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An Interview with Dr. John Havard

a clock tower on top of a grass covered field

by Britanny Tran
Dr. John Havard is the chair of the Department of English and Philosophy at Auburn University at Montgomery. Interestingly, though, Havard did not always want to become a professor of English. He discovered his path as his love for reading and writing grew, eventually finding that English and literature were what he enjoyed the most. As a professor, he has found ways to share his passion for English through his teaching.

Dr. John Havard

Havard comes from Mobile, Alabama. At Mobile’s University of South Alabama, he was studying pre-law with the intention of becoming a lawyer. Havard believed studying English would be a good tool for his legal studies as it would prepare him for the LSAT. However, he quickly found his joy in reading and writing. After receiving B.A. degrees in English, Spanish, and Philosophy from the University of South Alabama, he went on to complete his Ph.D. in English at the University of Rochester in New York.

It was during the course of his studies while teaching Spanish that he first realized he wanted to teach for a living. After obtaining his degree and entering the job market, Auburn University at Montgomery provided Havard an opportunity that he could not refuse. Havard started his career with the Warhawk family in 2012 and continues to teach today.

Although he cannot remember his first time teaching, he can remember the feeling of it: anxiety. Like most upcoming professors, Havard scripted everything in his lesson plans. He wanted everything to be exact with a schedule.  However, he has become more flexible as time has passed. Over time, he’s learned to come up with a plan for what he would like to accomplish for a class rather than rely on a rigid schedule.  According to Havard, professors need “to be more open to respond” because he believes professors should make sure students “understand what is happening.” He has found that the feedback from students is essential in a classroom environment. Beyond helping as a teacher, Havard said such feedback is often gratifying. Some students, for example, say they did not realize how much they enjoy English and intend to read and write more. But along with the rewards, there also challenges to teaching.

Havard said one area he wrestles with is meeting the academic needs of AUM’s distinctive mix of students from varied academic backgrounds. Not all students arrive with an identical skill sets; some are more academically prepared than others. Havard said professors are “responsible in assisting each student to learn,” and teaching at AUM has helped him learn how to balance the needs of each student. “Helping students who needs help while stimulating those who learn quicker than others can be a challenge,” he said. Whatever students’ background or whether they are on campus or online learners, he is dedicated to providing them with a good learning experience.

Beyond the literacy skills and appreciation of reading one gains from a literature class, Havard believes the study of literature has a deeper value than some might expect. He feels literature helps students develop a richer understanding of history and people. For example, he said studies show students who read or study more literature have greater capacity of empathy for people because they think about characters, their motivations, and their behaviors. “Studying literature helps students understand society in general more-so than they think it would. Everyone should understand literature is a cultural record of history. We need to understand our history in order to make better decisions in society today. Unlike history, literature is more intimate. Because it is based off of emotions, it provides society a special look at specific issues,” he said.

Just as he took a circuitous path to finding his future career, Havard encourages students to reflect on themselves and their future plans. One piece of advice he often gives students is to “think about what they are good at and what it takes to succeed in their fields.” No matter what career a student may take on, students should be intentional about their skill sets and experience to get their foot in the door. Planning is essential for successful backgrounds in whatever they take on.

So rather than help people through the mastery of the law, Havard has chosen to help people by giving them opportunities to learn and grow through education. He finds fulfillment in sharing his passion for literature with the upcoming generation, helping prepare them for their futures and hopefully, giving them new ways of looking at the world around them.

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