Dr. Jim Towers has made a career of educating students and educating educators. He’s shared his passion for learning with students around the globe.
His first teaching job after college was at a high school in the Australian outback — the wayoutback.
In fact, he remembers leaving the classroom one afternoon to investigate a loud noise outside, only to discover several kangaroos rummaging through the garbage bins for discarded food.
After graduate school, Dr. Towers again headed overseas, this time to Kuwait. “I taught in a private high school mainly for the embassy kids and oil people’s kids and sheiks’ kids,” he said. “It was a heck of an experience, living in an Islamic culture.”
When he returned to the United States, he took a job teaching in Illinois and eventually came to call Saint Mary’s home in 1988, when he was hired as the chair of the Education Department.
He took one leave of absence to help formulate a new university specifically for women in the United Arab Emirates. “That’s kind of an anomaly. It was one of the first ones to happen in the Middle East,” he said. “They needed someone to be the dean of the college of education and needed someone to start it up for a year. I helped put the curriculum together and got staff in place.”
Basically, Dr. Towers is a believer in lifelong learning and is happy to enable learning for students of any age in any location. Dr. Towers said he hopes that through the years he’s instilled in his students the importance of continued intellectual curiosity. “I hope it was effective. Maybe they can do that same thing for their students,” he said. “I hope they left with skills I taught them that they utilized in their own teaching careers. I’ve tried to teach the importance of adaptability and flexibility and caring. You are teaching one student at time; they’re not a herd, they’re individuals.
“Few things are more important than education, not only for adolescents but also for adults in lifelong learning. That’s a staple in everyone’s life and it should be emphasized.”
Dr. Towers has a quick answer to what he’ll miss most during retirement: students. And a half a breath later: colleagues.
Going back in the classroom in 2005, getting out of administration and returning to his roots with teaching brought his career full circle.
“It’s a satisfaction but also a real rush for me to be in the classroom and watch the light bulbs start popping off,” he said. “You can see the learning in their eyes, and I’m going to miss that. I run into people now and then and it’s always good to see them. I don’t always remember their names but I do remember their faces, and now they’re grown up with kids and teaching jobs of their own. They tell me they remember this or that about
class and that’s always gratifying.”
Dr. Towers said he will also value the Saint Mary’s community. “They were a very supportive and cohesive group of people. That is part of the ambiance of the place; the people are very caring; they care about each other and they care about students.
In his 26 years at Saint Mary’s, Dr. Towers held many administrative titles including chair in the School of the Education as well as dean and associate dean. He also served as Master of Arts in Instruction program director. Dr. Towers last title was Education professor
Dr. Towers has no immediate retirement plans. “I plan to let the world spin without me and see what comes later,” he said. An avid traveler, he does plan to spend the cold winter months in a warmer climate. “(Retirement) is the best job I’ve ever had,” he joked.
Dr. Towers worked in administration at Saint Mary’s until returning to the classroom in 2005. During his tenure, he helped to create the Master of Arts in Instruction and was instrumental in creating and founding the Master of Education in Teaching and Learning degree at the university. He also wrote a book and published 50 articles in reference journals and magazines, testified in front of the Minnesota Legislature about outcome-based education, and served on the executive board of Minnesota Teacher Education Association.
This article, written by Deb Nahrgang, was previously published in the Spring 2014 Saint Mary’s Magazine.