Carter still utilizes class discussion, 30 years later

As he paced in his cowboy boots in front of the classroom, an amused look formed on professor Ralph Carter’s mustached face. He stopped, put his hands in his pockets and looked at the class squarely.

“In Kashmir every spring, someone shoots at somebody,” he proclaimed.

If the lecture about foreign policy was not enough to fill a class at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning, the enthusiasm of its instructor made up for it.

Carter has taught political science at the university for 30 years and said the university’s high standards for teaching brought him back to his roots in North Texas after teaching in Kansas.

Carter was one of the three university professors who were featured in the Princeton Review’s The Best 300 Professors. After finding his name through survey research, he said a representative interviewed him over the phone before making a decision.

According to the university’s site, the website was used as feedback for the survey analysis. Although he had a rating of 2.7 out of 5 in easiness, his overall quality held a 4.5 rating out of 5.

Jillian Voigt, a junior political science and Spanish double major, said that if she could rate him on his Russian foreign policies course, she would give him the highest rating. She echoed the praises found on the site.

“He makes a complicated subject easy to understand,” she said.

Carter said the simple layout of his class consisted of visually stimulating power points and constant discussion. He took a mass of foreign issues and threw the subject back into the students’ field of experience.

Shredding through lectures was not of his concern as he said his goal for students was to have them learn skills that would help them after college. Effective communication, critical thinking and analysis were three skills he said students learned through the liberal arts.

Carter said his current motto was, “We all learn from each other.”

He said his motto had changed from his initial ideas of “sage on stage” teaching. Instead of just lecturing, he aimed to engage his students with discussion.

Because he saw his students as independently minded adults, he said he challenged them to look at the facts he presented and to voice their opinions in class or on paper. As he strove to engage students through open-ended questions, he said their responsiveness had increased through the years.

“We’ll go wherever the questions take us,” he said. “If students get interested or excited about a topic, I want to ride that horse as long as we can.”

Sydney Blowers, a junior sports broadcasting major, said Carter’s Introduction to Political Science class was balanced. He unfolded the material as if he were telling a story, she said.

Carter’s interest in political science started in an introductory course at Midwestern State University, much like the course he now teaches. He said it was not until his junior year that he shifted his future plans from law school to teaching. He said he followed his intuition after admiring the freedom and influence of his professors.

It was a decision, he said, that was supported by his parents. They were both in the military and had never attended college.

While growing up in Wichita Falls, he said they emphasized the importance of education. Living in a military base town with parents who were on active duty during the Cold War set the scene for thinking about issues abroad, he said.

Carter said he thought the odds were slim that he would find a job in a place that was home to many of his kin. When he found out about a job opening at the university after teaching at Wichita State University for four years, he said he was eager to take the job close to home.

“I feel very lucky to be here,” he said. “I like getting up in the morning and knowing what I’m going to do and enjoy doing it and getting paid.”

Professors who not only were experts in their field of study but who also invested more effort in teaching students were lacking at WSU, he said. He said, however, that at TCU he was surrounded by quality instructors who cared as much as he did.

Carter said he was unlikely to consider leaving TCU anytime soon.

“I can’t imagine leaving here unless someone knocked me off my feet with an offer,” he said.