The Greatest Teacher I Had in College

Dr. Phil Adler, Professor Emeritus
Georgia Institute of Technology

Meet Dr. Phil Adler

I will never forget my meanest, toughest professor: Dr. Phil Adler at Georgia Tech. Everyone knew that he was hard. He taught Socratically (by asking questions)and his track record was the best. Students knew his course would be excruciating and although he gave no tests, every moment in class was a test because you had to answer questions. 

I remember seeing him after class early in the first course. I wanted to make an A and had no idea what my grade was. He clearly told me, 

“Vicki, I don’t care how you compare to the others in the course. I care about how you compare to yourself. I will give you an A if it is an A for you, and even if you’re better than the others but don’t give me an A quality for you, I’m not giving you an A.”

What? I had to give my very best? He called me on it. Not that I wasn’t going to give my best, but being better than others wasn’t enough? I had to hit my very best? It shocked me into realizing that I had to do and be more than I’d ever been before. I hit a new high in learning and studying with an intensity that I didn’t know I had and was set free by the knowledge that I had to continue for the rest of my life to compete with myself. I can’t do a lot about other people and it is important to be a good human being that I am happy for others when they do well. A self-competitive nature helps you do that.

I also know that I took his first two course and was transformed. When I found out he was teaching MGT 4195 (that I had already taken) – I went to him and asked if he’d let me sit in on the class to learn from him and what he was doing. That is how good he was. I had found the best and knew I couldn’t miss the chance to get more, even if it cost me extra time my last quarter of college.

He shocked me by asking me to be his teaching assistant for the course, giving me an opportunity rarely given to undergraduate students. I worked for him and began to understand accounting like never before as I graded the papers of my peers. I had some peers mad at me for the tough grading, but I didn’t care. I adored Dr. Adler (and still do – we talk once a year.)

I still remember the things he taught me in the Management of R&D and the principles of helping engineers and pure scientists still stick with me. 

What he taught me how to have the common sense to understand people, what motivates them, and how to be direct and handle high pressure situations. I grew up under his tutelage and will never forget what he did for me. It began with knowing he cared and that he was good at what he did. I trusted him enough to walk through the fire of his words and the agony of the amount of study it took to learn.

By the way… he never gave a test. He didn't have to. Walking into his classroom was a test.

What I remember.
Dr. Adler changed my teaching style forever. When I started teaching and contemplating my best teachers, I realized that his was the only class that I could remember specific details about the content. Now, over 20 years later, I can still recall much of the courses he taught. That is what I want for my students: experiences not rote memorization.

Dr. Adler had the entire Management wing named after him in 2005 and now has his own “Dr. Phil” show in Atlanta.(You can listen to it online.) Last time I talked to him, he said he's the original “Dr. Phil” and I agree.

I'd like to challenge you all to think about your best teachers. If you're a blogger or on social media, take time to write about the person and if you can find them, print a copy or email it. This is the legacy we leave teaching, we say thank you to those who have sacrificed for us. 

Thank you, Dr. Adler. You still rock my mind!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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