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To Be More Effective, Teachers Need to Take the Time to Pause

To Be More Effective, Teachers Need to Take the Time to Pause

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Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

As professors in online colleges, we are often faced with students in crisis. We are trained to deal with cross-functional teams and the intense stress our students face. We are coaches and mentors, as well as teachers.

Online students are typically working toward a goal: a new job, a new career, a promotion or a dream. Some students just want to earn a degree because they enjoy learning.

But many of our students are in crisis and under stress. How do you deal with students in crisis as a teacher? How do you deal with a student who is late turning in this week’s research paper because she is still in the hospital? How do you respond to a student whose father was killed in a car accident, saw her mother die from cancer or had a brother shot in a gang fight?

Instructors Are Meant to Engage Students

As professors, we face a twin dilemma. First, we must encourage our adult students to be engaged and addicted to the learning process and excited about being in our classes. Second, we must also provide ourselves with the motivation to keep going when we hit the stone wall of students who don’t care about their classes.

We strive to overcome those prodigal students. They are the ones who seem lost in the college environment, struggling with the details and demands of writing one or more research papers and answering weekly forum discussion questions.

We strive to teach our students to feel the spaces between the words on paper, trying to show them the artful aspects of writing. To help students who have a fear of writing, I offer the solution of taking a 15-minute break to find a quiet place to read or write even just a few words on that weekly college essay.

However, it takes a commitment from the instructor to teach students how to think deeper, rather than just teach information by rote on certain topics such as logistics or Civil War history.

Maintaining Our Own Motivation as Teachers

While teachers strive to keep the students engaged, who keeps us engaged? Online professors are given chances to attend self-development training for professional credits with their school. They are taught how to motivate students in discussion forums or how to write a better research paper.

The Power of the Pause

Author and University of Virginia researcher Tim Cunningham wrote a column called “The Power of the Pause.” A former ER nurse, Cunningham relates the death of an 11-year-old boy and how medical staff needs to take a 45-second pause to acknowledge someone’s life and then go on to the next patient. “In hospitals on four continents, what we call ‘The Pause’ has become a standard of care,” Cunningham says.

Online teachers should take a similar pause at times to reflect on what they do and why they do it. In our hectic lives and of 24/7 social media dependency, there are times we should stop, turn off our iPhones and close our classroom laptops.

Judy Brown wrote a poem called “Fire” that speaks to the spaces between the logs on a fire. She writes:

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

This poem was read to me by a former university president during a week-long faculty retreat.

Later, the faculty examined what those logs and “breathing space” meant to us as teachers. What are the logs we teachers use? Are the logs the students, teachers, the information we teach or deeper thinking techniques? What is the fire that burns? Is it the addicted behavior from a once-lost student? Is the space the time the teacher finds to create focus, to pause or to have a mindful breathing space?

Every so often, we teachers need to pause to prepare ourselves to face the reality of our students’ stress. We are here to help others, bring along the next generation of leaders and workers, and help these men and women reach their dreams and goals.

But we need to focus on our own pauses from time to time. The time to take a contemplative pause does not have to be just for those in the ER. A pause is also necessary for teachers who want to be the best possible instructors they can be.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management, and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.

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