and Teaching by Example:
Teaching teachers is an important part of what Longwood has been about since 1839. Educators say that every K-12 student in the Commonwealth, at some time, is taught by a Longwood alum. Preparing tomorrow's teachers is the work of the Longwood School of Education and Human Services, and the scholar-leader of this school, since 1997, is J. David Smith.
Dean Smith has led the school into new funding, new programs, a new emphasis on community partnerships, and a new emphasis on technology. Although, in recent years, less federal and state funding has been available for education programs in higher ed, Longwood has garnered more. Says Smith, "We target opportunities where we can do something special."
Something special also describes the faculty of the School of Education and Human Services. Says Smith, "This faculty is remarkable the hardest working faculty I've ever been associated with. They put in many hours beyond what is required. They are out in the school districts and social service agencies, sharing experiences with working professionals."
Dean Smith has a broad basis for comparison. Before coming to Longwood he chaired the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of South Carolina, taught as a professor of education and human development at Lynchburg College, and worked as a clinical instructor in the Child Study Center at Columbia University. He also taught at Brooklyn College in New York and Virginia Commonwealth University as well as teaching and counseling in the Richmond public schools. He was a teacher and a teacher trainer for the Peace Corps, assigned along with his wife, Joyce, to Port Antonio, Jamaica, for two years. He holds degrees from Columbia and Virginia Commonwealth universities and teaching certificates in special education, psychology and sociology. He is a licensed professional counselor.
Having devoted his professional life to education and in particular to the education of special needs children, Smith tells a poignant story of how it all began in his latest book Inclusion: Schools for all Students. (See "The Story of Nan," page 12.) Inclusion is a textbook for teachers of children whose special needs may be due to learning disabilities, mental retardation, behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, speech and language disabilities, vision or hearing impairments, or special gifts and talents. Preceding each chapter is a gift a story, usually drawn from Smith's life, worthy of Mark Twain or an Appalachian raconteur, but with excellent diction.
Inclusion, published in 1998, is the latest of 11 books authored or co-authored by Smith. The yellow pad he carries along on trips to conferences also yields chapters and articles for books and professional journals. These include The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences and close to 100 others.
In recognition of service, scholarship, teaching, mentoring and concern for humanity, the Council for Exceptional Children, Division on Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, honored Smith with the 1999 Burton Blatt Humanitarian Award. This national honor is presented annually to an individual "who has exerted exceptional effort in furthering the cause of persons with mental retardation and/or developmental disabilities."
Behind Smith's professional work, prolific publishing and leadership of the School of Education are a few well-defined tenets.
First is his esteem for teachers. He says, "People sometimes forget a most basic truth about schools that teachers are the soul of the educational process. I believe that a loving teacher is one of the most powerful and positive forces there can be in any society."
Second are his beliefs on what it takes to make a good teacher: "You've got to love to teach love the process, the feeling, the exchange. You've got to love what you teach. Love who you teach."
He believes that a school of education can prepare this kind of teacher, "by conveying the philosophy and modeling the philosophy that every child has the right to be seen as a person with potential. Every child deserves to be seen as a person who can learn, who can become a happy and productive citizen.
President and Provost and I are actively involved with the faculty in
expanding the variety of programs and the quality of programs at Longwood
to produce citizen leaders prepared to take their place in society,
prepared to make a living and make a life for themselves.
And, finally, he believes in the value of public schools: "Public schools are central to maintaining a democracy. We have to support them, put great teachers in them, because the health of our democracy depends upon it. Schools are the places where children come together and have certain shared experiences that prepare them to be contributing members of a democracy. What they learn enables them to be active participants in their society, to share in its benefits and to assume their responsibilities as citizens."
Smith has built his life's work upon these beliefs. In the epilogue to Inclusion, he reminds teachers, "In the rush and complexity of our work, we can easily forget the values that originally motivated us to become educators. Occasionally, however, it is important that we pause and recall that we started on this journey believing in the worth of and the possibilities in the lives of the students we teach. We need to recognize that our belief in the promise and potential of all people continues to be what is truly miraculous about our profession."
Editor's Note: Dean Smith has accepted the position of Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, effective June 1, 2002. This opportunity is a testament to the leadership he has demonstrated at Longwood for the past five years. He will be missed.
Photographs by Judy McReynolds