Lessons Learned – Insights from 2022 Teaching Award Recipients
Compiled by Kathryn Grossman
Every year, American University honors faculty by distributing Faculty Awards for teaching and service. The CTRL Beat acknowledges the deep commitment that the award recipients have demonstrated to promote inclusive and innovative teaching.
In this article, we take a reflective seat and hear from a few Faculty Award recipients about the honor of receiving their awards and their advice to other instructors. The insights of each award winner are encapsulated by an action statement, followed by the title of their award, department and school affiliation.
Insights from award recipients are presented in alphabetical order by last name.
David Keplinger—Be Receptive
Scholar/Teacher of the Year, Literature, College of Arts and Sciences
“To listen is to be willing to be changed by what one hears.”
It means a great deal to me to have been recognized by the university community as the 2022 Scholar/Teacher of the Year. My poetry happens, for the most part, alone and in quiet, “reflected in tranquility,” as Wordsworth said; my teaching is live and cacophonous and full of cross-talk and dialogue. Yet both come from the one source, which has to do with listening. To listen is to be willing to be changed by what one hears. I have been blessed by a career that has shaped me as a listener, even as I have tried to shape it.
I’m now a different teacher than I was, or will be; that’s the exciting thing about this profession. All that preparation, and then a teacher of the arts (or possibly every teacher) must show up with their eyes and ears open. As Parker Palmer says, not to fix anything, not to give advice. Not to control the discourse or merely spout information. But they get out of the way. They come to clear a space in which what has arrived on the page can be spoken of without fear or judgment. Improvement, rigor, self-awareness, even intellectual engagement all seem to arise from that place of trust in this process, which I find so challenging, exhausting, rewarding, and beautiful.
Peter Kimball—Be Passionate
Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Appointment Award, School of Communication
“My most successful teaching experiences have been ones where I am excited about the material and am able to convey that excitement to the class.”
Being recognized for excellence in teaching at the adjunct level means an enormous amount to me. As an adjunct, it is sometimes difficult to feel like a fully integrated member of the university community. One of the main reasons I am excited to teach, though, is precisely because I appreciate this community and want to be part of it. I feel that recognizing the work of adjunct instructors sends the message – not just to me – that we are valued and appreciated.
One bit of advice that I would give to other faculty members is that – in my experience – students respond to and long for your passion for the subject. In my observations, students in general don’t have a problem with tough grading, lots of work, or difficult subject matter, nearly as much as they have a problem with the sense that their time is being wasted. My most successful teaching experiences have been ones where I am excited about the material and am able to convey that excitement to the class. Even in an introductory-level course where students have widely-varying experience and interest in the subject matter, I find that students want to hear that what they’re learning is important – and they want to see in me that I believe that. I am constantly inspired by my students and by my teaching colleagues and I hope that we can all continue to learn from each other.
Rainey Ransom—Be Creative
Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Appointment Award, Justice, Law and Criminology, School of Public Affairs
“Don’t be afraid to change with the times and be creative on how you teach.”
This is the third time I have received this award. It’s a wonderful and humbling feeling to know that my classes make a difference in the lives of my students. So many of them have gone on to become lawyers, police officers, policy advocates for prisoners, etc., and I am so proud to have been a part of their journeys.
The advice I would give to other professors on how to be an outstanding teacher is simple–don’t be afraid to change with the times and be creative on how you teach. Students will respond to the discussion if you allow for innovative ways to introduce topics and expand grading opportunities.
Jason Snyder—Make an Impact
Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Term-Line Appointment Award, School of Education
“Receiving the University teaching award, when coupled with seeing alumni impact in the field, is a welcome recognition that AU’s School of Education community is helping to improve schools across the country.”
In the School of Education, almost all our students go on to education positions that make a difference in the lives of young children in their communities. That means we have the somewhat unnerving responsibility of ensuring the students are prepared to do just that. Receiving the University teaching award, when coupled with seeing alumni impact in the field, is a welcome recognition that AU’s School of Education community is helping to improve schools across the country.
In my classroom, learning results from challenging and cooperative problem-solving. On the first day of class, I tell my students that I will be a successful teacher if every one of them changes their perspective, hones their judgment, at least once (hopefully many times) throughout the semester. Those changes happen not because of something I told them. They happen during classroom discussions when students think critically while applying abstract ideas to practical problems. I have the (super fun) job of finding ways to give students opportunity after opportunity to do that type of thinking. The only thing as much fun as that is getting to know my students through the (required) 1:1 State of the Student meetings. I love learning more about each and every student’s background, goals, and interests.
Margot Susca—Be Innovative
Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Tenure-Line Appointment, School of Communication
“We need to create real world opportunities rooted in experiential learning and critical thinking to help our students meet the challenges they will navigate after graduation.”
I’ve been teaching at American University for almost nine years, and Covid posed new challenges at a time media and journalism are evolving rapidly. Winning this award is recognition of the time and labor I have dedicated over the years to teaching, to mentoring, and to curriculum development with a students-first approach.
My advice to others is to have classes that are in constant motion, evolving to teach new skills and new approaches to face problems that our students are eager to help solve. We’re no longer in a position to just update the dates on a syllabus year-to-year and show up twice a week to lecture. We need to create real world opportunities rooted in experiential learning and critical thinking to help our students meet the challenges they will navigate after graduation.