Some Questions for Tubbs

The following set of questions and responses has been assembled from various personal interviews, written applications and online questionnaires, professional collaborative dialogue, and personal reflection activities during the last ten years. All narrative occurring within brackets has been added for clarification purposes.

Besides the fact that you're a high school history teacher, what else about you professionally is there to know?

Since 1999, I have worked as an Adjunct Instructor for HIST 151 & 152, first through Northern State University [Aberdeen], then South Dakota School of Mines [Rapid City], and currently Black Hills State University [Spearfish]. In 2003, I was invited to review an upcoming edition of John Garraty's The American Nation, one of the foremost United States history [survey] college textbooks out there. In 2010, I was selected as a reader/scorer for the College Board APUSH National Exam, and continued that function, hit and miss, through 2016. I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, and had the wonderful opportunity—when we weren't reading essays—to dialogue and exchange ideas with fellow high school APUSH teachers and college history professors from around the country. I was nominated for the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year Award, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. A couple years later, I was identified as one of ten "Teachers of Distinction" in the Rapid City School District. Some former students [22 as of 2017] designated as "Distinguished Scholars" [top five percent of the city's graduating class] have made me feel like a million bucks at the Rapid City Public School Foundation's "Evening of Excellence" various years since the inaugural event in 2001.

Over the years, I've participated in some district curriculum projects and in-house committee work, served as clinical faculty for Project SELECT, taken my turn as National Honor Society faculty representative, and spent time as department chair, although I fully admit I've never gotten a real big kick out of any of that business. My involvement has been motivated purely by sense of professional responsibility. Of course, that fact did not in any way diminish my efforts, but the biggest smiles on my face [professionally] happen as a result of direct interaction with kids. I also enjoy researching history and writing about it. Some of my articles have been published here and there, nothing big.

What sources have provided you the most professional growth?

I've always tried to remain current and active within my dual profession of education and history. I like to learn and I realize that professional expertise is an ongoing journey. Without question, the single most beneficial period of professional study I have ever completed was a post-graduate course entitled "The Master Teacher" offered through Kansas State University. It generated meaningful self-reflection because there was acknowledgment that no absolute formula exists for success in education. On my desk at school I have a generous collection of multi-topic brochures distributed through "The Master Teacher." Every so often—maybe on those days I arrive especially early or perhaps while eating lunch—I will pull out a random leaflet and re-read it. Even though they are two decades old, the topics have timeless application. I think of them as "daily devotions" for the professional educator. It's a good way for me to rev up for the day ahead or find my second wind for the afternoon.

Now is a good time to mention some especially influential colleagues, some retired long ago, some active in education yet today. I will always be deeply appreciative of Ms. Rose Kraft [social studies], Mr. Wes Storm [administration], Mr. Jerry Vaughn [social studies], Mr. Jim White [mathematics & administration], Mr. Bill Schulz [language arts], Ms. Sue Edwards [language arts], Ms. Katie Bray [administration], Ms. Chris Heacock [social studies], and Mr. Tom Keck [mathematics]. So much of what I do in the classroom is a direct reflection of what I've learned from these all-star educators. Some of my college professors at Oregon State University who have had lasting positive impact are Dr. Ronald Clarke [religious studies], Dr. Thomas McClintock [history], and Dr. Gary Ferngren [history].

What is your biggest frustration—something you experience on a day-to-day basis—regarding public education?

The most heart-wrenching and deflating reality in education today is that among teachers, students, parents, counselors, and administrators there is more push and shove than there is cohesiveness. There are too many people with too many answers and not enough people who will admit that they don't have [all] the answers but will commit to finding some answers. One of the true advantages [that classroom teachers hold over other important people in the education pool] is that teachers can use their abilities and personalities to craft a productive classroom environment, but too many times teachers are expected to be cookie-cutter similar. For whatever reason, the field of public education has decided that robotic teachers managing factory-like classrooms equates to excellence and accountability. Creating the energy and maintaining the optimism to overcome that disparaging condition is my biggest personal challenge day-in and day-out.

What was the best moment in American history? What was the worst time?

America has experienced some grim episodes for sure. The Vietnam fiasco immediately comes to mind. The conflict got so out-of-hand that Americans were fighting communists abroad and friends and neighbors—sometimes family members, even—at home. In 1973, the hell finally ended in Southeast Asia, but not in the United States. Alcohol and drug abuse, widespread homelessness, tragic effects of Agent Orange, rampant social dysfunction, political ineptitude, and the list goes on. 58,000 American deaths for that?

As for the best of times, I truly believe that the United States just keeps evolving from one pinnacle moment to the next. Americans are very resilient. America endured the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Watergate scandal, the 9/11 attack, and life for most Americans in the aftermath was better than ever. The single greatest American achievement, in my opinion, was the formation of the United States Constitution. Thomas Jefferson called the group of men who accomplished that task "demigods." I think their finished product, still effective today as it was over two centuries ago, confirms Jefferson's description.

What do you consider to be a major issue in public education today?

I believe in personal accountability. There's a lot of rhetoric out there regarding America's "failing" public schools. The fix-it manual is full of magic wands: start children young, treat teachers as professionals, hold parents accountable, increase funding, reduce class size, provide support that reflects desired outcome, raise academic expectations, scale back standardized testing, group students by aptitude, build community resource centers, offer enrichment opportunities, get out of the classroom more, end one-size-fits-all curriculum programs, give the classrooms back to the teachers, lessen federal control and increase local authority, and the list goes on. Frankly, all of these sound pretty good to me—when do we start? However, I think none of these remedies will harvest benefits without the proper foundation.

