Beyond the Gate talked with a few of our teachers to get a glimpse into their classrooms, their philosophies on education, and their feelings about teaching at Woodward. Today we share Part 2, our talk with Upper School history teacher Dr. Bill Nicholson. If you missed it, check out Part 1, our talk with Dr. Kimberly Kulka from the Primary School. Happy reading!
What made you want to teach at Woodward Academy?
I came to Woodward first as a parent when my two oldest children became students in 1996. I remember walking around campus and saying to myself, “This would be a great place to teach...it’s like a small college in terms of atmosphere and layout.” I was working on my doctorate, preparing to teach at the college level, and decided to give secondary teaching when the opportunity to teach here came along. After all, I could always apply for college jobs when my Ph. D. was complete. It’s now 18 years later, and I’m still here, which says a lot about Woodward. The culture, my colleagues, and, most importantly, the students exceeded my expectations and have kept me coming back year after year. Woodward’s reputation, longevity, and facilities attracted me to the school when I was researching independent schools for my children. All three kids have since graduated with honors, and all three went on to graduate from college with high honors in their respective fields. The education they received here has certainly paid off,
What grade and/or subjects do you teach?
I teach all grades in the Upper School, 9th through 12th, in either Modern World History Honors or AP U.S. History classes.
What is your teaching philosophy?
My philosophy incorporates the broad view that learning is best achieved in a positive and supportive environment in which the teacher sets the tone and desire for learning. I’m convinced that teachers cannot “teach” anything unless students are willing to learn. This is the crux of the educational process—creating a nurturing learning environment that fosters creative inquiry while demanding a certain rigor and disciplined approach to study. The most important thing teachers can do for our students is not to fill their heads with the knowledge of our specific disciplines, but rather use those disciplines as vehicles to help students discover for themselves what their passion is, what their life’s work will be, and how important it is to embrace one’s passion with purpose. This is the true power and joy of teaching.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher? How does Woodward help and support you in facing these challenges?
One of my biggest challenges is staying motivated and excited about learning from class to class, week to week, year to year. It can be hard to be enthusiastic on days where you aren’t feeling up to par. Woodward helps in hiring the best teaching professionals who are also people of high moral character. My colleagues have become friends who inspire me to improve and stay positive day after day. Another challenge I face is to stay abreast of developments in my field, the latest pedagogy and scholarly insights. Woodward provides professional development at school and pays for conferences, workshops, conventions, etc. This allows me to remain on the cutting edge of teaching.
What do you feel sets Woodward apart from other schools?
In a word, the people. Woodward is a family, plain and simple, and we support and nurture each other as if we were a family. We applaud and recognize each other’s accomplishments, and we provide moral and emotional support to each other in times of hardship. Mutual admiration and respect is the “glue” that binds together the Woodward community. Another area that sets Woodward apart from other schools is the infrastructure—the amazing facilities and physical plant that is Woodward Academy, the state-of-the-art buildings, beautiful landscaping, cutting-edge technology, and the support staff that keep our school running smoothly.
What has surprised you the most about teaching at Woodward?
I’ve been surprised by just how much I enjoy teaching teenagers! This certainly is not the easiest age group to teach, but I have found over the years that when treated with mutual respect and gratitude, these students inspire and touch my heart in ways I never expected.
What do you want people to know about the teaching staff as a whole?
Woodward hires the very best and brightest teaching professionals who truly care about their students and take pride in being knowledgeable and at the top of their fields. There is great camaraderie within and between departments and schools, and that makes teaching here a joy.
What do you want people to know about the Upper School’s curriculum?
Woodward offers a challenging college-prep curriculum that includes interesting elective courses that develop students’ sense of service learning and social consciousness Our advisory program addresses these issues as well as students’ emotional and relational needs and development. A huge array of cocurricular activities fulfils our institutional goals of providing the very best in academics, athletics, and the arts.
What would you tell people about how Woodward approaches the teaching/learning experience and how it benefits students?
“It takes a village” to create an engaged, positive, thankful, and globally-aware student, and that is what undergirds Woodward’s teaching/learning philosophy, Teachers, administrators, coaches, counselors, and parents work hand-in-hand to develop not just a student’s academic and intellectual acumen but also their athletic prowess and artistic abilities in order to create the “whole” person. Through teacher mentoring, peer interaction, and personal growth, students leave this place ready and eager to go out into the world as compassionate, informed, and engaged global citizens.
What do you want people to know most about Woodward?
Woodward Academy is a school of unparalleled longevity and success in creating generations of leaders on the local, national, and even international level in multiple fields of endeavor, whether in business, the military, medicine, law, education, the ministry, creative fields, and many others. Woodward is a place where greatness is the norm, excellence is ordinary, and compassion for others flows in abundance.