Historians Sweep Awards
Annual College of Arts awards honour three top teachers
|The top teachers in the College of Arts this year are, from left, Prof. Linda Mahood, PhD student Chris Tiessen and instructor Jennifer MacDonald. Photo by Martin Schwalbe|
The Department of History scored a hat trick when this year's College of Arts Teaching Awards were presented Sept. 25. The department is home to all three winners — Prof. Linda Mahood, sessional instructor Jennifer MacDonald and PhD student Chris Tiessen.
“I couldn't be prouder of these three amazing teachers,” says Prof. Terry Crowley, chair of the Department of History. “They're a credit to the department, the college and the entire University. I'm also proud to say that this triple win reflects the high calibre of teaching that has long been a tradition in the Department of History.”
Mahood, winner of the Faculty Teaching Award, has been upholding that tradition since 1995, teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses in the department.
“I believe every hard-working student deserves the chance to succeed at university,” she says. “My job is not to put obstacles in students' way, but to identify their strengths, abilities and aptitudes and to help them see how they might use them in their own intellectual and scholarly development.”
She says she works hard to present “fresh, original, well-researched and engaging lectures.” And students appreciate her efforts. Writing in support of Mahood's nomination, one former student described her as “an exciting teacher to listen to in a lecture setting or talk with in a seminar. Seven years on, I am still trying to answer questions raised while taking her class.”
Students also praise her use of her own research to make lectures more interesting.
“The students identify with the research process, even if they aren't all that interested in the particular topic,” says Mahood. “I did oral histories of Scottish people who had been in reformatories but were now elderly, and I tell my students about the experience of walking into those homes and sitting down and talking to the people. I play them some of the interview tapes, and they can't understand a word because of the strong Glaswegian accents. Understanding what you go through to get the information adds an extra element to their learning.”
She says it's important to understand students' needs and what they expect from a lecture.
“I find that the students of today are more sophisticated than they were 20 years ago. It takes a lot of work to keep up with their needs.”
Her biggest rewards? “When students get engaged in the discussion and are actively listening and participating, or they come up on a break all excited about an essay topic, or when it's been a couple of years since they were in your class but they stop you and talk to you about something they remember from one of your lectures.”
MacDonald has been teaching at U of G for only a year, but has clearly made an impression.
“Her class has been the high point of my time at Guelph so far,” wrote one student in support of MacDonald's nomination for the CLA Award for contractually limited faculty.
“Teaching is such an important part of what we do at the University,” she says. “Research is recognized and rewarded in many ways, so it's nice to have something that recognizes the hard work and effort that goes into teaching.”
For MacDonald, one of the rewards of teaching is seeing students make connections that she hasn't made herself.
“They'll give you a new perspective or put a different spin on things. Sometimes you see that on the final exams when people pull together what you've been working on for the entire year.”
Although relatively new to teaching, she doesn't worry that her lectures will ever get stale years down the road.
“You can teach the same course over again, but it's always different. If the students are interested in some aspect of the topic, you can go off on tangents as you respond to what they're asking about or wanting to discuss. That's a good thing — that's what keeps it interesting.”
MacDonald says she works hard to keep up with the breadth of material covered in her history courses and to find ways to make it interesting for students.
Handling all the marking in large classes can be a challenge, she admits, but she wants her students to have fair and useful evaluations. And that's where graduate teaching assistants like Tiessen come in, she says.
“Being a GTA is very, very important work, and I really value them.”
The valuable feedback Tiessen provides to his students was one of the reasons he received this year's GTA Award. Nominators lauded the time and effort he puts into making detailed and thoughtful comments on students' work.
“When I write comments on a paper, I have two aims in mind,” says Tiessen, who's also a GTA in the School of Fine Art and Music. “First, I want to let students know their strengths. I know from experience that there's nothing worse for a student's self-confidence than receiving only criticism on a paper. Second, I truly want them to be able to take away their marked paper and learn something from the comments I've left. My goal is to help them write a stronger paper next time. They'll enjoy the higher mark, and I'll enjoy reading it.”
Tiessen also believes strongly in sharing his own research with his students.
“Bringing my own work into a lecture is important for me because it's what excites me and animates me in front of a class.”
What does he enjoy most about teaching?
“I love watching my students become as excited about the past as I am. I love marking good papers, having great seminar discussions and having students come up to me during or after term to let me know that they loved the course.”