New to the Education Department: Assistant Professor Douglas Adams

New+to+the+Education+Department%3A+Assistant+Professor+Douglas+Adams

Douglas Adams

What is your educational background?
Adams attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to complete two undergraduate degrees, one in history and one in Ancient Greek, in 2007.
Immediately after his undergraduate experience, he continued on to the Master of Education program at Chattanooga and earned his master’s degree in 2009.
Having trouble finding positions as a social studies teacher, Adams went back to graduate school for a master’s degree in American History at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois, finishing it in 2011.
Among his many positive experiences at Northern Illinois was the experience of moving to the Midwest.
“I remember because, when I was a kid, it would snow, and it would snow for like two inches and they shut the whole town down in Tennessee. Then in DeKalb, they don’t do that. It was snowing, and they were moving snow with dump trucks.”
After graduating from Northern Illinois, Adams moved back to Tennessee and was hired as an elementary school history teacher.
Some years went by, and the thought of graduate school returned to Adams.
Coming back to the Midwest, this time attending UW-Madison, he pursued another master’s degree in educational policy, finishing it in 2016.
Surrounding and during his time working on his master’s, he taught courses in various states including Minnesota, Colorado, Ohio and Tennessee.
Upon finishing his degree in educational policy, Adams chose to move into the field of geography for his Ph.D.
Adams earned his Ph.D. in Landscape Geography at UW-Madison in 2020.
What is Landscape Geography, and what does it entail?
“[Landscape geography] is a field of cultural or human geography. My dissertation was on ‘who has a right to be memorialized in the city?’ It’s thinking about what groups are represented, how they’re represented and thinking about representation in a way that is ‘how do we make representation socially adjust?’”
Adams provided the close-to-home example in Chattanooga of the Brainerd Mission.
“[The Brainerd Mission] was a sight of confluence between Cherokee Indians, African slaves and white missionaries. It existed like that from 1817 to 1838, when the Cherokee were forced from their ancestral lands by Andrew Jackson.”
“There was this resurgence of memorialization through the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 20th century, and when it came time to put rubber to the road of memorializing this particular place, only the white missionaries are elevated.”
“The voices of the African and the Cherokee are not heard, but what is interesting is that the people that are doing the memorialization practice know that those people are there.”
“It begs the question of, ‘how do we view past injustices to make them and think about them in a social adjust way?’”
Adams stressed the importance of memorials as both historical sites of importance and contemporary sites of importance.
From this stance, the general public can review the values or motives of those who made these memorials but also review values or tolerances of those who remain to live with it.
A prime example he provided of this past-and-present phenomenon around the NAACP’s 2017 recommendation to Hamilton County, TN, to remove a Confederate statue from its courthouse lawn.
He noted that it is important, though uncomfortable at times, to engage in these discussions to meticulously dissect controversial monuments.
However, he continued, the goal of discussions is to recognize and right the wrongs.
Monuments like the one in Hamilton County, as he explained, represent an apologist sentiment, one that chooses to represent and defends the Confederacy through this memorialization process.
This process chooses to glorify soldiers who fought for the Confederacy as brave and noble while ignoring the overwhelmingly ugly aspects of the Confederacy’s slavery and cultural coercion.
“And I think that the stakes are really, for a lot of people, real. It’s not just a statute. It allows the sort of discourse of white supremacy and hatred to circulate that affects people on a real level.”
How did you become interested in history, the Greek language and Landscape Geography?
“I think it all started that I had really good history teachers in high school … he [one of his history teachers] was phenomenal, he made you think of history in critical ways.”
As part of this, his history challenged his students to question and rationalize why they thought the way they did and what supports their opinion.
“The subject matter has always intrigued me, but I think that that historical method of questioning, analysis and synthesis of documents and artifacts has been very alluring to me.”
Adams disclosed, though, that after graduating from Northern Illinois he “found out that [he] probably wasn’t the best historian.”
Though, his realization came less as a grudge against history but more of a deeper passion for geography, which eventually would lead him to earn his Ph.D. in Landscape Geography.
What made you want to teach in a university setting compared to high school, middle school or elementary school?
“I think teaching in college is really exciting … I put out an idea, [like an assignment to create] a lesson and unit plan that [the student] would be excited to teach about, and I’m learning so much from the students that are putting together these unit plans … it’s a different environment, and I think it’s very exciting.”
There lies a deep difference between the climate of education that Adams stressed as well.
When teaching K-12, teaching serves almost as a performance which the students rarely get to see from behind-the-scenes.
However, when teaching education courses in college, teaching often serves the same role of a performance but then also as a tour of the behind-the-scenes.
From this position, as a teacher who teaches future teachers, Adams can engage his students more thoroughly as they explain their own strategies for teaching.
“It’s so exciting to talk about the ideas of, ‘why are you creating certain things in that way?’ And, I think for our social studies educators, empowering them to do social studies is really important.”
Adams noted that, while some fields of study, like English or math, are easily and frequently tested, social studies and the other humanities are fields further away from that ability.
What type of classes are you teaching or will be teaching?
UW-Platteville is Adams’s first full-time, assistant professor position.
Currently, Adams co-teaches a lab section for the geography class Planet Earth, an Introduction to Education section and the Teaching Elementary Social Studies class.
In the spring, he will be instructing the Teaching History and Social Studies at the Middle and Secondary Schools course.
How did you become interested in teaching?
The prospect of teaching was present in Adams’s life before he could encounter higher-level education.
His mom had been a teacher at a high school in his hometown in Tennessee, and in many ways, she was his start to teaching.
She was able to put him on the substitute teacher list for the school and other schools, and from there Adams found his passion for teaching.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to teach at that moment, but I knew I wanted to teach.”
During his time substituting, he was also attending Chattanooga for his Master of Education, which provided him the foundation to tackle difficulties in the classroom.
He was also able to immerse himself in many levels of education which provided unique and fond memories.
“I remember one time I taught this third-grade class, and I wore a sports coat and this kid said to me, ‘do you tell the weather?’… sometimes you think that you’re looking really good, and then you have a third grader just kind of knock that out of you.”
As part of his wide array of teaching experience in elementary, middle school and high school levels, he also had unique extracurricular opportunities, like coaching track at Chattanooga and running the chess club at a middle school.
“I just think teaching is so much fun. You get to talk about ideas all day with people that you can get to want to talk about ideas, and I think it’s just really special.”

Do you have advice to share with students?
“If you find something that you’re passionate about then run with it. If you get to the finish line early and you decide that maybe your passions about that particular thing [have run their course] like for me and history, that doesn’t mean you can’t switch gears.”
“Find something else to do … and always go for it. I would say there are these sorts of opportunities that will present themselves for you in college that if they don’t work out, they don’t work out, but you’ll learn something from it.”