Six Named Excellent Teachers
“The cornerstone of Oberlin’s standing as one of the world’s great colleges and conservatories is brilliant teaching,” said president Marvin Krislov at the dinner honoring the 2012-13 recipients of Oberlin’s Excellence in Teaching award. That tradition continues to grow, he said, thanks to this year’s honorees: Patricia deWinstanley, Kirk Ormand, Taylor Allen, Mike Rosen, Marlene Rosen, and Jan Miyake.
“Like all great teachers, the six individuals we honor tonight do much more than just convey their expertise and wealth of knowledge,” said Krislov. “They motivate. They encourage. They offer advice and counsel.”
Oberlin OnCampus asked the recipients to comment on what winning the award means to them and to summarize their research and teaching interests.
Associate Professor of Biology
I feel truly fortunate to be teaching here, in large measure because of Oberlin students’ passion for learning. This passion shapes the classroom experience and makes possible ways of teaching that bring together students and teacher in a shared process of discovery about the world, as well as about the self.
In my teaching, I have been inspired by Marta Laskowski’s emphasis on piquing students’ curiosity and nurturing in students the habits of mind of lifelong learning. Inspiration has also been drawn from Steve Volk’s idea of teacher and students coming together at a middle ground, where the roles of expert and novice are put aside as all collaboratively construct and deepen understanding. Reflective of both of these inspirations is one of my favorite class projects: students, working in small groups at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, examine through the disciplinary lens of biology a selection of original art works related in some manner to love. The groups then craft and present for class members a temporary mini-exhibition of several pieces addressing one of two questions:
whether portrayals of love in art align with the growing understanding of the biology of love; or
whether the bodily experience of love is universal or, alternatively, is culturally influenced, as is the experience of depression.
The project thus uses art to create an opportunity for students to grapple with uncertainty–to analyze portrayals of love rigorously through the disciplinary lens of biology, to take stock of biases and limitations in interpreting the art, and to defend in writing and oral presentation their reasoning from premise to conclusion. Honing this ability to grapple with uncertainty is one of the key purposes of liberal education; joining students in this process and helping them to deepen understanding of the world and themselves are truly rewarding.
Professor of Psychology
In the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, a character says that “Charging a man with murder in this place [Vietnam] is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.” I suspect that this simile is true for teaching awards at Oberlin College. I feel privileged to work here with so many people who are dedicated to their students’ learning. The previous teaching award recipients have set a very high standard for those of us who aspire to join their ranks. I want to acknowledge that most of my colleagues who have yet to receive the award are every bit as excellent as those of us who have been recognized. I hope that we continue awarding excellence in teaching recognition for a very long time, because I suspect that we will never run out of excellent teaching at Oberlin College.
Of course, the most excellent teacher among us might as well be talking to an empty room if the students are not equally committed to learning. I am so very grateful to be allowed to teach our students. I truly believe that a good teacher is someone who cares about their students’ learning; an excellent teacher is a good teacher who is lucky enough to have students who care about their own learning. We are lucky to have such a wonderful group of motivated and caring students.
I am a cognitive psychologist who does research in human learning and memory. I have studied memory for conversations and memory for biographical episodes. My recent publications have focused on the illusion of comprehension that may occur during classroom learning and how students learn to overcome the illusion. Currently I have two separate lines of research: the impact of sleep on memory consolidation and how people best learn a new skill. Happily, I have excellent research assistants helping me with both lines of inquiry.
Associate Professor of Music Theory
I am honored to receive this award because it recognizes my high standards for a challenging and stimulating part of my job: teaching well. Teaching is such a rewarding profession because there is always room for growth, and improvements help everyone around you. Teaching at Oberlin is inspiring because our students are musical, smart, suspicious, inquisitive, and ambitious. Because of them, my courses have evolved to prioritize reflection, discussion, constructive criticism, honesty, responsibility, risk-taking, and—above all—musicality and ownership.
My research interests are easily incorporated into my teaching. As a specialist in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, most of my research is driven by such questions as “What makes this moment so moving?,” “How can I accurately describe the compositional style of composer X?,” and “Why does this music cohere?” As someone who loves to make music, I enjoy learning new pieces, new instruments, and new styles. From playing in the gamelan to learning banjo, I have realized that venturing outside my canon is rewarding for me as a musician and teacher.
