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Teaching in the Department of Social Sciences


The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.
-- Benjamin Disraeli
Counseling is a natural outgrowth of knowing, taking an interest in, and dealing with cadets as individuals. Its object, simply stated, is to help the cadet to improve. The professional counseling provided by instructors with recent experience in Army units is a major reason for West Point's largely military faculty. You will be involved in counseling cadets not merely in connection with your classroom work but in matters of individual, academic, and general professional development. Besides questions about branch and assignment selection, cadets are extremely interested in their instructor's comments concerning military schools, recent assignments, and the experiences of families in the Army. Counseling actions may take the form of anything from a formal meeting to a quick word in the hallway after class. Obviously, the correction of a cadet lapse from desired standards should be prompt, positive, and above all constructive. However, you are encouraged to counsel cadets concerning exemplary behavior as well. Instructors at West Point are professional role models for cadets both in and out of the classroom.
Counseling is a vital part of teaching. It is extremely important that instructors be alert for students who have special problems. Usually, instructors are the first to notice changes in cadet performance. Academic difficulties often reflect deeper personal, professional, or even medical problems, and you should be alert for symptoms such as sharp changes in class performance. Some cadets will seek anonymity in class. Careful counseling will help to draw them out and improve the atmosphere for the entire class. You should be aware of potential obstacles to open communication and attempt to find ways to break down those barriers.
Your effectiveness as a counselor can be greatly facilitated by accessing academic data files through the Dean’s Cadet Information System. This system is designed in order to provide the academic departments and tactical officers the ability to monitor cadet grades in a manner that would be more responsive to their counseling and management needs. If you identify a cadet having problems in your course, it is possible to review the cadet's grades in all classes and determine if the difficulties are localized or more widespread. It is also possible to review academic performance from previous semesters to pinpoint areas requiring special work or assistance.
Take the time to find out what is happening in the Corps. Be on the lookout for developing patterns both inside and outside the classroom that could impact on your teaching responsibilities, the honor system, or the Military Academy in general. It is important that you get to know your students as individuals as well as cadets. Feel free to talk to the cadet's tactical officer if you are unable to determine the origin of a problem after meeting with the cadet. An early dialogue should be established with the Tac of a cadet that becomes deficient during the semester. Many times a Tac will give you insights that will help explain poor performance or a sudden change in attitude. Instructors routinely should confer with Academy Professors or senior civilian faculty to discuss sensitive cadet issues or to draw on the experience of a Department member who has faced similar problems in the past. Breach of regulations, improper appearance and bearing, demonstration of a surly or lackadaisical attitude, or apparent lack of professionalism definitely warrant the counseling of a cadet. An admonition by the instructor is oftentimes more effective than the impersonal cadet observation report, especially for first and minor offenses. Again, a call to the Tac is always a good idea.
The Academy's mission, your position as role model, and the intricacies of cadet life naturally will expand your duties as a counselor outside the classroom. You will have many formal and informal opportunities to work with cadets throughout the duration of your tour at West Point. One of the most important for the institution, the Department, and individual cadets is the area of general academic counseling. As previously stated, the primary mission of every officer assigned to the Department is teaching cadets. That responsibility includes not only presenting substantive course material but also providing advice on continuing intellectual development in other courses or private study. Individual instructors are normally the first contact a cadet has with the Department; you will be asked many general questions about elective offerings, individual disciplines, and the Academy's academic program.
Prior to the first day of class you should review your NIO materials on the general academic program and the courses and programs offered by the Department. This review can be accomplished by reacquainting yourself with the Redbook, the source document for the academic program. Take the time to work through the details of designing the program you would take as a cadet. The two major academic decisions faced by a cadet are made before the completion of Yearling year. The first is the major decision completed in the fall of Yearling year. The second is the engineering track decision (mechanical, electrical, civil, systems, computer, nuclear, or environmental), also made that fall. Normally changes made during the Second and First Class years only serve to fine tune existing academic programs. In addition to the academic counseling provided by instructors, the Department Counseling Office and the Company Academic Counseling Teams (CACs) assist cadets in making these important decisions and help monitor their academic development.
