Class Act: Eric Fauss serves students as a tour guide through history

Eric Fauss admits he was not an outstanding high school student, yet he entered college with newfound vigor and swiftly became an honors student. But he faced a major dilemma, quite literally, once there: whether to major in music or history.

While notions of becoming a classical pianist happily frequented his head, it was the pursuit of history that eventually won his heart.

“I started out as a piano performance major, but I decided ultimately that I wanted to dive into my interest in both history and teaching,” said Fauss, an associate professor of social sciences at Amarillo College. “I feel like maybe I was destined to become a teacher; I come from a long line of teachers.

“I’m very committed to teaching history, forming relationships with students, connecting with people, and trying to inspire people to make the world a better place.”

Fauss completed a PhD in 2014 at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He joined the AC faculty two years later and it is fair to say he hit the ground running. Since 2016 he has served on numerous College committees with designations like Assessment, Commencement, Curriculum, College Readiness, Common Reader, and more.

Additionally, he has taught a host of U.S. and world history classes, and since 2019 he has successfully chaired AC’s long-running Creative Mind Lecture Series, which stayed the course throughout the pandemic, albeit virtually.

Still, were it not for his affinity for a role-playing game called Reacting to the Past, Fauss might now be teaching somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line.

He only learned about Amarillo College while attending a Reacting to the Past conference in New York City, where he met and befriended AC Professor Alan Kee, Ph.D. Fauss was intrigued by AC’s burgeoning penchant for the pedagogy he has long admired – Reacting to the Past – and when a full-time faculty position came open at AC, he pursued it.

That in a nutshell is how Fauss, a native New Yorker, found his way to AC.

“Reacting to the Past is basically about historical role playing that fits into what I try to do as a teacher,” Fauss said. “I met Alan Kee at a conference and we kind of hit it off.

Fauss parlayed that association into an online teaching role for AC while he was still living in Connecticut. “The next semester, when a full-time job came open, I got it, moved to Amarillo, and the rest is history,” he said.

Fauss attributes his fascination with history to excellent teachers he had early in life, and to inspiration gleaned from his grandfather, who on one memorable occasion took him to the site on which Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Now, perhaps not unlike his grandfather before him, Fauss likens himself to a tour guide of history.

“I think of myself as a tour guide for my students,” he said. “I want to guide them through the past. I think it’s important for students to have a body of knowledge about history, but also to get practical skills out of my course, such as the ability to think critically – information literacy, if you will.

“I think analyzing historical documents, doing what historians do, is one of the best things because it gives you such a useful set of tools for making sense of this very perplexing world in which we live.”

Fauss is particularly fond of employing Reacting to the Past in his classes. This involves students acting out roles of characters during pivotal moments in history. The character’s in-class debates are unscripted and based on student research.

AC’s shift to a predominantly eight-week class format has narrowed the window of opportunity for utilizing the award-winning pedagogy; however, Fauss not only authored a paper titled “Adapting Reacting to the Past to Varying Class Schedules” but he continues to try and incorporate the game into his classes.

“Some of my most satisfying moments as a teacher have come at random,” he said, “like the time a student came up to me at a grocery store and said he was interested in entering the human resources field after being inspired by our examination of worker rights in a game we played about the Gilded Age.

“It’s moments like that I really live for as a teacher. If by looking at the past I can open people’s eyes to the problems that are still in the world and inspire them to do something about it, then that’s a measure of my success as a teacher.”

Something else Fauss takes to heart is the annual Creative Mind Lecture Series, which has been an illuminating staple at AC for almost 40 years. Where in the past it featured a series of speakers and peripheral reading groups on a specific subject that played out over several weeks, it has become much more compact – and possibly more impactful – under Fauss’ leadership.

“We’ve identified a need for high-caliber speakers to come in and fill a void left by the College’s discontinuation of things like the Common Reader program and the Distinguished Lecture Series,” Fauss said. “Our aim has been to choose topics of interest to a diverse audience, to increase our audience, and to include students more.”

Recent iterations of Creative Minds have featured such noted speakers as Civil War authority S.C. “Sam” Gwynne, whose tome was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth, author of the New York Times bestseller The Midnight Assassin. Each participated in classes before delivering their evening lectures, which are always free and open to the public.

Fauss and his wife Stephanie met as students in an undergraduate honors class. They have an infant daughter who is fast approaching her first birthday.

“Becoming a father has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Fauss said. “But it’s been rewarding seeing her grow and blossom into a very precocious little girl.

The experience has made me reevaluate what’s important in life, for sure, and maybe now there’s greater balance in my life.

“Of course,” he adds with a grin and shrug, “I also find I have much less time to play video games.”