Therefore, learning and sharing how to effectively incorporate outside-my-canon music into my classrooms greatly impacts my current pedagogy and research. While I have always dabbled in teaching new excerpts, last semester I formalized it and committed to incorporating an outside-my-canon activity in every meeting of my Aural Skills 1 class. This commitment felt like a risk because I was standing in the expert’s spot (the teacher) while often using examples that I was a novice to. While mistakes were made and acknowledged, overall it was a successful and greatly enriching endeavor for all of us. I chronicled it on my blog, Teaching Matters, and I am currently writing pedagogy articles about the process.
Professor of Classics
Needless to say, I’m deeply honored to receive this award. When I look over the list of people who have won this previously, I’m gobsmacked to be elected into their company. My colleagues at Oberlin have found incredibly effective ways of communicating facts, ideas, modes of thought, ways of learning, and their own enthusiasm for their given subjects. I’m not sure I belong in this crowd of excellence, but I’m both humbled and pleased to be recognized in this way. I’d also like to express my thanks to College Faculty Council (CFC), who make the determination of these awards every year; the members of CFC work tirelessly, and their work generally goes unrecognized, at best. The faculty elected to CFC also tend to be outstanding teachers themselves, so receiving this award from them makes me all the more appreciative, both of the award and of CFC’s ongoing efforts for the good of the college.
My research in recent years has taken two distinct directions. I’ve spent a good deal of time on ancient Greek and Roman sexual practices and sexual identities, which has led directly to me teaching a course on the subject (Classics 219, Ancient Greek and Roman Sexuality). I find it fascinating–and generally my students do too–to discover that the Greeks and Romans categorized sexual identities differently than most cultures in the modern West; studying those differences allows us a place to stand, theoretically, from which to see our own categories and practices afresh and recognize our own weirdness. My other major project has been a book on a lost poem from archaic Greece called the Catalogue of Women and ascribed to the poet Hesiod. The poem exists today only in fragments (quotations from later authors and literal fragments in the form of scraps of papyrus). I read what we have of this poem in terms of archaic Greek politics, and in particular as reacting to the conflict in the sixth century BCE between the aristocratic class and the growing power of the city-state. I just sent off the manuscript, and it should come out from Cambridge University Press in a year or so.
Professor of Singing
This honor is a complete surprise, and I find it so extraordinary to be recognized this way. I don’t think of this in terms of a kind of reward for a job done. I rather think of it as acknowledgement of the progress made by my students—when they suddenly open up to new ideas, or finally concentrate on the right things at the right time, and the voice reaches a higher level.
For me, teaching is more than making someone a better singer. It's also about addressing the entire individual, and finding opportunities to teach life-lessons. I work hard to get my students to allow themselves to be vulnerable to the music they sing, to delve deeply into the text, and express what music does to them and their audience on a visceral level.
At the beginning of the year, I ask students to use studio class as an opportunity to analyze each other's performances. I approach this idea with some sensitivity, and set out a few rules for them. The most important one is that anything they say has to first include a positive impression they had of the performance. This has become a tradition that we all enjoy. I get so much pleasure hearing these students critique each other in such a positive and caring manner. They come up with truly interesting and important observations, so I find I profit from this exercise as well. It also tickles me to hear the things I say coming from them. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing I'm making an impression.
I’d like to thank my colleagues for this fantastic award, and am quite amazed to be honored for work that makes me so happy and fulfilled.
Professor of Percussion
I am very touched to receive this acknowledgment of my work here at Oberlin. I am so glad to be a part of this fantastic school, and am grateful to be appreciated by my peers. I would also like to thank the conservatory administrators. Their support of faculty efforts, large and small, is peerless.
The aspect of my work that leaves me with the biggest impression is the quality of the students here at Oberlin. I love my students. They are fabulous people, with creative and wide-ranging interests and a wonderful work ethic. It has been one of my professional life’s greatest joys to collaborate with and learn from them.
During the four decades I have been teaching here, I have watched generations of these young people leave Oberlin and go on to lead enormously productive lives. That is the most a teacher can wish for. To add the recognition by my colleagues to this is icing on the cake.