviously a key criterion of my employment at the Miller Center, those other experiences seem to have been at least as valuable. Not only did they help get me in the door here, but they continued to open up other doors, making my job more rewarding—and likely more secure.

That security, however, is qualified. General faculty and research positions are often precarious and vulnerable to swings in the economy, and mine is no different. Although PRP is funded in part from grants, a healthy slice of its budget comes from the Miller Center itself, which has depended to a great extent on private philanthropy. The PRP thus felt the pinch that so many others did over the past decade, with the economic crunch resulting in some programmatic restructuring. In an effort to enhance our job security, my colleagues and I moved to harmonize our performance review process with that of A&S faculty, so that they were as rigorous as possible—not only to prove our bona fides to the Miller Center and the university but to enhance our prospects should we need to go out on the job market. In time, we were granted promotion and the non-tenure track equivalent of tenure, which goes by the acronym “ECE”—the “Expectation of Continued Employment.” I have heard it described as tenure-lite, though current and former administrators here have relayed that they consider it to be tenure in all but name.

That wrinkle aside, the job has been and continues to be both and stimulating and rewarding, with the tapes remaining at the center of my work. The PRP is presently finishing Kennedy volumes 4 and 5, which take the Kennedy story from late October 1962 through early February 1963; Johnson volumes 7 and 8, which cover June and July 1964; and we have begun a new thematic series on Vietnam, Civil Rights, and the War on Poverty, all of which will be published digitally. While my time with the presidential website and the SOL project was draining and occasionally exasperating, I am proud of what we accomplished and of the service these resources continue to provide.

Where does the historian look for a historical editing job? The answer is the usual places: The Chronicle of Higher Education and H-Net have sections for this type of employment.
I am cognizant of working for an organization, with both a mission and a “brand,” and of the attendant promotional and service responsibilities therefore incumbent upon me. In this respect, the job differs from that of a traditional academic position in a history department; both have a service component, but the Miller Center’s charge and identity render it a more “corporate” institution. At the same time, I have the opportunity to teach, to work on my own projects, pursue independent research that is both connected to and distinct from my tape work, to speak with and learn from first-rate colleagues, and to participate more generally in the very engaging life of the Center.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blog XLIV (44): The History Ph.D. as School Teacher

Today marks the return of this blog's series on jobs outside of a traditional history department. Eric Gruver is a member of the honors faculty and Director of Honors Advising in the Honors College of Texas A&M University--Commerce. Before earning his doctorate, he spent four years teaching history at Harlingen High School in Harlingen, Texas. For three of those years he was department chair. His research focuses on the Depression and New Deal time periods and on issues involving the life and career of Herbert Hoover, the regulation of broadcasting, the history of public education curriculum, and national education policy and implementation.
Teaching is teaching; all that matters is how the individual doing the teaching frames the content for the audience. This sentiment sparked a debate between public school teachers and university historians who at the time were meeting to discuss how they could align their curriculums in order to facilitate a smoother transition for students from public education to higher education. As expected, the university historians concentrated more on teaching skills—reading, writing, analyzing—than on specific content, while the high school teachers complained that they could not cajole their students to read or do homework of any kind. In the end, both groups left the meeting frustrated feeling that neither side understood the other. As a former high school history teacher attending the meeting as a university historian, I felt sympathy for both sides. I had experienced the anti-reading, anti-homework—arguably, anti-intellectual—routine and nature of high school students and teachers, but was at that moment delighted that my university students were doing history. High school students can do history; mine did once I created an environment that piqued their interest and stimulated their psyches. So, how can a PhD historian use the degree to become a public school teacher, and should this be a viable career option?

