• John Sopper
  • John Sopper
  • Religious Studies
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  • sopperj@uncg.edu
  • 135 McIver Building
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  • At UNCG Since: 1989
  • Faculty Development Coordinator: Grants and Programs

     
  • John Sopper
  • Faculty Development Coordinator: Grants and Programs

     
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  • Why Teaching?
  • I suppose my passion for teaching was sparked in the animated conversations that swirled around my childhood breakfast table each weekday morning as my sisters and I prepared our breakfast and got ourselves ready for school. My mother and her siblings would storm into our tiny kitchen after finishing their night shifts on the railroad; deep in debate and still very much awake. The coffee flowed liberally and the topics were always controversial; typically violating the polite boundaries other households might keep around matters of religion and politics. Luckily for me, children were instantly and rather relentlessly swept into the conversations; treated as fully equal participants and partisans and expected to hold and defend opinions on anything and everything. It is the best reason for missing the school bus that any child could hope for.

    And from this humble beginning, my deep trust in the liberating power of thinking critically and my passion for sharing ideas and following conversations wherever they lead has drawn me ever more deeply into the classroom and a life engaged with students. During my time at UNCG this has led me to discover the collaborative approach of our learning communities, to tryout more experiential and community engaged pedagogy, and more recently to develop a keen interest in problem based learning and the design of technology enriched active learning spaces.
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  • Why the FTLC?
  • My initial introduction to thinking seriously about teaching probably came when I opted to do an “Independent Concentration” as an undergraduate. This required assembling a faculty team, countless hours in faculty offices explaining myself, writing up a plan of study and rationale, and defending all of it before Dean Harriett Sheridan and her University Curriculum Committee. From this nascent introduction to curriculum design I learned that vitality in teaching and learning has much to do with finding and tapping a student’s personal and authentic need to know. I also came to understand the importance of relationships in teaching. Getting to know your students, appreciating where they are coming from and establishing a balanced mentor/mentee relationship is a necessary part of the work of teaching, if, as I do, you hope to provoke students with challenging questions and teach in ways that make a valuable contribution to their lives (which are always individual and unique).

    From all of this followed graduate school and then the good sense to land as an ABD in the community of teacher-scholars known locally as the Religious Studies Department at UNCG. But it really wasn’t until I was an academic administrator and asked to assist with the search for a new director of UNCG’s freshly minted FTLC that I discovered the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network and the world of faculty development. When I attended that first POD conference, I was stunned to discover a vast and connected crowd of professional developers of teaching and learning that I just did not know existed. I discovered, happily, that I was not entirely alone professionally--there was indeed an academic home for people like me—what a discovery. From that point on, I actively supported and promoted the FTLC and in time have become a member of the Commons. Why? Because the FTLC promotes and celebrates the things I value most about the academic life.
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  • Why Religious Studies?
  • As the first person to attend college in my family, getting a degree instead of going immediately to work was both a big deal and a big responsibility. I had to do something in college that was truly worthwhile and a match for the depth of responsibility I felt at the time, not to mention the cost. In this frame of mind, it occurred to me that religions are where people go as individuals and as whole communities to ponder and deal with whatever they take to be most important; the things without which they imagine their lives and loves are “lost”. Religious Studies has not disappointed that initial search for meaning. At least for me, and the way I’ve managed to be engaged in it, the academic study of religion is richly interdisciplinary, endlessly fascinating and inescapably relevant and timely. It allows me to do what I love; teach and learn in ways that require breadth and depth, attention to meaning, values, nuance, and diversity, a critical mind and concern for the world.
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  • What one thing would you change about UNCG?
  • I want UNCG to be known as a place to come for transformative learning.
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  • What’s next?
  • To learn more ways to make that happen in and out of the classroom.
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