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Dr. Paul Benson Uses Stories to ‘Teach and Delight’

Paul Benson, Ph.D., loves to tell stories.

Storytelling is the best way for students to learn and remember information, Benson said.

“If you tell a story in class, students are … more likely to remember the information than if you just told them the bare facts.”

Sure enough, they remember. Benson recalls one day — just a few years after he started teaching — when he ran into a former student in the grocery store.

“‘Hey, I know you,’ the student said. ‘You’re Dr. Grimes. I had you at Cedar Valley in American Literature. Did I get it right?’ I said, ‘No, I’m Dr. Benson. I’m over at Mountain View. You might have had me in World Religion.’”

The student told him that he remembered a story Benson had shared in class. He then recited the story word for word.

“He can’t remember my name, my school, the class, but he remembers the story.” Benson said, and then laughed.

“I became a storyteller after that.”

That scenario has repeated itself through the years, illustrating for Benson how effective storytelling can be.

A One-Year Contract

After more than 50 years at Dallas College, Benson has taught everything from English and literature to world religion, humanities and even film courses.

But he had never even heard of community college when he came across a job posting for a teaching position in Dallas. At the time, he was working on his doctorate in English at the University of Washington — but he ran out of money.

He remembers going to the University of Washington’s business office one day hoping they’d have a job for a one-year replacement for someone going on a sabbatical. They didn’t. But they did have an advertisement to interview with Dallas College.

Benson decided to give it a shot.

When the interviewer reviewed his portfolio, he said “It’s a one-year contract. We’d love to have you. But I want to warn you, I think you might be staying longer than one year.”

Benson responded, “We’ll see.”

Dr. Paul Benson stands beside a tree dedicated in his honor as a pioneer faculty member at Mountain View Campus.

“I can’t imagine a better job than what I have.”

When he arrived at Dallas College in 1970, construction of the Mountain View Campus was underway. During his first semester of teaching, he had only chairs, a black board and no windows or air conditioning. And because they were still in the middle of construction, Benson taught over the sound of jackhammers.

But the experience, he said, was amazing and surprising. “What I loved first and foremost was the people here. Everything was so perfectly run, so professionally run.” He also loved the opportunity to be more of a generalist, teaching a wide variety of courses instead of teaching the same subject repeatedly.

When his one year was up, a friend asked him, “So, you’re getting ready to go back to Seattle?”

Benson told him, “Yes, but I really don’t want to go. I have to finish my degree.”

His friend asked him what his goal was. Benson responded: “To teach in college.”

The friend pointed out that he was teaching in college. And if he liked it here, he should stay and transfer his hours to a Texas school to finish his doctorate.

“I thought about what he said for a long time, and then I decided it made a lot of sense. So, I went to the University of North Texas and got my Ph.D., and I think my decision to stay here was one of the better decisions of my life … I can’t imagine a better job than what I have.”

Teach and Delight

Through the years, Benson has had the opportunity to create and lead several programs, both for Dallas College and nationally. He’s directed institutes for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, providing summer programs for faculty from colleges and universities across the country — the only community college professor to do so. These programs not only provided teaching material for faculty to take back to the classrooms, they also helped generate research in the field.

When Benson’s not in the classroom, you might find him around Dallas-Fort Worth presenting programs for the community on topics like Baroque art or famous Texas preachers.

But inside the classroom there is one thing he enjoys most: “Seeing that look of revelation come on the faces of students who go ‘Oh, I get it!’ or ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ I like to get them to thinking about things that they had never thought about before and to question things.”

He takes to heart a famous Greek saying for educators: “Teach and Delight.”

“If you don’t delight when you teach, it’s never that effective.”

And the way he delights in the classroom is through storytelling. “It’s the storytelling that I enjoy, and it’s what the students enjoy,” he said. “They take delight in the story, but they don’t realize how much they’re learning in that. So, I try to teach and delight.”

This story and others like it can be found in the Student Newsletter. Check your Dallas College email to see the latest edition.

Published inFaculty Profile