Published on September 7, 2021 by Morgan Black
Jennings B. Marshall served as a faculty member in Samford University's Brock School of Business from 1985 until his retirement in Dec. 2020. In this interview, Marshall reflects on his career and provides advice for new college students and faculty alike.
How is retirement treating you?
Alright I guess, I miss being in the classroom with my students and interacting with my colleagues, especially over lunch. I hung the congratulations banner signed by so many students and colleagues upon my retirement in my garage as a reminder of my time at Samford. I stay busy with housework and working on my current car project, a 1932 five-window coupe Chevrolet Hot Rod. I think I’m about a year and half from having it complete.
As you reflect on your career, what did you enjoy most about teaching?
I loved interacting with the students. Being in the classroom was a joy, especially when I could see in a student’s eyes that they had grasped a concept they were having difficulty with. You can literally see it in their eyes when something they were struggling with becomes clear and they understand. I also found great joy working when students came to see me during my office hours about a subject they were struggling with. Helping a struggling student is very rewarding; as a student I struggled with many different subjects and greatly appreciated faculty who helped me.
What advice do you have for freshmen as they get started on their college career?
- Go to class! People aren’t checking on you the way they did when you were in high school. You may be tempted to cut class, but don’t do it. The single best predictor that a student is going to fail a class is attendance.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a question. The question you have is probably the same question that several others have but are hesitant to ask.
- If you are struggling, seek out your professor. Go to their office hours and ask for help. The sooner you address the subject that is giving you trouble, the better.
What advice do you have for new faculty as they begin their career as teachers and mentors?
- Go to class prepared. Be organized. And, it needs to be apparent that you know what you’re doing and have put an effort into the class.
- When you grade exams, grade them one question at a time and always complete grading that question before you take a break. It’s very important to make sure every paper is graded in an unbiased way.
- Be available to your students. Be slow to leave the classroom. When class is over, oftentimes a shy student will hang back and if you are still in the classroom you will have an opportunity to engage in a conversation with him or her.
- Office hours are expected. Take your office hours seriously and encourage students to come by. Office hours are where you have a true opportunity to mentor students.
The Dr. Jennings B. Marshall Undergraduate Teaching Award is given to a Brock School of Business faculty member who demonstrates excellent undergraduate teaching. To you, what compromises excellence in undergraduate teaching?
First and foremost, a faculty member must have true knowledge of the subject. If you truly understand the subject, you can explain extremely complicated concepts in a manner that can be understood by your students. A professor will often teach the same class multiple times on the same day, and multiple times over the school year, and multiple times over a career. This can lead to stale lectures and laziness. An excellent teacher will be refining their lectures every single time seeking ways to improve. Listen to the questions your students ask and then go back and decide how you might use that feedback to improve the lecture. If you are indifferent, it will be obvious to a student and you cannot fake enthusiasm. An excellent teacher will, by nature, always be enthusiastic about the opportunity to talk about their subject. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to love your subject and be enthusiastic about teaching it. Another very important characteristic of an excellent teacher is somebody who treats every student fairly and deeply cares about their welfare. As you teach, look carefully at each student. An excellent teacher can spot the ones that understood what you said and can spot the ones that didn't’t understand what you said. You can bring that lost student in by simply commenting to the class that you could see that some of them didn't’t exactly follow what you were doing and that you were going to explain the concept again in a different way. Being able to explain things in different ways is a characteristic of an excellent teacher. An excellent teacher loves teaching and that love of teaching is recognized by your students.
The Dr. Jennings B. Marshall Undergraduate Teaching Award was established in honor of Marshall prior to his retirement in December 2020. The award is given to a full-time member of the Brock School of Business faculty who demonstrates excellence in undergraduate teaching. In addition to the award, an endowment supports an annual faculty stipend.
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