“If you’re looking at your lap and smiling, I know that you’re texting,” is a bit of advice that Jeremy Sibold shares with the students in his classes at the start of each semester. That pearl of wisdom got a good laugh from twenty-or-so gathered in UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning yesterday to hear a panel discussion with Sibold and his fellow recipients of the 2012 Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching. Sibold, assistant professor in Rehab & Movement Science, was joined by faculty colleagues Dryver Huston, School of Engineering; Lisa Holmes, Political Science; and Angela Patten, English.
While teaching is about inspiration, sharing knowledge and a passion for learning, in reality it’s also about students who can’t understand why 85 out of 100 would be a B and not an A+ and those folks in the back row looking at their laps and smiling. As this circle of some of UVM’s top teachers got together yesterday to talk shop, the focus ranged from the lofty to the mundane.
A few nuggets from the notebook:
Angela Patten spoke to the challenge of making poetry relevant in a world of dwindling poetry readers—particularly in an introductory class with students from diverse majors. “How do I keep it relevant and interesting with out resorting to just playing the latest slam poetry?” One tactic: Grab students with the authentic, literal voice of great poetry. Patten packs her iPod, playlists including Dylan Thomas and other poets reading their work, to class.
Dryver Huston was the senior member of the bunch. Though not as old school as some of his retired engineering colleagues, whom he recalls would lock the door during class or toss students out for wearing hats, he did speak to more general issues of helping students with self-improvement beyond the subject matter at hand. Huston recalled lessons he once learned on study habits, “how to organize a three-ring notebook” and such. Huston regularly requires term papers and lets his students know that grammar matters, even in an engineering class. He wants his students to embrace the idea that “all the work you hand in is a reflection of yourself.”
Lisa Holmes spoke to setting clear expectations and a hard line early in the semester. She admitted that it took her a long time to realize that “it’s OK if not every student likes you. That is incredibly important. It’s hard to internalize, but really powerful.” Holmes’ sense of expectation carries over to individual students. If she notices that a student performs well on assignments and tests, but is timid about participating in class, she’ll shoot them an encouraging email to make their voice heard. Holmes favors that gentler approach to calling on them in class.
Sibold also talked to creating an environment in his classroom where it’s “safe to fail, safe to have a voice. I’m working to making them feel that we’re equal partners in the conversation.” He spoke about the importance of those moments when students fail, those moments when the important part of his response isn’t “you’re wrong” but what follows—”it’s because…” In teaching future physical therapists and athletic trainers, Sibold says he’d much prefer that students struggle in the lab than with their first real-world patient.