For an individual holding a PhD in history who accepts a high school teaching position, one thing will be abundantly clear: high school students loathe the study of history as much as many college students. Students’ disdain for the subject stems from years of endless memorization of dates, names, and other factoids that students perceive to be irrelevant to their lives. High school teachers with advanced degrees in their field of study, however, possess several significant advantages over their baccalaureate only colleagues. First, advanced course work and doctoral research present extraordinary stories and historical twists-and-turns not found in the bland narratives of sanitized public school textbooks. The textbooks, moreover, are dominated by political, military, and economic topics and details, with mentions of women, minorities, and other fields of history relegated to the margins. For example, studying the purposes of the bevy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs is not near as exciting as hearing stories about how ordinary citizens reacted to the programs: people rioting because the government destroyed food while they or their neighbors starved; farmers using wooden planks to “convince” their mules to plow up the sown fields; and, children writing letters to Eleanor Roosevelt requesting assistance so their parents would not be unhappy. For all of their anti-adult, anti-authority blather and behavior, adolescents care about humanity and they will read things that interest or stimulate them. Primary documents—letters, newspaper columns, diaries—contain the richest personal parts of history, and PhD historians are the most qualified at locating, selecting, and helping students understand original material.

And high school students will revel in any information that shows people opposing government or any entity that possesses authority or power. Rebellious and arrogant, students in high school exist in a middle-ground of believing everything they have read and heard about how society in the U.S. has made steady advancements toward liberty, justice, and equality, while at the same time reveling in the fact that people in history have consistently opposed the government in a variety of ways. Teachers who possess a depth of knowledge beyond the undergraduate experience can capitalize on this dualism tocreate the conflict method of teaching history that has become popular for teachers and students alike. One of the best questions a student ever asked came in a high school history course: How do people protect themselves against a government—the student did not specify the U.S.—if the government or pieces of it wield the final decision on the meaning of law? What teacher wouldn’t enjoy basing a series of lesson plans on that question?
Second, utilizing the rich stories of history, PhD’s in high school classrooms have a better opportunity to compel students to consider ideas beyond, and that perhaps contradict or differ from, their familial and regional influences. Pre-college students assume that everything in print has been researched, verified, and edited before someone smarter than they declared the material fit for publication, which makes students extremely vulnerable to the national mythology and half-truths contained in the history and social studies textbooks adopted by state legislatures. Only teachers with a deeper knowledge of history can help students become aware that history is more complex than what they think they know about it, and teachers do this by requiring students to read and analyze primary sources. In other words, rather than standing at the front of the classroom proselytizing about historical events and historians’ interpretations of those events, locate primary sources that communicate the same message(s) to students. I refer to this method as leading students to intellectual water and letting them drink. For example, many high school teachers omit most details regarding peace treaties or foreign policy decisions, leaving students with no understanding of why things occurred as they did. To paraphrase a former high school colleague: students do not need to know the inner secrets of people who negotiated agreements; they need to know who authored the agreement, what the agreement said, and when it was signed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the best lessons I ever developed required students to read portions of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and a few excerpts of the Treaty of Versailles. Though students needed assistance understanding some of the vocabulary, they understood that the latter document did not fulfill the former’s objectives...and they were obviously disturbed by what they read. Why would Wilson lie? Why did Germany sign the treaty? Did Americans read this stuff and know what Wilson did? In a classroom full of regular high school students who on the first day of class had shown displeasure at the idea of reading anything, I presented them with material that made them mad, confused, and curious, which allowed me to teach more history to a receptive audience.
Often, PhD historians teaching in higher education complain about ignorant, unskilled freshmen who cannot do basic analysis and writing. If you find yourself teaching in high school, seize the opportunity to create a product that your college-teaching peers think impossible. This third advantage of PhD teachers is the ability to teach students how to “do history” and to write history beyond the normal history classroom experience. Students in traditional high school courses have endured memorizing the presidents, reciting the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, spouting the Gettysburg Address, and building models of historical sites (the Alamo, Brooklyn Bridge, Mount Rushmore just to name a few). Likewise, writing anything more than a simple sentence induces fear in or apathy among students, and many teachers of regular students accept one or two sentences as essays. One colleague explained that history teachers teach facts, not writing. Thus, for all their efforts to please their teachers in order to earn a high grade, students rarely understand the context or impact of the “history” they encounter. A PhD knows how to teach students to do history and how to develop their abilities to incorporate their historical “doings” into solid papers. Obviously, this occurs over time as the teacher trains students to analyze documents and the authors’ intent, formulate a thesis from which to argue, and select evidence with which to support the thesis. Teaching these pieces of doing history can be laborious and frustrating for both teacher and students, but undoubtedly the PhD teacher will have gained this experience during the various teaching assistantships and seminar discussions for which they were responsible as doctoral students. By helping students examine and do history in meaningful ways—not building a model of the Alamo out of popsicle sticks and clay—teachers help students become curious and interested in the past.
