Perfect timing. That’s how Robert van Deusen’s foray into collegiate teaching can best be described. After serving in a wide variety of educator roles—from teacher and principal to instructional consultant and assessment coordinator—van Deusen felt there were still more aspects of the profession he wanted to explore.
Twenty-four years after receiving his doctorate at the University of Iowa College of Education in 1980, van Deusen’s doctoral dissertation supervisor, Professor Bill Nibbelink, began a phased retirement. This presented van Deusen with an opportunity to teach Elementary Mathematics Methods at the college.
“About the only thing in education that I hadn’t done full time was teach at a college. The challenge of helping twenty-somethings—a majority of whom had math anxiety—was exciting,” he says. “My passion was helping my students learn the conceptual basis for elementary school mathematics.”
As he taught, van Deusen was elated to discover that his students were “wonderful, dedicated, and passionate educators-to-be.” He also found that while most of his students were competent with procedural mathematics (getting the right answer) many had never been taught the importance of place value and number sense and therefore could not do mental math.
“When they became classroom teachers, they were going to be required to teach in a different way from the way they had been taught K–5,” he says. “It was therefore important that I teach them the conceptual basis for the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) using the manipulatives, visuals, strategies, and alternative ways of thinking that their students would need to know.”
He adds, “This was motivating for me and important for them. The most common response I got from students at the end of each semester on the anonymous evaluation was, ‘I wish that you had been my fifth-grade teacher—math would have made sense to me, and it would have saved lots of anxiety.’”
Van Deusen retired as associate professor of instruction in the college’s Department of Teaching and Learning at the end of the spring 2022 semester. During his tenure, he also supervised College of Education elementary teacher candidates in local schools. The purpose of the practicum was to give UI students an opportunity to operationalize their learning from Math Methods and use the manipulatives, pictorial representations, and questioning strategies that they had learned in the class with actual elementary grade students.
Van Deusen says he will most miss supporting student success and helping students become excellent elementary school math teachers.
So, what does post retirement life look like? Van Deusen says he has already been offered and accepted a part-time math interventionist position with the Mary Welsh Elementary School in Williamsburg, Iowa, where he’s lived for the past 24 years. His newest “first day of work” was August 11, 2022.
As for more traditional retirement plans, van Deusen and his wife, Bobbi Jo, plan to travel, including a potential return to Walt Disney World, and take in plenty of live theater.