Department of Education
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award
Statement of Mentoring Philosophy

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award is sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

John Hurst’s Statement of Mentoring Philosophy

My mentoring practices are closely and intentionally attuned to my educational philosophy and pedagogical principles developed and honed over a fifty-year career in teaching at the university level and still evolving today.

In the 1960s I decided to focus my scholarship and educational work on investigating the implications of an authentic democratic society for education. What might education look like in a society that aspires to realize the democratic promise in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey, and Paulo Freire? Secondly, how could I apply the results of my scholarship to my work as an educator and teacher at the University of California? As a result, I was active in the initiation, development, and governance of two new interdisciplinary, problem-based undergraduate majors where students had, at least initially, considerable official voice in their majors — Conservation and Resource Studies (founded 1971) in the College of Natural Resources, and Peace and Conflict Studies (founded in 1984) now in the College of Letters and Science, and the Undergraduate Minor in Education (founded in 1990) in the Graduate School of Education which I continue to Chair. In addition, the ASUC-run DeCAL (Democratic Education at CAL) began as a project in one of my classes in 1980 and I have continued as its informal faculty advisor since its inception and am currently a member of its board of directors.

While I was making considerable personal progress in the development and realization of a more democratic educational philosophy and pedagogy I was plagued by whether it was an idiosyncratic phenomena, as is the case with so many good teachers; or a philosophy, pedagogy and practice that I could successfully transmit to others. I finally created the opportunity to explore this question when I developed and initiated “Current Issues in Education” (EDUC 190) in 1990 as the required core course in the new Undergraduate Minor in Education (UGME). The course quickly grew in size necessitating the use of multiple GSIs I decided to test whether or not my democratic pedagogy and practices in the classroom were transmittable to apprentice teachers.

I made a number of decisions designed to enable and teach a more democratic pedagogy within the limits of University policy:

1) I sought out and hired GSIs who were genuinely committed to a democratic philosophy of education (not all are).

2) The pedagogy I had developed was rooted in dialogue and would not work with classes larger than 100. So rather than have a large lecture coupled with several discussion sections I decided to establish several sections of the class each to be taught in full by a GSI, while I would meet regularly with the GSIs to mentor and problem solve. Thus, each student would be in a class with a maximum of 40 persons with a GSI in charge at approximately the same cost per student to the University as my teaching a lecture class of 200 (based on 5 sections of 40 each) with multiple discussion sections.

3) While the philosophy/pedagogy of the class is fixed and agreement with it a requirement for being appointed a GSI in the course — the actual substance of the class within a broad framework is open for renegotiation at the end of each semester for the next semester, especially at the end of the Spring semester for the coming year. Together, the GSIs and I review the class in light of our previous semester’s experience and continually add and drop aspects of the course as a consequence of our reflections on how well they worked and whether or not they met the goals and objectives of the course. Within this framework each GSI is given considerable latitude to tweak their section of the course to their unique strengths and visions, always in consultation with and concurrence of our whole staff. Thus, the GSIs are involved in all aspects of the course’s continuing development so that it is theirs, in fact — and it has evolved substantially over the years. In all instances this growth is examined against the principles and practices flowing from the courses democratic pedagogy. In turn, the GSIs afford the same rights and responsibilities to the students in their sections to further craft the class to best meet their own interests and needs within the course’s clearly specified goals, structure and content.

4) Thus, the GSIs are given full responsibility, in collaboration, for constructing and teaching the course within the broad parameters of the underlying educational philosophy and pedagogy. I in turn support them in every way I can to realize their promise as teachers — by providing focused dialogue around philosophy, pedagogy and practice; by providing resources as needed or requested; by problem solving (usually in discussion with the full staff); and providing whatever is required for them to move toward the full realization of their potentials as educators. I do not try to mold them to replicate me; but rather, and critically so, to realize themselves and their own unique possibilities as educators within a democratic pedagogy that we are continually re-calibrating together. In short, I provide them space; I believe in them; I trust them; I allow them to experiment within limits and then provide a place for collective reflection on each of our on-going practices, as well as a chance to explore new visions and possibilities.

5) The GSIs in “Current Issues in Education” have done outstanding jobs over the years judging from my own close observation, and more importantly from the enthusiastic evaluations of the students who take the class. Students who minor in education go on to assume a full array of positions in the field of education from professors in leading schools of education, to school superintendents in urban districts, to enthusiastic classroom teachers — all praising the minor. The Undergraduate Minor in Education was awarded the campus’s Educational Initiatives Award in 1997 for its contributions to undergraduate education. The larger programmatic space of the Undergraduate Minor is critical to the success of the GSIs and Current Issues in Education. The class has been heavily impacted for many years and we have simply not had the resources (i.e., funds for additional GSIs) to meet the growing demand.

Finally, the GSIs in “Current Issues in Education” (EDUC 190) have been and are, an exceptional group of young professionals and scholars — the continuing remarkable success of EDUC 190 and the education minor is ultimately their doing — a result of their unselfish dedication and hard work. It is a privilege to teach and learn with them.