Perhaps the final advantage is the most important for a high school teacher with a PhD: use your experiences to build rapport and credibility with students. Students who perceive a teacher’s lack of concern for them as people will never respect and work for a teacher. To my teacher trainees during the last decade, I explained that treating students as people and talking to them in order to become acquainted with their lives, struggles, and goals is more vital to the learning process than how much a teacher knows about a subject. A teacher with a PhD has undoubtedly encountered a wide variety of students with an even more vast array of abilities and aptitudes, which makes them prime candidates to work with high school students (even in private high schools). Identifying bright students who aspire to careers beyond their family environment but who nonetheless accept that their lot in life does not include a college education is a tremendous task that graduate-educated teachers can do with ease if they only engage students on a personal level. Likewise, these same teachers can more readily adjust assignments for students with special needs (e.g., special education, emotionally disturbed, other health impaired). A student who has difficulty writing—physical or mental—may be gifted in writing poetry or composing and playing music. Talk to the student and design a project that capitalizes on the student’s innate abilities that covers the objective of the lesson or unit. Usually, students who work on projects such as these spend more time than those who write a traditional research paper or essay. The student with special needs tends to be a perfectionist, thus spending an inordinate amount of time refining the project. In both of these scenarios—identifying bright students while helping others experience history in a different medium—PhD teachers become mentors, and academic and career advisors, enhancing their roles as teachers. Not surprisingly, many high school students do not understand the concept of graduate school nor do they know what a PhD is, how to earn one, or why they would want to anyway. Only someone who experienced a doctoral program can provide truly informative answers to those questions.
Obviously, teaching at a high school, whether public or private, is not as easy or simple as I am suggesting. Pitfalls abound for any high school teacher, but some are unique for those entering the secondary classroom with a PhD. Depending on the size (and location) of the school district, the high school, and the history or social studies department, perceptions of arrogance will exist in a bi-directional paradigm. First, high schools do not claim many teachers with advanced degrees in their teaching field; in fact, most teachers who have a post-baccalaureate education likely received it in courses designed to improve pedagogy. Repeated regional and national studies of teachers’ qualifications frequently remind us that less than half of the students in public school history and social studies classes receive instruction from individuals with even a minor in their teaching field. Thus, some new colleagues may presume that the PhD knows more than they and will undoubtedly tell them so soon. Second, the PhD teacher may (and rightfully should) have some thoughts that the many years of education and practicing history surpass the experience of new-found high school colleagues. Rather than allowing feelings of superiority to color relationships before they begin, initiate conversations that illustrate your interest in learning from the grizzled veterans as well as the young teachers. Being honest with them regarding school procedures and what you can or should expect from students in the way of abilities, aptitude, and behavior can allay their concerns of the know-it-all PhD and provide a foundation for future conversations. Teachers who have taught together in the same department for a number of years can be provincial in their view of “outsiders,” and it is best to try to assimilate slowly rather than acting as if no challenges lie ahead because you earned a PhD and have some teaching experience in higher education.
A second pitfall facing a PhD in the high school classroom is the tendency to provide too much information to students too quickly. Teachers and professors who live and die by the syllabus usually ignore the efficacy of their methods, vowing to cover the material despite student needs. High school students can learn at high levels—much higher than most politicians, education officials, school leaders, and teachers encourage—but the education system has conditioned students to learn small bits of information during a fairly sizable chunk of time—that is, a teacher might spend two weeks of 37 to teach the French Revolution in a world history class that covers the ancient world to the 20th century. Teachers can counteract this conditioning if they teach students how to organize the information and actually do history in a way that helps students remember how the information fits together. Many people think that teachers must dilute the material—the amount or the level of difficulty—in order for students to earn passing grades. In fact, the opposite can be true. Teachers who deliberately train students to analyze and interpret events will soon find that students become inquisitive and thirsty for more knowledge regarding a given historical topic. Those teachers who fall behind the time-prescribed curriculum during the first few weeks of the school year because they spend time helping students learn how to do history will discover that they will catch up as students learn material more quickly after mastering the tools of the historian’s trade.
