Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Dr. Ruff Reflects on Decades in the College Classroom
Dr. Ruff is a professor of History. He will be retiring at the end of the spring semester. He will be remembered for teaching some of the toughest classes on campus and also for inspiring students to go beyond expectations.
Some of his students havedropped out due to the work load. The ones who stay, often end up taking several classes with him.
Years later, students will return. Some even want to sit in on a class or two for old times sake. Others remark about how Dr. Ruff has changed their lives.
“I got into Vol State as a communications major, but I had a class with Dr. Ruff and five days after that class I changed my major and decided to go into history,” said former student Paul Love. Love turned that passion for history into a Fulbright Scholarship research project in Cairo.
“Dr. Ruff allowed me to do unorthodox study of the Middle East, with a lot of freedom to explore,” said Love.
“History doesn’t turn out to be most students’ favorite class. What I try to do is find out what the students are interested in,” said Dr. Ruff. “What I argue in class is that whatever a student is interested in- is in this class, history. The idea is to discover your strengths.”
In Dr. Ruff’s World History class, budding scholars learn to speak out and ask tough questions of their classmates. They sit in a circle, shooting ideas back and forth around the group. Dr. Ruff has one big requirement for the discussion: opinions need to be supported by fact.
“Almost without exception the students who come through that class are amazing,” Dr. Ruff said. “Now, they don’t always start out that way.”
Ruff began his teaching career as a graduate student at Auburn University.
“I remember walking into that first class and thinking- I don’t know if I can do this.”
His hand was shaking as he took the class roll and students noticed.
“They started laughing and I started laughing and it’s been great ever since.”
Ruff says that his graduate work taught him about another version of world history.
“History is tulmultous, it’s chaotic, it’s controversial and yet quite often they (textbooks and lecturers) don’t include that dynamism.”
“Most of my students are not going to graduate school, so they won’t find out about the spicy, challenging underside of history. So, I brought that information into the classroom.”
Others may argue that community college students should be getting just the basic facts of a subject.
“What facts? Ruff said. “The facts someone selects? Factual information is not neuteral. I think we’re not giving students credit for what they can handle and what they can do. When students are taught differently, more often than not, they will rise to the challenge.”
Dr. Ruff remembers a student who took the same course five times, always dropping out after a few weeks. On the sixth try Ruff says the student not only stayed through the entire semester but made an A.
Ruff is well-known for his dedication to student activities, such as the Student Government Association. His tenure as the sponsor of the Cheerleading Sqad was a bit of a stretch for the professor. He spent 10 years coaching and mentoring the squad, as what he calls the “Cheer Daddy.”
“I was demanding in the classroom, but when students saw that you were the Cheer Daddy outside of class, it humanized you.”
When asked if the students were less intimidated then, he provides a quick smile and a succint answer.
Dr. Ruff taught year-round for 35 years, finally taking summers off at the request of his wife just a few years ago. He says he has no big plans for retirement. When asked if he will miss teaching he gives an honest answer.
“I’ve never been retired before. I don’t know what it will be like.”
It’s clear though that his thoughts will be returning again and again to his students. It’s also clear that they will continue to write and call and check-in, even after 25 years or more.
“I have had so many outstanding students that it boggles my mind.”
Volunteer State Community College