Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology > Research & Publications > TIP > TIP Back Issues > 2017 > October


Volume 55     Number 2    October 2017      Editor: Tara Behrend

Meredith Turner
/ Categories: 552

Max. Classroom Capacity: An Interview With Satoris S. Howes

Loren J. Naidoo, Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Dear readers,

For this issue I am pleased to be joined by Satoris (Tori) S. Howes, 2016 winner of the SIOP Distinguished Teaching Contributions Award. Dr. Howes is an associate professor of business and business program lead at Oregon State University–Cascades. Dr. Howes earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Public Relations from the University of Central Missouri, her master's degree in I-O psychology from Missouri State University, and her PhD in I-O psychology from Texas A&M University. At the end of her graduate studies, she worked as a consultant in a Chicago branch of a global leadership solutions consulting firm. She then transitioned back into academia, working at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and Kansas State University, where she was awarded the College of Arts and Sciences William L. Stamey Teaching Award in 2012, the Ralph E. Reitz Outstanding Teaching Award in 2015, and the Outstanding Contributions in Research Award in 2015. Dr. Howes is a regular contributor in the fields of management and I-O psychology in the areas of performance management and feedback, employment selection, occupational health and motivation. She has authored and, along with undergraduate and graduate students, coauthored articles in such journals as the Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Human Relations, and Journal of Vocational Behavior. In addition, Dr. Howes is the coauthor (with Paul M. Muchinsky) of the best-selling I-O psychology textbook, Psychology Applied to Work.


I’m delighted to welcome Tori to Max. Classroom Capacity!

Loren: Tori, thanks so much for agreeing to talk to me! OK first question, what made you decide to pursue a career in academia?

Tori: I have always enjoyed being in the classroom. I cotaught an honors course with a faculty member when I was in undergrad and really liked it. It wasn't until I was in my master's program at Missouri State, however, that I discovered I should pursue academia. I was in between my first and second year and was having a sort of existential crisis and didn't know what I wanted to do. I was falling victim to the imposter syndrome, certain I was in over my head and didn't belong. I was thinking of dropping out when my advisor, Bob Jones, convinced me to stick around see if teaching interested me. I soon learned that I was assigned to teach an introductory statistics course. On top of that, I was given an evening course (3 straight hours of stats!) with many nontraditional students who were older than my parents (gasp!). I was so nervous and intimidated that I had nightmares in the weeks prior to the class starting, and felt physically ill going into the class for the first time. Somehow I did it though. Not only that, but I loved it. More importantly, though, it was the students who sealed the deal for me. I remember laughing with them in class as we made our way through the material. I remember them teasing me about the food I ate during the break, about how I talked fast and laughed at my own jokes, and about how flushed I got (from being nervous) when class was starting. I also remember how they said I helped them feel more comfortable and willing to come to a class that they had dreaded signing up for. I remember how touched I was when they said that and knew at that point that this was the path I wanted to take.

L: Interesting! I had a similarly influential early experience teaching developmental psychology (of all topics!) in grad school at Akron U with an amazing group of students. What do you consider to be the most important aspects of your teaching philosophy?

T: There are a few things that I think are key in terms of my philosophy towards teaching. First and foremost, I learned early on that I have to be myself when teaching. I can't pretend to be somebody I'm not. When I do, my teaching really suffers. If I try to teach somebody else's lecture or use somebody else's notes, I fail. So I can never just use a publisher's slides and call it a day (nor would I want to). My classes tend to be conversational, with humor interspersed. My dad laughs at all of his own jokes, and laughs hard, and soon enough you'll start laughing too, even if you're not sure what's funny. If I got anything from him, it's that. I really enjoy an interactive, fun class. Those are the ones I remember the most from college, so I try to bring the "fun" element to my own classes. Beyond that, I focus a lot on trying to get students to apply the material. If they don't know how to actually do the stuff we talk about, then what's the point? Finally, I try to focus on what the "take aways" are for any given class. There are so many classes that I took in college that I can't remember a single thing from (cough, Mass Media Law, cough). I don't want my classes to be those classes for students. I also think about how I've taught classes with prerequisites that it seemed like students must have slept through as I'm trying to reteach key concepts. So I try to teach with those thoughts in mind. I repeat the essential things. I include the same concepts on multiple tests to ensure some things are drilled in. That student in your upper-level stats class who didn't know that correlation does not imply causation? Not from my class.