More than any other profession, education is a people profession. In every direction, it's people, people, people, and nothing but people. I believe the most formidable challenge facing education starts in my classroom—getting everyone on board. Historically, any crusade is undercut when dissention exists within the ranks. The struggle for racial equality in America is a prime example. Entering the twentieth century, both William E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington desired the same good thing for their black American brethren. But since the two great men differed on how to achieve the common goal, the ranks split. Move ahead to the 1960s. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X wanted essentially the same end, but employed drastically different strategies, thus effectively forcing their legion to take sides. It's too bad.

The kids today bring countless backgrounds and issues into the classroom. We need to unite forces—teachers, students, parents, administrators, school boards, and to a lesser degree, the general community and our governing jurisdictions. To be sure, it is a monumental task, but before we can have true success, we need to cultivate a unified front. I do not think it is necessary to determine exact proportion of responsibility, but I do believe that none of the aforementioned entities should get a free pass. What is imperative in this campaign, in my opinion, is to define clear roles for each participating body. Then we can start to identify true points at which the system faltered [if and when it does]. Since it is absurd to think that any of those groups desired a student to fail, let's not play the blame game because that doesn't get us anywhere we want to go. America does not, across the board, display high regard for education.

The crucial make-it-or-break-it relationship is the one which exists between student and teacher. I know this is a worn analogy, but I'm going to use it anyway. It's the comparison between the lieutenant graduated from West Point [Military] Academy and the comparatively undistinguished, but battle-experienced soldier. The officer applies "book knowledge" to the battlefield situations in formula-like fashion, whereas the seasoned soldier knows—first-hand—what works and what doesn't because he's "been there, done that" more than once. How can a classroom-contrived scenario even begin to fit every battle situation? How can a textbook-invented scenario even begin to fit what happens on a day-to-day basis with 150 different classroom personalities for the teacher? I believe one of the biggest shortcomings in education is the lack of value afforded experience and undefined expertise that many teachers bring to the table. Think about it. Name one profession where experience is discounted as much as [in] education. Doctors? Plumbers? Mechanics? Pilots?

Who inspires you?

I am blessed with a wife who is more insightful than me. Among other things, Renae has taught me to keep my ego small. No matter how bad was my day, the kids—at least some—appreciated my heartfelt effort; no matter how perfect was my day, I still screwed up somewhere, somehow. And my daughter Kailey inspires me. She brings out smiles in me at moments when I thought smiles were not possible. Every day I have hopes and dreams and prayers for her. I realize all parents send their kids off to spend some time with me trusting that it will be time used in the best interests of their children's lives.

What is your classroom credo?

When my teaching career began, I tried to recall the half dozen things, within the total education package, I disliked most as a student. I have attempted to avoid doing the very same things to my students. And I thought of the handful of things I sincerely appreciated as a student from the teachers I most respected. I have tried to find ways to replicate those attitudes and practices. [Naturally, I have to remain within the bounds of general school protocol as well as my personality configuration.] I'm not a huge fan of exhaustive rules and regulations. For me, all classroom activity boils down to what my students have come to recognize as "Tubbs's 3 Rs"—responsibility, respect, and reality. Everything within my four walls falls under this umbrella. It's full-proof because it extends beyond my limited classroom world. I'm committed to providing my students with every opportunity to learn. A big part of that is avoiding what I call "Education's 3 Evil Es"—enabling, entitlement, and excuses. If I allow them to creep through my classroom door, then I'm robbing my students of premium educational opportunity. The Evil Es are cancerous to success in schools.

Who are your favorite Presidents?

My favorites are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. I have high regard for Harry Truman, who faced the most agonizing executive decision—whether or not to use the atomic bomb to save American lives—in all of United States history. Among the Presidents considered outstanding, I struggle most with Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson. I classify John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter as great Americans, though their White House years were mediocre. Richard Nixon, needless to say, was a national nightmare of huge proportion.

What is there about you that you most want to project to your students?

I want my students to experience me as a person first and then as a teacher. Within that arena, I value, above all else, integrity. I have no hidden agendas. Reciprocally, I invite my students to consider leaving any pretenses they may carry with them at the classroom door as they enter. I try to be genuine. What you see is what you get. When students and I happen to bump into one another in some public venue, they aren't surprised to see a drastically different version of Tubbs. I have high expectations for my students, both academically and socially. The students come to realize I have confidence in their ability to achieve, no matter what their personal baggage may be. I am passionate about history. I want the kids to feel the vibes. I implore students to study history with their heads and hearts—to realize the joys and agonies and successes and fears of those who preceded us. Allow their lives to impact ours beyond their earthly deaths. How many of their stories parallel what's going on in our lives?

It is my professional responsibility to provide authentic opportunity. I guide students along a worthwhile journey, not funnel toward a single end. If I micro-manage it, then I eliminate chances for individual growth and creativity. I want the students to empower themselves. There's more than one way to skin a cat. My driving force, whether in the typical classroom setting or during an after-hours review session or in an everyday hallway encounter, is to simultaneously make my head and my heart available to students. If I manage that, then the kids have gotten their money's worth for the day, even if they happen to momentarily forget that the three components of FDR's New Deal program were relief, recovery, and reform.

I can control, to a large extent, what happens within my four classroom walls, and what I have decided is that my students will get a big bang for their buck. I am accountable for that. No excuses.

Those qualities just seem to be innate with me; I never consciously thought "I need to develop this" so I think that means my mom and dad were hugely responsible. I believe my parents loved me by pointing me in the right [general] direction, then letting me fail in order to learn. They were there to give me a hug and say, "Hang in there—you'll figure it out next time." But they didn't shelter me from experiencing life's realities. The farther the fall, the higher the rebound.

Describe a perfect day for you.

Family. The details aren't that important—just time with my wife Renae and my daughter Kailey.