Dr. Howard Jacobs, adjunct faculty member in Capella University’s School of Education, brings a wealth of classroom experience in K-12 and higher education. He shares his experiences, philosophy, and advice for others in the field.
Q. Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to Capella.
A. I worked for many years in the K-12 environment. I was a public school teacher at both the elementary and middle school levels, and also a middle school counselor. Then I spent several years in the educational publishing industry and later got my doctorate in education and taught at Western Washington University for a while. I found out about Capella’s online learning model through friends who had graduated from Capella. It was intriguing to me, as I was interested in teaching online, and here I am.
Q. What do you teach at Capella?
A. Since starting here in 2001, I’ve taught a range of elementary and secondary education courses. I’ve taught intro courses, classroom management, research courses, and I’ve developed curricula as well. Today I’m mostly mentoring dissertation students. It sounds like a cliché, but I’m trying to help people find their passion.
The dissertation process is involved and is something the researcher has to live with for many years, so I encourage people to find a topic they’re passionate about. I speak from experience. I worked unenthusiastically on the wrong topic for six months, and then I had to recast my theme. I did get fired up at that point. I try to help students avoid that mistake.
Q. What does a typical day look like as Capella faculty?
A. I check the courseroom each day, email or speak with students regularly, answer questions, talk out problems, review their materials, make sure they understand the research. I read comprehensive exams, keep mentees focused, and act in a supporting role for other faculty mentors.
Q. What is your teaching philosophy?
A. I stress that learning is a process, not an event. Break it down into manageable pieces. It’s not a check-off process: “I’ve done this, I’ll put it away now and never use it again.” What students learn is something they can carry forward into their lives and careers.
I also have a second philosophy that says we can’t truly teach anyone, but we can set the conditions under which learning can happen. Like the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Students have to want to learn; they have to be inquisitive.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. Working closely with students. I mentor one-on-one and love the “aha” moment when a student grasps an important concept. We develop relationships that are close. I’ve been through births, deaths, marriages, and divorces with them—we’ve gone through a lot together. Attending commencement and seeing them receive their doctoral degree is very fun.
Q. What industry trends are you seeing that will affect professionals in the next few years?
A. The use of technology is a game changer providing wonderful opportunities in ways we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago. But also we can’t deny the impact of federal and state regulations, which often seem to have more to do with politics than education.
I live in Kansas, which is a big college basketball state. Sometimes we’d lose or fall behind, but you’d never see the coaches turn to the fans in the stands and say, “What should we do now?” Yet that’s what some of these regulations seem to do. The regulators need to turn to the educators, not politicians, to learn what will work and what won’t.
Q. How do you stay on top of what employers are looking for? How do you keep your industry skills and knowledge up to date?
A. I worried about staying current after getting my PhD, but there are many ways to stay current. On the academic side, I read many journals and attend conferences. As for what employers want, some of that information comes to us from our students. Many of them are working in the field while pursuing their degree, and they tell us what’s going on in their environments. And many of my colleagues are scholar-practitioners, so they’re also seeing first-hand what’s happening in the field, and they’re great resources.
Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A. After finishing my doctorate and agonizing over what career path to take, my mentor said to me, “I spent years teaching you to be analytical. But now you have to go with your gut. Does it feel right?” I believe there’s truth to that. We can rationalize anything. We can research and analyze. But we should also take the time to process, and listen to our gut.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not working?
A. We love to hike. Our Australian Shepherd forces us to get out regularly. I’m also interested in photography and competitive shooting.
Q. Coffee, tea, or soda?
A. Coffee, definitely. If there’s a Coffee Anonymous, I should be in it.
Learn more about Capella’s online education degree programs.