Teaching teachers: 'We’re able to freely acknowledge and embrace new ideas'


Morgan Appel: "Those who go into education, they don’t pursue it as a profession — it’s more of a calling." Photo by Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego Staff Photographer


Walking into Morgan Appel’s office is like going back to the ’50s with a nudge into the ’60s.

Appel, director of Educational Programs at UC San Diego Extension, revels in his surroundings: Original vinyl 45s adorn the walls, along with black-and-white photos of the likes of Chuck Berry and the Beatles, with faded copies of bygone magazines Life and Holiday within easy reach. An olive green rotary-dial phone rests on his desk.

Amid high school yearbooks from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — not all his — there are posters of cigarette and chewing gum ads, and one of actress Kim Novak, a personal favorite.

Bow-tied and bespectacled, Appel often wears blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up above black-and-white saddle shoes, a fashion statement that surely would please “The Fonz.”

“I once asked my wife if I could build a time machine at home,” said Appel. “She suggested that I build a time capsule in my office, which I did eight years ago when I first moved in. I happen to love nostalgia and for me, these items capture a history of optimism in design.”

A graduate of UC Irvine, where he later became a senior faculty associate for that institution’s School of the Arts, Appel takes pride in his specialty: teaching teachers within Extension’s credential programs.

Since joining UC San Diego Extension in 2006, he has served as the Educational Studies department’s chief academic and administrative officer. He supervises four full-time program representatives, 100 instructors, and over 5,000 students per academic year.

In addition, Appel is currently teaching the following Extension courses:

1) As a teacher of teachers, what’s your ultimate goal?
I believe in providing teachers with robust opportunities to address both the cognitive and sociological issues they must deal with every day. We view our program as an opportunity to give them an expresso’s shot worth of creativity, and provide them with a sanctuary, a place where educators can come and involve themselves in something meaningful, something they can truly make their own.

2) What’s your view of the educational models of recent years?
For too long, we’ve seen creativity sapped from the educational experience. It’s been too weighted down by standardized tests and other forms of accountability.

3) In your view, what were the biggest impediments to good teaching and good learning?
There was far too much emphasis on standardized testing, or as I call it, “drill and kill.” We failed to provide opportunities to help our teachers and students grown in metacognitive ways.

4) What makes UC San Diego’s educational program distinctive?
I’ve worked in any number of universities in my career. But this is a place where we can do what we do in a way that we’re not beholden to rules and regulations. Instead, we’re able to freely acknowledge and embrace new ideas and new strategies. It’s an exciting place to be. The advent of new technologies, the idea that it’s OK to do cross-disciplinary work, makes it all that more exciting.

5) What do you hope your students come away with?
All of our programs are designed to be a totally individualized experience. What we hope to do is model that experience in a way that teachers feel liberated and empowered to take that spirit back into the classroom.

6) That sounds like a reasonable teaching model…
Well, for decades, it had to be done in a clandestine way. You had to sneak it in, between the fixed curricula.

7) What are the motivating factors for those who want to become teachers?
Those who go into education, they don’t pursue it as a profession -- it’s more of a calling. Without having that mind-set, I don’t think anybody would willingly subject themselves to the environment to which teachers subject themselves. Plus, toss in the idea that every March, you have to worry about being laid off.

8) How would you describe your theory of teaching?
Put it this way: The statue of David was always David before Michelangelo began chiseling. There are amazing things to be found when you dig a little deeper. We want to provide educators with a diverse palate of ideas and strategies, so they can uncover their own masterpiece.

9) How does your program inspire that spirit of creativity?
We find that the really innovative spirit, the transcendent ideas, come from each other. They are out there every day in their classrooms. They use each other as mutual sounding boards and shoulders to cry on. The end product of that synergy is quite stunning.

10) What are the intangibles that make you most proud of your department?
I have to say that I’m surrounded by amazing people who make it happen. I’m talking about our programming staff, each of whom has an incredible passion for our collective endeavor.

Posted: 12/10/2014 12:00:00 AM with 0 comments

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