L: I think that’s an important insight—being yourself is especially difficult to do when you’re still figuring out who you are as a teacher. I agree about “fun,” and I think that the role “fun” plays in learning is underemphasized to teachers. Why do you think students benefit from classes being fun? Do you think it’s just a means of keeping students’ attention, or is something deeper going on?

T: Good questions! I agree that "fun" is underemphasized by some teachers, or even considered taboo. I've had colleagues bemoan the idea of trying to make a class fun, saying "we're in the business of education, not edutainment" and that we shouldn't care about entertaining students when our focus is on conveying material. I've always disagreed with that idea. While I don't think it's my job to be an entertainer per se, I do strive to be engaging in the classroom. That's the thing, though. I think of "entertaining" and "engaging" as different things. It's not about doing tricks, telling jokes, or making every class a performance. It's about making a connection, getting students involved, and creating a positive and energizing atmosphere around learning that matters. I think that's the importance of a "fun" classroom. It's not just about keeping students' attention (though that helps). It's about making them feel valued and showing them that what you have to offer is exciting and worthwhile. Making a connection can be as simple as purposefully making eye contact and smiling, making efforts to view students as more than mere seat warmers, and providing personal and relatable examples. Finally, for me it's not just about trying to make the class fun for the students. It has to be fun for me too. I strive to make the class engaging and interactive because that's what I like. If I'm excited about a topic then the students are more likely to be excited. I constantly start classes off with, "I LOVE this topic. It's one of my favorites." I never tell students I don't like a topic I'm about to cover (though there are topics I can't wait to get through) because it sets the mood in a way I don't want. And what if that one topic is the one that ignites a student's interest in the field? Then that alone is exciting and reason for me to not dislike it. Ultimately, if you don't care about what you're teaching, and you aren't excited by it, and you don't show why it matters for them outside of a grade, why would you ever expect students to care or retain the material beyond the course?  

L: This is a great point and I completely agree with you. It is very much the way I approach teaching as well. But what about those individuals whose natural tendency isn't to be "fun" in front of a classroom?  What advice would you give, given you note the need to be yourself on the one hand and be engaging in the classroom on the other?

T:  I would say that there are many ways to be engaging in a classroom and that the individual should try out different ones until they find ones that work for them. I don't think it's too much to ask that professors make eye contact and not read directly from their slides or notes when teaching. Having lecture notes read to you in a class is not engaging, even if you have the voice of Sean Connery or James Earl Jones (though if you could do different voices, I'm sure it would be entertaining for at least one lecture). I'd also comment that when I say "be yourself" I'm not saying that you can't go outside of your comfort zone and try new things. It also means that there may be things you naturally do (or don't do) that you shouldn't (or should). For example, a silly but memorable learning moment for me occurred in grad school. I remember giving a presentation in a class with one of my best friends, Jaime. Afterwards, the professor told us that we "rocked." Jaime and I looked at each other, high-fived and began congratulating ourselves. The professor interrupted us by saying, "No... you rocked... as in you swayed back and forth." This funny albeit humbling moment helped me considerably. It not only gave me a story I can tell students before presentations to lighten the mood, but to this day I try to make a mental note of my movements when I present to try to avoid being distracting in that regard.

L: What a great anecdote! I love it. So what’s the next teaching challenge on your plate? Do you have any new courses, technologies, or techniques that you are considering?

T:  The biggest challenges I'm facing are new preps at the moment. This last year I taught an undergraduate course on innovation and an MBA course on corporate social responsibility. This fall I'm slated to teach strategic management and venture management. These are very new classes for me, and stretching me a bit outside of my comfort zone. I'm excited about it, though, and reminded that one of the perks of academia is that we get to be lifelong learners ourselves.

L: I couldn’t agree more! Tori, it’s been a real pleasure—thanks for talking with me!

Readers, as always, your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome. 

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