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Graduate student Clifford Humphrey is cur­rently teaching a section of U.S. Con­sti­tution. S. Nathaniel Grime | Assistant Editor

Clifford Humphrey taught English in China for a year before enrolling in Hillsdale’s graduate program. Tom Tacoma attended Hillsdale and received his master’s degree before returning as a graduate student. Now, both have expe­rience teaching under­graduate pol­itics courses at the college.

Teaching adjunctly is a common step toward becoming a full-time instructor, but Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship only offers this expe­rience to a select few, including Tacoma and Humphrey.

Humphrey just began his semester teaching U.S. Con­sti­tution, replacing Tacoma, who taught a section last fall.

Dean of the Van Andel School Ronald Pestritto says only certain graduate stu­dents qualify as potential can­di­dates for adjunct teaching posi­tions, and only once they’ve fin­ished their graduate coursework.

“This is a teaching college, so we don’t expect our graduate stu­dents to do our teaching for us,” he said. “We don’t use our under­graduate classes as guinea pigs for our graduate stu­dents.”

Pestritto said the adjunct pro­fes­sorship is a priv­ilege for stu­dents who have done well at Hillsdale, an approach that not only dif­fer­en­tiates the Van Andel School from other pro­grams, but turns some graduate stu­dents away.

Tacoma, a student all his life with a semester of an under­graduate teaching under his belt, said being a first-time teacher has its dif­fi­culties, but felt pre­pared thanks to his expe­ri­ences as a student in the classroom.

“Having reflected on being in courses to take some of the obser­va­tions I’d made under dif­ferent teachers, dif­ferent pro­fessors, and try to apply those in the classroom,” he said.

Tacoma points to devel­oping a syl­labus as the most fun­da­mental task for cul­ti­vating a suc­cessful classroom atmos­phere.

The Van Andel school pre­pares its stu­dents for potential teaching posi­tions through a teacher-scholar appren­ticeship program, which con­nects doc­toral stu­dents in their third year to graduate faculty.

Stu­dents shadow the pro­fessors in class and learn every­thing from teaching a class and preparing a syl­labus to writing exams and grading essays.

Tacoma grad­uated from Hillsdale with a bachelor’s degree in American studies in 2012. His under­graduate expe­rience pro­vided him the oppor­tunity to observe his pro­fessors first-hand, even before appren­ticing to a graduate pro­fessor.

“My expec­ta­tions of what a Hillsdale College pro­fessor was, from my under­graduate years, were so high,” he said. “All the pro­fessors here are so good, and every class I took, I was impressed by the teaching ability and the level of knowledge that everyone brought to the classroom.”

Humphrey’s expe­rience dif­fered sig­nif­i­cantly. He taught Greek and Latin at a clas­sical school in Florida for two years, taught online for one year, and taught English in the Chinese province of Hunan for a year. He says his expe­rience overseas espe­cially helped prepare him for teaching at Hillsdale.

“It was really eye-opening, espe­cially for teaching,” he said. “It was extremely enlight­ening coming back from that, just real­izing how dis­torted my per­spective was when I went in. It was great.”

Humphrey also points to the detailed study in the graduate program as chal­lenging yet ben­e­ficial to helping him prepare for teaching under­graduate courses.

“The chal­lenging part for me is to go from the graduate level where we talk about a lot of the same things all the time at a deep, deep level,” he said. “I’m teaching freshman now where I’m always having to reign in, saying, ‘We don’t need to go down that hole,’ so I feel overly pre­pared to be able to teach the things that we’re dis­cussing.”

Pestritto, who also teaches under­graduate pol­itics courses, added that approaching an under­graduate class can be dif­ferent because, for non-majors, he must spark their interest in the topic of study. For graduate stu­dents, interest in the program is already present.

Still, Pestritto says the chasm between upper-level under­graduate stu­dents and incoming graduate stu­dents is not as wide as it may seem.

“When you get some of the advanced under­grad­uates in our majors, often they may actually have more knowledge in terms of American pol­itics or political phi­losophy than our entering graduate stu­dents,” he said. “Some­times there’s a mis­taken assumption by the under­grad­uates that they should be intim­i­dated by these graduate stu­dents.”

Another uniting factor is Hillsdale’s ultimate mission. Pestritto described that what all of his stu­dents are learning is “desirable for its own sake”.

“We keep the career end of it in view,” Pestritto said. “But the threshold requirement is that you have to want this for its own sake, oth­erwise you don’t be happy here and you won’t learn very much.”

Tacoma is married, so his second expe­rience at Hillsdale is dif­ferent than his first. Humphrey is engaged and will be married this summer. Still, bBoth gush about the sense of com­munity among the graduate student body.

Pestritto says his favorite part of the program is getting to work with stu­dents indi­vid­ually.

Both Tacoma and Humphrey have com­pleted their coursework as graduate stu­dents and passed their com­pre­hensive exams, meaning they’ve reached “All but dis­ser­tation” (“ABD”) status.  The only thing standing in between them and a Ph.D. are their respective dis­ser­ta­tions.

Tacoma will write his dis­ser­tation on Calvin Coolidge and con­sti­tu­tion­alism in the early 20th century. Humphrey will cover John Taylor of Car­olina and his under­standing of fed­er­alism during the American founding.

Before Humphrey writes his dis­ser­tation, he has a semester of teaching U.S. Con­sti­tution ahead of him. After all, U.S. Con­sti­tution is part of the Hillsdale way.

“It’s an amazing way for us to give back to the school, because we’ve been given a lot through this program, and everybody has this expe­rience where they’re extremely grateful for the oppor­tunity to be at this school and to learn from these pro­fessors and to be in this com­munity,” Humphrey said. “It’s a pretty rich expe­rience.”