Maxie Kohler, Ph.D.
Professor - Educational Psychology and Research
As I think of my "philosophy" of teaching, my mind turns to my students. At the heart of my teaching is a deep and abiding desire to help students believe in themselves through the successful acquisition of information. As I have watched students over the years come and go, one thing I have realized is that for students to want to listen to us, we must first model listening and being helpful to them. As someone with great wisdom once said to me, and I believe this holds true for college students as well, "if children don't like school when they are little, they probably won't like school with they are big." I would continue that thought by saying if undergraduates don't like undergraduate school, they are less likely to graduate and even less likely to continue to graduate education. So, as I have looked over my teacher evaluations and the comments from former students, one thing that gives me great comfort is that students appear to know that I care for them personally and care about their learning. As someone who won one of the 2010 College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching awards, it symbolized to me that my students knew I cared about them and their learning. Further, I hope they knew that I put as much work and effort into teaching them as they put into learning what was being taught to them. Reviewing my own academic preparation, I liked those teachers who I knew cared for me, and I learned more from each of them. Although not a conscious decision, I have realized over the years that my heart guides my teaching. I genuinely love being in the classroom and with our students. So, if someone asked me my philosophy of teaching, I would say the belief and philosophy that guides my teaching is that our students should be able to have the same level of expectations of us that we have of them. And, in order to make sure students know that, we must model that in our classrooms and beyond that we care about them and their learning, and we are willing to do the job it takes in order for them to acquire the requisite knowledge.
Scholarship, to me, is yet another way to help improve people's lives. I believe one's real scholarship agenda comes from values that are deeply held and experiences one has encountered. My graduate work, and even my doctoral dissertation, helped inform my interest in literacy, human development, parenting, and women's issues. As mentioned earlier, philosophically, research should come from one's deeply held interests and values. It should be driven by passion for particular sets of content. Literacy of all types, high-risk behavior, parenting, and women's issues are all some issues I hold close to my heart. Whether literacy has focused on children, adult, family, or intergenerational, it has remained a focus of mine throughout my career. How children develop is part of understanding how to better educate and facilitate the acquisition of necessary literacy skills, thus human development and parenting too is important to me. Even within the area of literacy, women's literacy has been important to me. From working with at-risk children and women who, themselves, need to improve their own literacy skills, to working with women who want to increase their children's literacy skills, I have enjoyed the challenge of both. So, in looking at my career in scholarship, I would say that I am very excited about my future. Working in these areas, I look forward to continued contributions I hope to make. And, because these areas, to me, are naturally related, they can easily be used to inform my own teaching and service.
In thinking about "service" as one of the three missions of any university and what I have done in service across my career, I find that discussing why I have engaged in the service activities I have is a better explanation of my own philosophy than just discussing the service activities themselves. I enjoy service activities a great deal. It gives me personal satisfaction to facilitate and assist others. I believe in "servant leadership." I have tried in every service activity in which I have been engaged to leave that endeavor in a better condition than when I began it. Regardless of the level, however, service is a very important component of my position and UAB, and it is one way that I can bring my skills to bear, either structurally or with ideas. I believe that is a major reason I was nominated by our former dean as the first participant to from the School of Education to the BLAZE Leadership program on our campus. Although earlier in my career, my service was focused mainly at the university, state, and regional level, as a full professor, my service now focuses much more on national and international issues and activities, although school service will always be of great importance to me. Therefore, the guiding principle of service for me is to make sure that I leave any service-related activity in a stronger position than when I began it.
I am married to the smartest, most wonderful man alive who, by training, is a statistician and measurement expert. I have a daughter who just married and also just graduated from medical school. She and her husband are doing their medical residencies in Chicago. She is doing her residency in Pathology at Northwestern University, and he is doing his residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago. I have two stepsons and five grandchildren. One lives here in Mountain Brook, and the other lives in Tampa, Florida. Between the two of them, I have three granddaughters and two grandsons. I thoroughly enjoy my family, gardening ands watching old, but wonderful, movies. We have a little two-year old shih-tzu named "Yogi" who brings us great joy and comfort. However, I gain my most personal comfort and joy from being a Christian. My faith is very important to me.