Why We Teach - Dr. Robert Spinney

Posted by Rachel Cochrane on 7/29/20 10:45 AM

Professors at Patrick Henry College do more than teach classes. They spend hours preparing for lectures, late nights grading, and a lot of time with students during office hours. Most faculty members see themselves as both professors and mentors.

We asked PHC's Professor of History, Dr. Robert Spinney, about his experience teaching at PHC . He teaches the core American History courses and the upper-level Historiography course. Here's some of his insights...

What is the biggest challenge of teaching at PHC?

My students are so engaged that they motivate me to deliver the best product possible... so I put too much time into my classes and grading essays. The biggest challenge is—after preparing for a class meeting—not saying to myself, "Maybe I can make tomorrow's class meeting even better with three more hours of work," when I should say to myself, "This is a good class. Don't burn out. Don't exhaust yourself. Go to bed before midnight."

What is your relationship like with students? Do you find it easy to get to know them?

My relationship with PHC students is unlike the relationships I have had with students at other colleges. My PHC students want to be in class and want to learn, so they are curious and engaged. That means they cooperate with me in the learning process. When I ask questions in class, for example, students deliberately and willingly answer. That enables us to have discussions in class.

I can ask them why they think a certain way or why they don't agree with their classmates. The result is that I become a co-learner, and the classroom becomes a place where we all learn together. This inevitably builds my respect for my students because I appreciate their ideas and concerns. I end up looking forward to my classes—somewhat because I enjoy the subject material but more so because I enjoy learning with my students. I'm the gray-haired guy wearing a sports coat, of course, but my students become friends and quasi-peers.

How does PHC compare to your other teaching experiences?

This isn't the way it is at other colleges where I've taught. Often those students are less concerned with thinking and learning, and more concerned with merely navigating the course's requirements and earning a diploma.

At other colleges, I've often felt like little more than a textbook that is wearing a tie: I lecture, students write down what I say, and then they regurgitate my words on the test. I found it difficult to create thoughtful classroom discussions at other colleges, and even the discussions I got were usually only students sharing uninformed personal opinions.

What is it like to teach at PHC?

At PHC, and unlike where I have taught before, professors and students trust each other. Students trust that if they do what I ask them to do, they will learn. So they tackle their assignments willingly and with optimism. I trust that my students want to learn, so I need not saddle them with so-called busy work and surprise quizzes.

My PHC classes resemble the seminar classes I enjoyed while in graduate school, not the lecture classes I endured while an undergraduate. (My lecture classes featured 300 students in a big auditorium. The professor didn't know my name, and I never had a conversation with him. He lectured; I transcribed and memorized.)

I tell people that if you do what I do for a living, i.e., if you are a Christian college professor, PHC is the Promised Land. My students are kind, friendly, and encouraging. They work hard and do what I ask them to do. They make it fun to teach.

Why do you choose to teach at PHC?

It is the only college that permits me to teach the way the Lord Jesus Christ wants me to teach. I am free to integrate biblical truths with my teaching. I am not only permitted but encouraged to discuss ethics in class. I do not need to compromise my academic standards, but instead am able to set high the performance bar for my students. And I am motivated to invest a great deal of time in my teaching because I know that I am nurturing Christ's disciples and not merely teaching history.

What is your favorite part of teaching at PHC?

Engaging students in classroom Socratic dialogues and having lunch with my students in the dining hall.


Want to learn more about studying history at PHC? Click here...

History at PHC

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