Leading By Example

My name is Doug Bowman, and I am the HTEC Director at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana. I feel that many of my everyday victories in the classroom can be attributed to how I’ve chosen to approach teaching, and I’m happy to share my philosophy with fellow teachers. I live by the old adage, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If your students can tell that you’re not enthralled by the material, why should they be? My advice to other teachers is to motivate your students with your own motivation. Part of this is investing enough time in designing and preparing classes so that each is personal and purposeful. Doing so results in a more confident teacher and more confident students.

Learning my students’ names and engaging with them regularly, whether by joking with them or taking the time to thoroughly explain a tough concept, gives my lectures a sociable feel that invites questions and discussion. With every interaction, I want to strengthen my students’ confidence. Because students often don’t have enough familiarity with a topic to phrase a question well, my responsibility as their teacher is to find the “root” question. When I find the misunderstanding at the core of their confusion, I can give them a response that does more than just answer their more superficial question. I take great care to reply to my students’ questions with thoughtfulness so as not to embarrass them. A student has to be both courageous and honestly interested to ask questions in front of peers, and I like to reward that by carefully leading the student to his or her own conclusion. My goal is to facilitate curiosity and inspire my students to work problems out for themselves.

The best lessons, in my opinion, teach meaningful, applicable operations that match the skill levels of the students. If a student doesn’t understand how a concept relates to their future career, that student probably won’t care enough to learn about it. When I teach the CAD/CAM classes (we use Mastercam®, CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT), I have to remind myself that it is a very sophisticated, valuable tool, but it’s still just a tool. I don’t waste time in class by listing Mastercam’s almost endless abilities or by ceaselessly discussing its theoretical applications. Student satisfaction comes from successful programming and machining, not from seeing pretty pictures on a screen, so I strive to make lessons end with producing materials. I take care, though, not to exceed the comprehension of the student. I have to know when to teach 2D geometry and when to teach 5-axis part programming.

There is so much to learn from running the parts: workholding and tooling considerations, chip evacuation, the effects of harmonics, chatter and vibration, machine limitations, and on and on. The value of hands-on learning cannot be overstated, and the feeling of accomplishment the student’s experience after completing one project motivates them through the next. Small successes lead to larger successes. Because I regularly guide students through frustrations and setbacks, challenges become normal to them, and overcoming those challenges becomes the expected outcome. My students aren’t just gaining the essential skills employers need; they’re becoming better, more persevering people.