My highest grade in elementary school was a B in math. My father would glance at my grades with boredom. “What did you learn?,” he would ask. Whatever I learned would gain his interest. By seventh grade I wanted to become a teacher.
My training for teaching consisted of one summer course after college. The teacher insisted that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Having learned a bit about shaping behavior from my father, I thought that statement a cop-out. Science showed not only why behavior occurs but how to get it to occur entirely through positive means.
My first job, teaching 18 third-grade girls in New York City, and later teaching fourth-graders in a blue collar neighborhood, proved the effectiveness of basic behavioral procedures. When I began teaching at the university level, I worked with practicing teachers. They would get very excited when, in their own classrooms, progress came from reinforcement techniques.
I began creating handouts with exercises for my university students. One day I was carrying a foot-high stack of handouts. My husband spotted me and asked, “What are all those?”
“This is Handout Five.” I said.
“Well,” my husband said, “You have a book there.”
He was right. Handout Five, with a few added chapters, became my first book. I got another kind of writing opportunity when asked to write reading and math programmed instruction for disadvantaged students.
In the 1970s, behavior analysis began its rise as a discipline following the science of B. F. Skinner. I became editor of The Behavior Analyst and later President of the Association of Behavior Analysis. My institutional duties shifted, however, when I helped found and became president of the B. F. Skinner Foundation.
I love teaching. I wrote my most recent book to help teachers reach goals we all share; helping students learn effectively and enjoyably skills they will need to succeed in life.
Julie S. Vargas has given talks or workshops in 19 states and 12 countries scattered across all the continents except Africa. In the United States, her most noteworthy honor was being elected President of The Association for Behavior Analysis. Her contributions to behavior analysis have also been recognized abroad: In 2010 she was given an award for her work by the Norwegian Association for Behavior Analysis. Earlier, in Colombia, The Latin American Association for the Analysis and Modification of Behavior gave her its outstanding contributions to behavior analysis award.