No Goodbyes, Just Good Memories
A letter from F. Neil Mathews, PhD
May 16, 2022
These are the words of Tasha Yar in the Star Trek Next Generation TV series. This also seems to be the most fitting way to say farewell to all my former students, colleagues, past associates, professional administrative staff, and friends at LSU. After more than four decades at LSU as a faculty member and in various administrative positions, I will be leaving in June.
I want to thank all my previous teachers who made these years and my career at LSU possible. It would be very hard for me individually to say thank you to each of them for their knowledge and understanding for what they collectively contributed to my success and education. I have grown to appreciate what these wonderful teachers from the past did for me. In fact, I made a list of them recently, which included all my teachers that I ever had from elementary through my doctoral program including the military instructors who passed along their wisdom and experiences. All of them contributed in some way to what my own education eventually has meant to me. As a result, my appreciation for just how much teachers contribute to and enrich all our lives has grown over the years. I sincerely hope that I have in some way passed on their collective wisdom to my wonderful students that I have had in the classrooms of LSU.
I would also like to thank the EBRPSS Bernard Terrace Elementary teachers. They were a critical part of my selection process at the time I was first invited to visit Baton Rouge for an interview for a faculty position at LSU. After a two-hour workshop presentation at this elementary school on the first day I was in town, they all voted in favor of me continuing the on-campus interview portion of the visit. In addition, my Missouri grandmother once told me that if I maintained the wit of Samuel Clemens and the leadership style of H. S. Truman, it would serve me well. Her advice has stayed with me forever. I am grateful to have been in the presence of outstanding students and teachers, excellent scholars, and dedicated leaders who found positive ways to advance knowledge and lead at LSU.
However, there are gathering storm clouds facing education today. With more than 330,000 fewer professionally certified teachers in the classrooms of America today then before COVID began, something must change. The issues of working conditions, ever-changing policy shifts, prescribed and scripted curricula, all intending to improve education, often have the opposite effect. It is driving great teachers out of the profession. University and college educator programs currently are challenged by similar changes with recruitment and enrollment issues, redundant accountability measures, ever-changing certification policies, and mandated program and course additions on a yearly basis. In the March 2020 issue of Best Practices, Drs. Kennedy and Baker from the LSU School of Education effectively summarized a pre-COVID survey they had administered to Louisiana school superintendents and principals in a written report for the School’s Office of Educational Research by stating:
“Principals and superintendents both identify the supply of qualified teachers as a major challenge. This is related to the overall decline in enrollment rates in teacher preparation programs, but also connected to the work environment for educators.” Furthermore, “they describe an environment in which school building level administrators have decreasing influence and autonomy with respect to the curriculum, ever increasing high stakes accountability demands, and a significant change in the student population.”
The identified factors by these school officials are leading to increasing levels of job dissatisfaction and problems with both recruitment and retention of effective educators. These results are supported in subsequent research. However, I have great confidence in the educational community uniting and coming together to find solutions. I will save my own personal beliefs for the future once I gain some perspective from my rearview mirror.
So, saying goodbye is never easy given the enjoyment that I have had in being a member of the LSU educational community. I will close with another quote from the famous words of a boyhood favorite. I want to wish each of you readers “happy trails”.
“Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It is the way you ride the trail that counts. Here’s a happy one for you.” Lyrics by Roy Rodgers.
F. Neil Mathews, PhD
Olinde Endowed Professor
Past Director, LSU School of Education
F. Neil Mathews, PhD, is the Patrick and Edwige Olinde Professor in the College of Human Sciences & Education and the Director of the School of Education. Dr. Mathews has served Louisiana State University (LSU) for the past 43 years in a multitude of teaching, research and service leadership roles. After serving as the Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Academic Services (2001-2008) and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs (1998-2001), Dr. Mathews returned to the School of Education’s Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice during 2009. Previously, he served as the Dean of the College of Education (1995-1998), Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction (1991-1995), Associate Dean of the College of Education (1989-1990), and Chair of the Department of Human Development (1981-1982).
Throughout his career, Dr. Mathews prioritized leadership, research, service, and teaching activities that focused on the educational psychology of gifted and talented students, teacher education, and higher education administration. He advised approximately 25 to 30 graduate students per year who were completing a master’s degree, educational specialist, doctorate or the School’s course certification program in gifted and talented education. Additionally, Dr. Mathews taught more than 25 different courses in the School of Education and received more than a dozen awards recognizing his scholarship, leadership, and service. His scholarly works include 81 publications in refereed journal articles, monographs, technical reports, and evaluation studies. He also has presented papers at 124 state, regional, and international conferences.
Dr. Mathews has served on numerous local, state, and national boards including the Louisiana Association for Gifted and Talented Students, the Evelyn J. Daniel Educational Foundation, and special advisory committees for the Louisiana State Department of Education, to name a few. In addition, he has led or served on more than 40 major department, school, college, and university-level committees during his tenure at LSU. His fundraising efforts garnered financial support of approximately $4,914,758 through grants, grant management and administration, and fundraising efforts. Dr. Mathews enhanced his numerous leadership roles through national professional development activities as an Educational Policy Fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Educational Leadership and through the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University.
Dr. Mathews’ teaching and scholarly activities have had an immeasurable impact on gifted and talented education in the PK-12 school systems throughout Louisiana. As the State of Louisiana’s first faculty member with expertise in the development of gifted and talented programs, he developed LSU’s certification coursework and degree programs to certify more than 1,500 educators statewide to work in parish school programs for gifted and talented children and youth. As of 2021, there were more than 136 programs in Louisiana offering services to PK-12 students because of his advocacy efforts, research, and professional development with school systems. A graduate student stated in a recent class evaluation that, “Dr. Mathews is a world-class professor who facilitates confidence and knowledge-sharing with his students through a theoretical and practical approach to curriculum development with the insight of a theorist. He generously shares his expertise in the field of gifted and talented education.” Overall, Dr. Mathews directly has influenced students and teachers in gifted and talented education programs in Louisiana since his arrival at LSU in 1979.