A Life Spent Teaching

1By Samantha Fry

Professor Dr. Tim James found his path and passion teaching at the community college.

James teaches oral communication and journalism courses at College of Southern Nevada and has for the past 18 years. His COM 101 course on oral communication is taken widely by students as a requirement for all degree pathways and JOUR 220 on visual communication is a recent addition to his schedule specifically designed for journalism majors.

“I would never teach anywhere but community college for the rest of my days,” James said. “I love it. Other than when I was working on my degree, I did some part-time teaching at a few other colleges and one was Salt Lake Community College. That was my first experience with community college and I kinda liked it but I didn’t think much about it at the time in terms of career directions but ultimately, I think it found me.”

“I would say I came to really love teaching when I came [to CSN],” James said. “It’s been a very good institution with very good colleagues to work with. I’ve been teaching over 30 years now. I don’t think I’ve actually gotten really comfortable with teaching until maybe about the last eight years or so.”

What drives James in the classroom is his desire to help others.

“I think teaching is a helping profession more than anything else,” James said. “You can be passionate about something but not necessarily be good at it and I think if you’re going to get good at it then there has to be more than just a passion. You’ve got to be willing to commit to evolving what you do and open to criticism and open to change. You’ve got to be very open-minded.”

“Anything you guys get from me is based on years of me interacting with a whole bunch of other experts and experienced people who have guided me to this point and I still turn to them,” James said. “If there’s something I want to try, the first thing I’m going to do is bounce that idea off of several people.”

James said the most rewarding thing about being an educator is that he’s actually giving people what he considers to be fundamental life skills.

“I’m actually giving something they’re going to use that’s of value and I love watching them evolve through my classes,” James said. “They’re not quite my children but when I see a student get up and give a speech near the end of the term and it’s like ‘Holy cow, you’ve come a long way from the beginning of this class’. I get that sort of proud parental feeling inside.”

“I can be the most inspiring person in the universe but if a student doesn’t do his or her part it’s not going to work,” James said. “They are at least half of that equation and not everybody understands that and not everybody has been properly prepared for the educational system. As often as I can I like to teach my students what I call the ‘Rules of the Game’.”

James loves being part of his students’ growth but he doesn’t entirely credit himself with that. “They’ve done their work; I can’t take full credit for their efforts. Hopefully I’ve directed them in a certain way but I think that’s what really matters most to me is being able to watch students succeed.”

“I don’t see myself as superior to them or better than them,” said James, commenting on his respect for his students. “I have more knowledge and experience in certain areas and I try to use that to help them do what they need to do. I want to help people evolve. I think I have a pretty good rapport with my students precisely because I treat them like people because they are.”

James successfully pursued bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. He received his first full-time teaching job at Western State in Gunnison, Colo. He taught next at La Salle University in Philadelphia and later returned to Western State before coming to Las Vegas.

“Life went sour for a short time—we’ll just put it that way—and then this job [at CSN] came along,” James said. “And it’s like being where I need to be.”

According to James, grading is a hard part of the job.

“I love to teach but grading is very difficult,” James said. “I don’t just say ‘Here you got a B’. Every little thing that’s there I’m going to give you a comment about why it’s good, certainly if there’s a problem and so on. A lot of people, I think, look at educators as somehow we just show up to the classroom for a couple hours a week and we’re done. Talk to my wife about how many times she has to sit and watch TV alone because I’m in the study grading till all hours of the night. So we put in a lot of hours, it’s just that we get a little more flexibility than many other people about when those hours are going to be.”

According to Professor Michele Fogg, who works with James at the College, James is well-liked by both students and colleagues.

“I really respect him because although he’s been tenured for several years he continues to make meaningful contributions to the communication and journalism programs and the College,” Fogg said. “I admire Dr. James and know that he is an excellent Com 101 professor because his students routinely win the top spots at the Public Speaking Festival the department holds every semester.”

“I consider Tim a friend not just a colleague,” Fogg said. “He’s been supportive of me and given me good advice since I was hired and he even served on my tenure committee.”

Beyond colleagues, James has students who are also big fans of his.

CSN student Ronnie Gonzalez said he liked James and would take his classes again.

“He was a laid-back professor when it came to his lectures and online assignments,” Gonzalez said. “He was always helpful when it came to the essays and getting my questions answered.”

Gonzalez continued, “Without a doubt if I found out he was teaching another journalism course then I would take it. His vast and up-to-date knowledge of journalism is what makes him a good teacher. He knows how to teach well since he knows how to get his students’ attentions by making most of his lectures unique and engaging. Even though his class is online he still finds a way to engage his students through their computer screens.”

“I would hope nobody in any profession ever says ‘I have mastered it; I am done’,” James said. “There is always something new that I need to learn about teaching, about public speaking, about journalism.”

James is ever-evolving and constantly striving to become better in his profession to make an impact in this world through teaching. The ripple effects of his works are clear to many.



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