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Teaching to the Individual

By Army Pfc. Emma Anderson Defense Information School

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With his brow furrowed, the student nodded as Army Staff Sgt. Marshall Mason, an instructor at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, explained a photo assignment and how the grading rubric worked.

Mason said he could tell by his glazed-over stare that the student hadn’t understood the lesson. The photos he turned in later for a grade confirmed his lack of understanding.

Mason knew, however, the student could do well if he were given extra attention, and the student earned a “B” on his final photo assignment.

“I teach for the moment the student gets it,” Mason said, widening his sharp dark-brown eyes and clenching his right hand in front of his face. “That instant gratification is what every teacher lives for.”

Mason’s drive to connect with people, especially his students, helps make him an inspirational and effective instructor.

Born in Philadelphia in 1969, Mason said he dreamed of becoming a famous musician. After almost a decade of pursuing his passion for music, he got a job at a tariff filing agency. It was there that he first learned information technology skills, which helped him connect people to one another.

In 2005, he started his own transportation business in Portland, Oregon. Within months, he was connecting his own drivers to customers who needed help transporting items across the country.

Near the end of 2006, gas prices increased, and he went out of business.

From November 2006 through April 2008, Mason lived on roughly $250 a month. He had a monthly truck payment, a monthly boat payment and a mortgage. He barely had enough left over for food.

It was at this time a friend, who was also an Army recruiter, suggested the military as a career.

Mason said he was tired of fighting to live above the poverty line but was hesitant. Thirty-nine-year-olds don’t often pick up and enlist in the Army.

Four months later, Mason was on his way to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

By the end of 2008, he had become a graduate of advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and became a member of the Signal Corps. He was sent to his first duty station at Fort Detrick and enjoyed his work on web design and mass communication.

He was a connection point between the public and the military.

“I loved it,” he said. “I like things to add up, to have congruency.”

He completed his initial Army contract of four years only to find no positions available in the Signal Corps.

Mason contacted a master sergeant in career counseling and found an available position in public affairs and re-enlisted in that field.

In May of 2012, Mason graduated from DINFOS, qualifying in basic public affairs.

A month after graduating, he was sent to Afghanistan.

Becoming a sergeant just weeks before leaving, he became responsible for two separate duties in the public affairs office where he was stationed. Mason coordinated press conferences, talked to members of the media, posted on social media platforms, and escorted important individuals.

He said he had a lot of responsibility but enjoyed building relationships with others.

In Afghanistan, his roughly cut, plywood desk was littered with boxes filled with files labeled with the name of every journalist who had visited the base. Having created a program that connected drivers to customers for his own business years before, Mason spearheaded the project of creating an entire online database that would eliminate the manila chaos. By the time his yearlong deployment was over, every file had been transferred into the electronic database. It was in this environment that he was acknowledged for his work ethic.

This acknowledgment would later help him be selected as an instructor for the Defense Information School.

After his deployment, Mason was stationed in Germany until 2015. He then moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, from which he deployed to Qatar with the 24th Press Camp Headquarters.

When a position opened at the Defense Information School, he took it. During the three-week instructor training, he was taught to encourage active learning in the classroom, but it was his natural aptitude for the position that set him apart, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Lindberg, a DINFOS instructor.

“They can teach you technical skills,” he said. “They can’t teach you experience – the stories you have – and passion.”

The way Mason puts forth his best effort encourages his students to put forth the same, Lindberg said. It creates a positive learning environment.

“He wants to see people succeed,” he said. “He really cares about his students. Mason puts in the effort. If the students put in the same level of effort, they will succeed in the course.”

Mason said he understands spending time outside of class to help students is beneficial to their learning, and he often comes in before and after school to work individually with them.

“It’s simply part of the gig,” he said.

Mason said he believes it is important to teach to the individual because every student learns differently. What creates strong pathways between students and their understanding of the material can vary based on who those students are. If an instructor doesn’t know who that student is, he can’t teach the student effectively, he said.

Army Spc. Mary Calkin, a student in Mason’s photography class, said it’s often hard for her to learn in a lecture-style learning environment. She is a hands-on learner and needs that kinesthetic aspect to help her remember the material.

Mason noticed this and helped her by working with her and her camera one-on-one.

“He always comes over and shows me how it works,” she said. “It helps the lesson just click for me.”