Anyone who knows Dr. Carl Brucker knows that he is a man who always has a joke up his sleeve. Upon first arriving at ATU, however, Dr. Brucker was on the opposite end of the joking. “In 1984, I was teaching at Jamestown College, a small private college in North Dakota, and my wife and I were anxious to move to a less challenging climate. I applied to a number of schools, including two in Arkansas: ATU and UAPB. I didn’t know anything about either school and in that pre-Internet era there was no quick way for me to find out much about them,” he said.
“I was invited to interview by schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Arkansas, but I was confused by the Arkansas invitation and thought I was going to UAPB. I was picked up at the airport in Little Rock the evening before my scheduled interview by an English faculty member who started driving me to Russellville. I panicked when I saw a road sign that indicated that Pine Bluff was in a different direction. When I asked about the route we were taking to Pine Bluff, my misunderstanding was revealed. The next day my driver was sure to let everyone at Tech know that I thought I was interviewing at UAPB. It became the running joke of the day, but they hired me anyway, so I knew they had a sense of humor,” Dr. Brucker said.
Though Dr. Brucker will be stepping down from his position as department head in June to focus on full-time teaching, he has allowed his 36 years in the position to help him grow and learn more about his pedagogy and philosophy.
“I was appointed department head in my second year at Tech and in those early years I concentrated on increasing the number of departmental majors, believing that number measured my performance. In my first three years the number of majors in English and Foreign Languages (the name of the department at that time) more than doubled, but as years have gone by I have become less interested in persuading students what to study and more interested in helping students find an academic and life path that suits their interests and goals whether or not it benefits our department,” he said.
He has always carried himself with an open mind and allowed his environment to speak for itself when it comes to his methodology. “Years of reading student evaluations has shown me that diversity is a strength. Having faculty with divergent teaching styles, backgrounds and beliefs best serves the divergent needs of our students. In my best moments this has helped me remember that my way is not the ‘right’ way. I have tried to become more reflective of my own practice and willing to adapt my practice to the evolving needs of our students. This effort to adapt keeps teaching fresh and exciting,” he said.
In reminiscing on the years he has spent here, Dr. Brucker recounts that there “are so many” memories that he has. “Some are personal such as Ardith Morris casting me, my father and my son in ‘Brigadoon’ and then arranging so the three of us had our own curtain call. Others are academic such as the times the author Norman Mailer came to Tech. But many are less dramatic, small moments when I saw students make breakthroughs, mastering skills or understanding concepts that I believed they would never forget.”
As previously mentioned, Dr. Brucker is returning to full-time teaching, but he is excited to get back to the heart of what he is passionate about. “As a college student I never intended to teach and I reluctantly went to graduate school for the lack of anything better to do, but from the first moment I stepped into a classroom 52 years ago as a graduate teaching assistant at Rutgers University, I felt at home. The classroom is a place I love, in part because of what can happen there, in part because of the people who are in it. Classrooms can be sterile, stultifying places, but they can also be liberating and epiphanic spaces,” he said.
However, he pointed out that what he is looking forward to most is, well, “everything. I am eager to see if concentrating full-time on teaching will help me be a better instructor. I begin each semester with the goal that my classes will be transformative experiences for every student in them. They are rarely transformative for even a single student, but I keep trying with the naïve belief that I might reach the goal someday.”
Dr. Brucker is well-deserving of recognition after the decades that he has dedicated to the Department of English and World Languages. Even though he is turning in the metaphorical towel embroidered “department head,” he does not plan on retiring any time soon, simply because he loves being in the classroom so much.
Circling back to his reputation as a jokester, Dr. Brucker famously said several times, “I’m never going to retire. I want to keep teaching for as long as I can, that way, if I die in class, at least I will have 30 people who will never forget who I was.”