Department counselors serve as in-house experts concerning all aspects of the curriculum. If a cadet has a question you cannot answer or one that requires a second opinion, you may want to talk to a Department counselor. The West Point curriculum is too complicated for anyone to have a ready answer to every question. As with academics, the important thing to remember is always to help the cadet find an answer. The counseling program is designed to ensure cadets, particularly those pursuing a field of study or associated major sponsored by the Department, meet core course graduation requirements and to assist them in developing and structuring their elective program. The counseling load is therefore very seasonal, peaking in the fall with the Third Class engineering sequence choice and in the spring with the Third Class selection of either a field of study or associated major. The semi-annual enrollment check period is also a busy time as counselors check academic programs for graduation requirements and recommend field of study adjustments.
The counselors serve as the Department's liaison with the Office of the Dean for most academic activities requiring coordination with that office. They are responsible for publishing Department supplements to the Redbook that outline recommended core and elective course sequencing for fields of study and associated majors offered by the Department in Economics and Political Science. Those guides have proven to be invaluable counseling aids for instructors and counselors alike. Additionally, the counseling office is the Department center for the following functions:
  • Maintenance of an academic counseling file for each cadet pursuing a field of study or an associated major in a Department-sponsored discipline.
  • Assisting Company Tactical Officers in monitoring the progress of cadets experiencing academic difficulties. At graduation a cadet must have a 2.0 cumulative quality point average (QPA). The Redbook specifies benchmarks for each cadet to achieve.
  • Initiation of procedures necessary for validation of Department courses.
  • In conjunction with Academy Professors, the coordination of all scheduling activities to include: course hour, section, and classroom assignments; course add/drops; term end exam scheduling and administration; and providing statistical data for use in course and scheduling support.
    The Company Academic Counselor (CAC) helps fourth and third class cadets understand and make decisions with regard to their academic schedule. There are many reasons for a robust CAC program, but two of the most important are: first, early, informed, and comprehensive academic counseling services are demanded by the structure of the curriculum and the important engineering sequence selection; second, participation in the CAC program is an important part of faculty development. You will discover that questions about the curriculum are second only to those concerning individual course work. By having a working understanding of the academic program, counselors become articulate advocates of a West Point education, particularly its applicability to service in the Army as a commissioned officer, and first hand sources of information about Department programs and courses.
    CACs have the greatest impact on the academic programs of Third and Fourth class cadets. Choosing the engineering sequence, picking the right field of study or associated major, and the subsequent design of an academic program are three of the most important decisions a cadet makes while at the Academy. The Department's counseling program is designed to allow CACs to play the leading role in all three of these decisions. One of the primary responsibilities of the Department counseling office is to assist CACs at all stages of this process.
    In addition to formal and informal academic counseling there are other voluntary programs that allow officers the opportunity to work with cadets outside the classroom. The Fourth Class Mentor Program involves the assignment of Plebes to mentors who are faculty members living at West Point or Stewart Army Subpost. Participation is voluntary for both cadets and mentors, and the program attempts to match cadets with families that have similar interests. The key element of the program is the opportunity for cadets to interact with professional career-oriented soldiers and their families in a home environment.
    Within the Department of Social Sciences the various activities found under the rubric of the Debate Council and Forum (DCF), discussed in Chapter 11, offer instructors the opportunity to get involved in an activity with an academic orientation. They include debate, West Point Forum, Domestic Affairs Forum, Finance Forum and Student Council on United States Affairs (SCUSA). DCF activities provide both officers and cadets the opportunity for out-of-class contact oriented toward an area of shared academic interest.
    Commandant's Representatives (CR) work with a corps squad athletic team. The CR serves as the liaison between the team, the Office of the Dean, USCC, and ODIA. In addition Officers-in-Charge of various cadet clubs have similar opportunities to get to know and counsel cadets outside the formal classroom environment.
    Academic counseling is a vital component of teaching, our primary mission. Counseling, in all its various forms, is a part of everything we do in the Department. Professional counseling is an inherent mission of West Point's military faculty. Get to know cadets as individuals, be alert to potential problems, and enjoy the chance to work closely with some extraordinary, gifted, and motivated young men and women.