Nathan Rousseau

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Nathan Rousseau
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Teaching Philosophy & Current Research

Teaching Philosophy & Current Research (article forthcoming!)

My Education & Philosophy of Teaching

Nathan Rousseau


Before discussing my philosophy of teaching I would like to describe some of the factors that shaped my perspective.  Before entering college I was a good student, though I was not committed to getting an education.  Practically speaking, this means that I did enough work to make sure that I earned at least B grades.  I had a fairly easy time with math, but my writing was only adequate, and I did not enjoy reading.  I found that reading always made me feel fatigued.  Neither of my parents completed college, but they valued education and wanted to make sure that I attend college - unfortunately, in this regard, they were unable to provide me with much guidance.  In my first year at Towson University I was enrolled in a remedial English class.  However, the teacher felt that this placement was not appropriate.  I explained to her my problem with reading and she suggested that I have my eyes examined.  At the age of 18 I had my first eye examination with an ophthalmologist.  This event, along with dating a girl at the time who was attending nearby Goucher College, changed my life.  Glasses opened my eyes to the wonderful world of books, and through this relationship my eyes were opened to how schools have different cultures pertaining to academic seriousness.  Even though I was working to help pay my way through college, I became a voracious reader, and I decided to work hard enough to make sure that earned A grades.  After completing college I knew that it would be just a matter of time before I returned to school. 

My educational experience at the University of Oregon was very rewarding.  After acclimating to the quarter system, I got into a rhythm, and found myself busy but able to complete my studies while teaching an hour away in the Sociology Department at Oregon State University.  Teaching allowed me to gain practical experience while also enabling me to reduce my dependence on educational loans.  I taught two to four courses per quarter and taught large sections in Introductory Sociology, as well as Principles in Sociology (a required course for sociology majors), Social Problems, Social Movements, and Small Groups.  This experience confirmed my interest and (humbly speaking) talent for teaching. 

Meanwhile, as a student myself, the faculty at the University of Oregon made sure to it that my reading and writing skills were worthy of a doctorate degree.  I remember meeting with my academic advisor in order to review and revise my papers.  Dr. Benton Johnson was the first teacher that I had who took the time to strengthen my writing skills.  I also found reading to be a great asset in strengthening my writing skills – particularly in terms of vocabulary and sentence construction. 

After completing my studies at Oregon, I acquired the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington State University-Vancouver.  At the time, WSU-V was a relatively new branch campus.  In fact, I was their first full time sociologist.  I taught there for two rewarding years.  I would have gladly stayed, but at the time they were still assessing their needs, and creating a line for a sociologist was deemed unessential (can you imagine that?!).  In any case, the experience helped me to further develop my teaching skills as well as develop skills in other areas pertaining to academe.  I taught four courses per semester, and like at Oregon State, served as a generalist.  The courses that I taught at WSU-V included Introductory Sociology, Research Methods, Political Sociology, Law and Society, Political Sociology, Values and Society, and Environmental Sociology.

After Washington State, I acquired visiting teaching positions at different institutions until I accepted a tenure-track position at Jacksonville University.  I have been teaching there since the fall of 1999.  I believe that I have earned the reputation among students of being a demanding but fair teacher.  Given my educational experience, it will probably come as no surprise that I encourage students to read a lot.  I also encourage students to think “outside the box.”  I think some students don’t realize that when I challenge them to reexamine a valued idea that I am not suggesting that they drop the idea, but rather that I am asking them to think about where the valued idea comes from and if they have really considered the implications of maintaining that idea.  Sometimes I encounter a person whose thoughts seem like a box of loose wires.  They have a lot of disparate and opposing beliefs that never meet and so they go about their business as a walking, talking contradiction.  Surely, if someone wants to live that way, it’s not my affair, unless of course, they are taking a course with me and stating contradictory values; under such circumstances it seems like it is part of my job to point out the inconsistencies.  Sometimes I wonder if people have lost the sense of indignation that they use to feel in the face of hypocrisy.   Given my experience I also realize that students come to college with varying degrees of academic skills.  One thing I realized a long time ago was that sometimes it is not what you learn that matters as much as how you learn it.  Observing how one breaks-down a complex problem can be more rewarding than the solution itself.  My point is that success in school requires learning how to learn.  Some students come to college woefully unprepared.  I believe that it is particularly important to assist these students in realizing the value of an education and the skills necessary to learn before they even attempt to grapple with course content.  Some students however do not want to learn how to learn, they just want a grade and a degree.  I feel bad for these students because what they don’t know interferes with their ability to get in the know.  I think the most rewarding part of teaching comes from observing others display the a-ha – I get it!  Those students usually go on to do rewarding things for themselves and others.  I must say, humbly, that I have mentored many students down this path. 

While I value teaching, I believe that teaching is enhanced by research.  If I did not engage in my own research, then I would not be able to converse with students in an informed way about current issues.  My research interests are in social psychology, the sociology of religion, and African American studies.  I am currently completing a book for publication on sociological social psychology.  I am fascinated by the processes of social interaction: how interactions are maintained, altered, and effected by extraneous sources.  I have written and published articles on religion and topics pertaining to African American issues.  My interest in African American affairs dates back to when I was a youngster.  When I was a kid and adults were talking about role models, I chose Martin Luther King, Jr. because he looked courageous to me and because his message was about overcoming personal and social violence.  I still believe in his message and try to further it when I can through my work. 

So, what is my teaching philosophy?  Everyone who wants to learn can learn and everyone who doesn’t want to learn hears only what they already believe – they don’t learn.  For those who want to learn, I invite them to participate in a student-centered approach to observing and examining our social world.  My dependence on technology is quite limited (except when teaching research methods or online) – I believe in using technology only when necessary.  My preference is to have students read, write, and dialogue.  One of my favorite quotes about education was said by the influential Quaker scholar Rufus Jones, “We believe it basically important for all people to support educational efforts which represent the right of the teacher to seek and teach the truth as he finds it, and of the student to study differing views in arriving at his own judgments.  The society toward which we work thrives on creative diversity and withers on coerced conformity.” 


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