New faculty are the ‘new kids’ on the block

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Dr. Kevin John shows off his sizeable collection of video game memorabilia. John's young age helps him relate to his students. (Taylor Ricks)
Dr. Kevin John shows off his sizeable collection of video game memorabilia. John’s young age helps him relate to his students. (Taylor Ricks)

University professors know the feeling of being the “new kid on the block” when they start their first year of teaching.

BYU currently has nearly 1,500 full-time faculty members. Some retire or move on each year, and more are hired to take their place. These newly hired professors are often not only new to BYU but new to teaching as well.

Kevin John is one of the youngest professors here on campus and is teaching full time this coming fall semester in the School of Communications. His collection of video game collectibles and consoles lining the walls of his office give testament of his youth.

John wanted to be a high school English teacher growing up, and while he explored different careers throughout his education, he eventually came back to his love of teaching. “I enjoyed talking to people because everybody is just this little wealth of experiences,” John said.

Liz Bailey also grew up with a desire to teach. “I always wanted to teach,” she said. “In elementary school I wanted to be an elementary teacher; in junior high I wanted to teach junior high; in high school I wanted to teach high school; and in college I wanted to teach college. You can’t really get higher than college.”

Bailey will start her second year as a full-time professor in the College of Life Sciences this fall.

The transition from student to teacher for John was not as big of a change as many people may think. “Teachers really are just students who have gone a little bit further down the path,” John said. “That is the approach that I like to take into my class.”

John tells his students he may know more than they but does not know everything. He hopes to learn just as much from them as they do from him.

Being young and new to a career as a college professor can come with challenges. Bailey found that being new and looking young can often make it difficult to keep command and authority among students and other professors. “I have to find that line of still respecting their seniority and having confidence in your own ability,” Bailey said.

John also finds that adapting to a new environment with older professors is a must.

“As a new faculty member, you are a new entity coming into an environment that already exists,” John said. “You need to learn your place in the ecosystem. You need to learn where you fit.”

While being young can be a challenge, it can also be a great advantage for a university professor. “I can relate to the students,” Bailey said. “I am young enough that I can get their jokes and their culture.  I watch the same TV shows.”

She also feels confident in finding the balance between being the students’ friend and being respected as a teacher.

John has also realized that his age can be a great tool.

“I am in this generation of students I think, I hope,” John said.

While John and Bailey are just beginning their careers as educators, Robert Burton, of the Department of Computer Science, has been teaching for more than 40 years at BYU and remembers his early years.

“Being a new professor is sort of like arriving in paradise,” Burton said. “It was just a joy to be a new professor.”

Burton also remembers spending hours preparing lesson plans at first, but after some time, the preparation became less intensive.  With so many years of experience, Burton can give much advice to new professors. His advice usually includes council about the caliber of BYU’s community.

“Be aware that the quality of the faculty will continue to increase,” Burton said, “and the quality of the students will continue to increase.”

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