An example where PhD teachers could help students learn the skills to do history is often contained in vocabulary, something students loathe to do because of how many teachers require students to perform the task. In order to understand, comprehend, and recall meanings in history, students must have a grasp of concepts that usually begin with specific terms. A teacher beginning a lesson or unit on the Enlightenment period will need to present students with several key terms to define and understand before beginning formal instruction (e.g., natural rights, natural laws, reasoning, scientific method, morality, tyranny, representative democracy). Given the level of training during doctoral studies, few if any high school textbooks will define the aforementioned terms in the way the PhD teacher wishes, and neither the internet nor the school library are likely to provide quality assistance. How, then, should a teacher proceed if students cannot locate appropriate definitions for a lesson? Two options present themselves. First, a PhD teacher can provide students with the list of terms in advance of the lesson and write the words so that they are visible to students during class. Structure the lesson in a way that both defines and explains the relevance of the terms to the historical content being examined. This teaching style will require students to remain attentive to the presentation while simultaneously providing information to which students can connect their new vocabulary words. Obviously, this technique will occur slowly during the early part of a school year; students will need time to acclimate to listening to the presentation. Second, a teacher can provide primary documents that contain these terms—perhaps one document per small group of students—and then students can work to define the terms themselves using context clues. This will require patience on the part of the PhD teacher as students assimilate the new expectations and requirements, but a slow, steady pace early in the course will evolve into a much quicker process as the weeks and grading periods pass. For example, students often presume they understand the meaning of the term “democracy,” but use documents that define its various meanings as they pertain to U.S. history (e.g., Mayflower Compact, Articles of Confederation, The Federalist Papers, Iroquois confederation documents). A PhD teacher would not assign the complete texts of the aforementioned documents, but brief sections of these writings are indeed appropriate for helping students how different people defined democracy.
Obtaining a public school teacher certificate—licensure or credential, in some states can be confusing and complex for any individual, especially PhDs who have little knowledge of public education policy and particularly more so for PhDs who did not attend public secondary schools. Given the variety of post-baccalaureate (a.k.a. “alternative”) credentialing agencies, including those offered by universities, state-approved educational service and/or support offices, and for-profit companies, as well as the variety of programs and requirements created by the aforementioned entities, PhDs who decide to pursue any sort of teacher certification or licensure should investigate all options before selecting a certification program.
History PhDs who aspire to become public school teachers should expect a very different application process when compared to the fairly standard routine of applying for positions in higher education. Today, most urban and some rural school districts—defined loosely as the entity that supervises all schools within a single governing boundary—have automated the application process, but each district may have its own list of materials they desire from each applicant. Unlike the traditional dossier containing a curriculum vitae, letter of interest, syllabi, and writing sample, PhD applicants may need some non-traditional materials when applying for jobs in public education. For example, PhDs should have a command of public education jargon and include it in application materials. Some examples include lesson plans, curriculum alignment, the proper name of the state’s curricular program, assessment and evaluation, and classroom management. PhDs should also have a written teaching philosophy regarding secondary level teaching and learning, not one that focuses exclusively on the teaching field or what has been done in higher education courses. Additionally, the public education applicant should also include a letter of recommendation from at least one person currently working in public education; hiring personnel will not consider an application that lacks a letter from someone in “the business.”
Locating vacant teaching positions can also be frustrating for a PhD who is accustomed to viewing higher education job listings in standard and predictable media. Public schools do not always post vacancies and are not bound by strictures governing state agencies and higher education search committees. A PhD should scour school district websites, regional education service center sites, state-monitored databases, and probably career and placement offices of nearby universities.Finally, a PhD who accepts a high school teaching position can and will enjoy a rewarding career in the classroom if s/he utilizes the very skills learned during the graduate educational experience. Helping students understand and appreciate the story from all perspectives will eliminate their disdain for the subject and keep the teacher energized. All students deserve the best, most knowledgeable teachers to engage them in the learning process of their own intellectual growth, and a PhD can use the plethora of school holidays and an extended summer vacation to remain active in the discipline.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blog XLIII (43): A Southern Case Study

