Sydney Grossman/ Roundup
Standing in front of the class behind a podium does not mean class is starting. Richard Follett’s students know that class will begin when the Verizon cell phone, resting in its holster, alarms.
As the first openly gay man to be hired as a professor at Pierce College, Dr. Richard Follett, 62, has been an active participant in the student community for the last 26 years.
Recently, Follett chose to withdraw a nomination for being an outstanding teacher in order to allow others a chance to be honored and acknowledged.
The English professor’s unique personality and teaching style has acted as a magnet that draws students to his classroom every semester.
Follett teaches his students by recognizing the importance of using his own life to demonstrate new concepts within the classroom.
“My personal life becomes a part of the text book,” Follett said. “I am just sharing, not imposing.”
Sahara Ahal, 19, a fine arts major who was enrolled in Follett’s English 101 course, values his “entertaining, supportive, and professional” ways of teaching.
“[Follett] makes himself more human and puts himself on the same level as the students,
Ahal said. “Nothing he does in class is inappropriate. He never pushes his own beliefs on us and encourages us to share and hear the different sides and views.”
Follett cherishes his work at Pierce College and the diversity of students he meets through the several courses he teaches.
Through hard work and dedication, Follett has earned the Hayward Award for Excellence in Education from the California State Academic Senate in 1998 and received the first recipient of the annual Associated Student Organization, Pierce’s student government, Outstanding Teacher Award for excellent contributions.
For teaching for so many years, he truly appreciates the diversity and wide range of students that pass through the campus and his door.
He recalls the range of students who have come in and out of his classroom and remembers the youngest student being 13 and the oldest being 94.
“It’s wonderful to see people of those age ranges working together,” Follett said. “It’s a wonderful second chance for many of them.”
His students are excited and eager when they step into his classroom. They say there is nothing easy about being in his class, but you learn and are entertained.
“He makes his lesson plans entertaining for the students,” Ahal said. “He expects a lot, like a father figure, but if you’re interested in learning, he’ll teach you.”
Heather Sutton, 45, a communication disorders major, enjoys the way he relates his own life to the lives of his students.
“I am not offended by his sexual preference or the use of his personal life,” Sutton said. “He gives you a way to relate to real life. It’s relevant.”
Similair to how the students rave about his teaching style, the faculty at Pierce admire and treasure Follett just as much.
Donna Accardo, the English Department Chair, has known Follett for 20 years and recognizes his love for teaching.
“His passion, commitment, and creativity to working with students help reach their potential is his fundamental priority,” Accardo said.
Follett’s dedication and enthusiasm for teaching causes him to be fought over among the students every semester.
According the Mary Chavaria, a fellow colleague of Follett’s and professor of English, she admires his engaging and intellectually modest ways of teaching.
“He is very popular,” said Chavaria. “His name comes up a lot in the grapevine.”
Follett’s love for his students doesn’t end in the classroom; he also plays active roles throughout the campus and community.
He is the founding advisor to ACCESS for learning disables students, was the president of the Academic Senate, chair of the Pierce College Council, and has won several awards honoring his teaching.
Furthermore, outside of the campus community, Follett participates in a number of activities; one is being in the baritone section of the Gay Men’s Chorus Los Angeles.
“I enjoy meeting and knowing so many wonderful people,” Follett said. “I love the cast of people.”
Follett teaches several English courses at Pierce that include English 28: Intermediate Reading and Composition; English 101: College Reading and Composition I; English 102: College Reading and Composition II; and English 252: The English Bible as Literature.
Teaching is not only a job for Follett; it’s a way of life.
“It’s the students who keep me alive,” Follett said.