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College of Education > News and Publications > 2017: 04-06 news > After 40 years, Jamie Myers' teaching career comes to a close

After 40 years, Jamie Myers' teaching career comes to a close

The professor of education knows the Professional Development School program is in great shape; more time with family and additional hours on a boat beckon.

Jamie Myers has decided that 40 years is enough, that he's long enough in the tooth – and beard – and that he and his smiling, unshorn face will depart from his book-filled, Chambers Building office on June 30.

Jamie Myers holds court at the 2017 Professional Development School Inquiry Conference.
The Penn State professor of education and architect of the Secondary English portion of the Professional Development School (PDS) alliance between the College of Education and the State College Area School District said 40 years is a "nice, round number." Coupling Penn State's Voluntary Retirement Program and assurance from the administration that the PDS would continue to flourish enables him to transition into another phase of life.

That includes watching two young granddaughters after school, a little more boating at Put-in-Bay on Kelly's Island in Ohio, and putting more time into his hobby/business of making wooden bowls (Whispering Wood Unique Bowls). He enters local craft fairs and smiles about his assertion of winning a few blue ribbons from his handiwork.

But no matter how many accolades his handiwork brings, it will never equal the commendation and acclamation he's earned simply from his devotion to his vocation.

Click here to read a number of tributes to Myers, including this from one of Myers' former students, Colin Baumgartner, who began his with two sentences that made Myers laugh:

"How does one succinctly describe Jamie Myers?" Baumgartner wrote. "Jamie is State College's own Socrates – though with a vastly superior beard."

Yes, Myers, age 63, and his beard, age 44, have left an indelible impact on the College of Education – even if at one point long ago he didn't see it particularly happening in English education.

Myers was accelerated in the sciences during his high school days in Ohio. He said he was headed toward organic chemistry and sciences but an "impressive" freshman composition teacher sparked an enjoyment of English. "Finally, somewhere along the line, chemistry just became uninteresting," Myers said.

"And I was having a good social experience in English and philosophy and I decided to pursue English and creative writing, too. My thought at that time is that I would graduate in English and then go into a master's program in creative writing. I ended up doing a fifth year in education to become an English teacher. It was a great experience.

"In a meandering kind of way, English and philosophy were in the background and the kind of social aspects of thinking with other people that I experienced in those classes in the end won out over the sciences," he said.

Jamie Myers will retire at the end of June after 40 years with Penn State's College of Education.
Pore over the tributes about Myers and it's clear that he gave new meaning to the phrase "inquiring minds want to know." Inquiry is a passion with him, and the foundation for that also was initiated in high school.

"No, I don't think I'll ever stop,'' Myers said. "I've always been curious about what I observe and not afraid to ask questions because I was not worried about what other people thought about me based on my questions."

His first classroom was at Old Fort High School in central Ohio. He enjoyed the "rambunctious spirit" of his 10th-graders, some of whom he taught the following year in a creative writing class. "I'd see them in the hallway and I was totally accepted," Myers said. "I really had this experience where they really pushed at me about everything I suggested they try. But that spirit … I enjoyed that kind of challenge to engage them in things."

That became the secret to his success. "Part of the essence of inquiry is that you become an active collaborator in constructing the reality of the world and that you just can't consume ideas from others," Myers said. "You can't just have a course where you're reading a bunch of theory about how to teach and consume that and put that into practice; that just doesn't work. You have to be an active co-constructor of knowledge, a kind of theorist in your own right.

"And so I think I probably tried to encourage people to do that and create situations where what's most valued is not what they can repeat from things they might have read or things that I've said, but what's most valued is what they can claim about their own experience and then explain with the evidence from their experience. And, to create an inner subjectivity around that.

"It's not just a valuing of their subjectivity, but it's a valuing of their conversations with others who have had similar experiences," Myers said. "Once they feel that kind of power in their own ability to think and that what they think is valued, then I think they can entertain what others have written. They can bounce it off of their own experience and negotiate it in terms of what's real in their classrooms."

Myers said a student once told him, "You gave my education back to me," and that comment stuck with him. "That was what I had hoped that if you create situations where the work gives them a sense that they're in control of the understandings and the findings in negotiations with colleagues and peers and whatever," Myers said.

"The first thing that comes to mind is thank you to my colleagues in the department and the teachers at the high school and everybody who has been so gracious and willing to entertain my quirks and questions and interests. It's been so many generous people."
-- Jamie Myers

That type of thinking was primarily the genesis of the Professional Development School collaboration between Penn State and the State College Area School District, a full-year student teaching experience that has evolved into a highly successful program since its inception in 1998.

"Whether it was intentionally part of the effort or not, the intentionality might have been more around reflective teaching and better implementation of pedagogy, but I think the biggest consequence is collaboration," Myers said. "The collaboration in the elementary school and the collaboration in the high school at the English department…teachers that have been a part of that PDS experience don't close their doors like the traditional cliché.

"They talk about problems they've had in their classrooms in the lounge and they don't feel insecure like somebody's going to think they're a bad teacher because they had a problem with a lesson. I think that that is really one of the biggest consequences that I've seen."

As the PDS grew and mentors within the school district returned year after year, funds were released to enable some mentors to become Professional Development Associates and work with interns in a supervisory way. "When it seemed apparent that the structure of the program was supporting the mentors' professional growth as well as the interns, that's when I felt like this was a sustainable experience," Myers said.

Myers will be replaced with two people, he said. One will be a fixed term faculty member who can manage the bureaucracy of the program, advise the students, recruit interns, work in the classroom at the school and collaborate in a scholarly way as well but not with as much pressure as a tenure-line faculty member has.

The second will be a tenure-line faculty member in English education to work in the PDS as an area of research interest. That person will collaborate with the teachers at the school and be part of the co-directing team, but not have as much behind-the-scenes work, he explained.

The PDS partnership is what Myers will remember most. "I think this partnership is the most rewarding of my whole career," he said. "It's a very generative experience for me and that's why I'd say it's the most rewarding. All of the interns that have gone through and all the mentors that I've worked with, they've really given so much to me even though they may not realize it."

He said the emotional responses from former students are very humbling. "They're very kind,'' Myers said. "I really don't think I do that much except you try to give them space and opportunity to grow into who they can become. I don't think I give them a 10-step 'do this and you're gonna be great.'

"I'm just trying to create that situation where they value their own thinking and they're able to engage in conversation with others in an inquiring way in which they don't let assumptions rule. They try to be somewhat articulate about those values that frame their thinking."

Myers is thinking about a retirement-based bucket list but shaving most likely won't be on it. He started his beard around 1973, he said, and cited a 10-year period in which he had a Vandyke (mustache and goatee). When he beat cancer in 2010, he opted to bring back the full beard and it's been growing – and flowing -- ever since.

If you've ever wondered what that beard would say – if it could talk, of course – when he vacates 254 Chambers, his response (but not the beard's) was typically humble.

"The first thing that comes to mind is thank you to my colleagues in the department and the teachers at the high school and everybody who has been so gracious and willing to entertain my quirks and questions and interests," Myers said. "It's been so many generous people."

Jim Carlson (June 2016)