Today's blog entry is another article on the status of adjunct professors. This article gives some detailed numbers and looks at how this national trend is playing out in Tennessee and Georgia. Joan Garrett, a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, wrote "Colleges Split Over Part-Time Faculty," which was published in that newspaper on June 29, 2009. Here is that article:

Tennessee and Georgia colleges have contributed less to faculty salaries in the past decade than most states in the Southeast.Studies show at the same time, fewer tenured faculty members -- who usually receive the highest salaries -- are being hired and replacements are cheaper, part-time adjunct instructors.
"(Adjuncts) are cheap labor," said Dr. Shela Van Ness, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and vice president of the UT faculty and staff union. "The university saves a lot of money, but the students are not getting the same thing they would with people with (doctorates)."

Tennessee colleges have increased faculty salaries by 3 percent since 1998, bringing average pay to $66,200, according to a report released last week by the Southeast Regional Education Board. In Georgia, salaries have been cut by 3 percent in the past 10 years to an average of $70,400, the report shows.
Overall, Southeastern states increased faculty pay by an average of 7 percent, according to the report.
Faculty on campuses in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee say they've come to expect no change in salaries, even as living costs increase.
"I think, for the most part, many faculty didn't go into this profession to make a lot of money," said Dr. John Lugthart, a biology professor who has taught at Dalton State College for 18 years. "Most of us enjoy teaching and enjoy our interactions with students. But it can be discouraging when we feel our compensation isn't sufficient."

Over the last few years, landing better-paying jobs in higher education has been increasingly difficult as the percentage of tenured faculty shrinks.

In 1975, the percentage of jobs at degree-granting institutions that were either tenured or tenure-track was more than 56 percent. In 2007, the percentage was down to 31.2 percent, according to a national study by the American Association of University Professors. "All institutions are using a lot more adjuncts," UTC Provost Phil Oldham said. "It gives you more management flexibility."

Tenured faculty usually are given lifetime job security, making it much more difficult to let them go or terminate their position.

Flexibility has become more important in the current economy, when enrollment numbers are growing just as budgets are being cut, he said.

Between 20 percent and 25 percent of UTC faculty is part time and, of the full-time work force, 25 percent are not on tenure track, Dr. Oldham said. Those numbers will grow in the next few years because UTC can't afford to hire permanent faculty, he said.

John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, said the decreasing size of tenured faculty at universities could threaten academic freedom.

While tenured faculty are protected when they spark controversy in the classroom, nontenured faculty can be fired anytime.

Whether they keep their jobs often can be determined by their popularity among students, which can affect grading standards and classroom rigor, he said.

"The instructors always have to worry about losing their job if they do anything controversial," he said.

A less permanent faculty also can have a negative effect on students, who can gain a lot from developing relationships with longtime tenured faculty, he said.

"The instructors may not be there the next semester," he said. "They are really being used, as if all they have to do is show up and deliver what is in the textbook, and they are not being supported as career faculty."

On the other hand, Dr. Lugthart said part-time faculty can bring a lot of enthusiasm and real-world experience to the classroom.

Often adjunct faculty members have worked in the fields they are teaching and have at least a master's degree. They can help students network in the career field they are studying, he said.
Dalton State has increased its part-time and nontenured faculty significantly over the last few years, he said. The decision has helped the school survive a tough budget climate.

"It helps us deal with increased enrollment," he said. "It is a matter of the economy."