Teacher Feature: Bob Newell

Zoë Donovan, Editor-In-Chief

A Skeletor action-figure, a silver Darth Vader mask, several pieces of Seinfeld memorabilia and a Cubs baseball cap are just a few of the items that adorn the office bookshelves of humanities instructor, Bob Newell.

Much like the unconventional ornaments, Newell’s teaching style doesn’t rely solely on a traditional lecture.  More so, there is an emphasis on student engagement and collaboration within his classroom.

“It gets boring if it’s just the same lecture all the time,” he said, which is part of why the discussion is such a large part of his classes.

Newell has a very relaxed classroom teaching style, in his literature classes reading are due at the beginning of class and a short response is written by students, mostly to ensure that the story was read. Following this, he opens the class up for discussion, sometimes posing a question or asking the class to share insights about characters or themes within the story. This teaching style requires students to work on not only critical thinking skills but also their communication skills.

When Newell started his undergraduate education at Eastern Illinois University, he wasn’t intending to pursue a career in the humanities or even teaching, “I was in business or accounting or something like that, for no good reason,” he said.

While in a composition class taught by Stephen Swords, he became frustrated with the short story Cathedral by Raymond Carver.

I remember saying something [to Swords] about how it was a useless story because it had no plot,” Newell said.

Swords’ response made Newell re-evaluate his perspective on literature.

“His response to me was something like, ‘Well why don’t you get out of your own head and figure out what the story is all about’”. 

Newell changed his major by the end of the semester.

“I liked what he [Swords] did, so I kind of followed that path.” It was during this time that he also made the decision to become an instructor. When he’d originally started at EIU he was unsure of his path, but Swords’ words stuck with him and gave him a focus.

Newell first began teaching at Lake Land as a part-time instructor, and when a full-time position opened up he decided to apply as well.“When I saw the job come open. I think I had applied for something like 96 jobs at that point, all over the country. It was a time that more jobs were open, but it was still almost impossible to just get a job in teaching of English.”

He turned down a position at another college when Lake Land offered him the position. “At Lake Land, there was a very open environment to kind of teach in ways that I remembered learning at Eastern, so it felt right to me.” Unlike some other schools, Lake Land didn’t require him to adhere to a specific teaching profile or style in the classroom.

“It’s incredibly rewarding being able to hear the ideas of other students,” he said. One of the biggest challenges for him is online classes because it’s harder for students to engage online than in a traditional classroom setting, “The challenge really is communication.”

Newell shared the following about his experience with teaching and what it’s like hearing student voices within the classroom. “When you get people to be able to relax in a classroom and start opening up about what they think about whatever we’re reading or whatever we’re watching, it’s amazing how students are the same now as they’ve always been. They [the students] are really intelligent, insightful people who come from a lot of different backgrounds, who have a lot to offer. While education is certainly changing, it’s certainly a rich thing being able to hear what all people have to say, wherever they’re coming from, and whatever day they’ve had. So, that’s pretty special.”


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