Professor of the Week: John Heaton
Name: John Heaton
Years teaching at UAF: Nine
Why did you come to Alaska?
“I came up to take a job offer that was made to me by the university.”
When was that?
What do you like about history?
“I like history because I like to see how it’s constructed and used; how narratives have been used to shape society.”
What do you think about your nickname “The Grim Reaper?”
“The nickname is undeserved.”
“I’m not the ‘Reaper!’ I’m just here to help. I’m just here to promote the development of critical writing skills.”
How would you define your teaching style?
“My style is informal, and I try to engage my students. I want them to feel comfortable talking to me. About content, theory, the philosophy of history. I don’t want to be a talking head.”
Do you care if your students like you?
“Of course I care if the students like me! Nobody wants to walk into a classroom and feel the hate. But, it’s a balancing act, because you can’t spend all your time trying to be their buddy. You have to push your students. You’ve got to hold their feet to the fire. There’s a way to do that without being a complete jerk. I don’t know if I’ve found that balance yet or not.
How do you challenge your students?
“I set the bar really, really high, and I say, ‘If you don’t jump over that, then you’re not going to pass the class.’ I just have high expectations, so I push and I push and I push. I’m interested in people doing their best work because when you’re doing your best work you’re learning and you’re evolving intellectually and that’s what I’m after.”
Out of all the classes that you’ve taught, what was the one that you’ve enjoyed teaching the most?
“I think I like Historiography [the study of the methodology of history] the most.”
“Because I like to blow their minds. Because students come in with these preconceived notions of what history is. So, when we get down to the details of the development of the field, suddenly there’s a completely different understanding of what this degree us all about. And, I like to see that.”
What is your favorite time-period?
“Favorite? I don’t have a favorite, but I am very interested in the effects of industrial capitalism on all aspects of American society and culture.”
Who is your favorite president?
“Warren G. Harding.”
“Because he’s so much fun! He was so inept. What does it say about America that they’d elect this guy?”
What about your favorite movie of all time?
I love film, and to ask me to pick just one is rude! (laughs)