Earlier this month, I was honored to receive the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award from my colleagues at Plymouth State University. Several of them have asked me to post the text of my acceptance speech somewhere -- my friend Scott Coykendall (recipient of this year's Distinguished Service Award from PSU) posted his remarks on his blog, so thanks for the idea, Scott! My only other prefatory remark -- I found out after I wrote this speech that the accomplishments of my friend Liz Ahl, who won this year's Distinguished Scholarship Award from PSU, would be read just before my speech, so I babbled out something else about her on the fly.
After some initial comments,what's contained below are many, many thanks for pedagogical and personal inspiration -- I'm very happy to have the opportunity to repeat them here.
I’m having a wonderful sabbatical. It started slowly, until I gave myself unqualified permission to focus on my individual scholarly/creative work. Now, the days are flying by all too quickly – I’m barely managing to find time to eat, pay bills, interact with other humans, etc. I’m immersed all the way over my head in my silo, and I am LOVING IT.
However, while I’m swimming around in my silo, I’m discovering more and more things that I can’t wait to share with our students starting next semester, both in my discipline and across disciplines – things about digital media; enabling constraints, DISabling constraints, and the creative process; collaboration, individuality, and hierarchy; the structure of produced objects in and out of the arts; the exploration of how the things we make represent us in the world. In other words, my individual scholarly/creative work is feeding the teaching I will do in the future – as it has ALWAYS done, and always will do, for ALL of us in academe.
I strongly believe that my deep, passionate engagement with my specific area of scholarship and creativity led me directly to the teaching work that you have honored with this award. Our scholarly/creative work is the taproot of everything we do as university professors, and everything that leads to the success of a college or university – meaningful service, a reputation for academic excellence that SELLS, that leads to successful recruitment and retention, a prosperous and supportive alumni base, strong community support, etc. etc. etc. And of course, first and foremost, great teaching. Rich teaching. Passionate, concerned teaching.
If we as faculty believe this – that our scholarly/creative work is central to our work as teachers – then we need to speak out for it. If we as professors don’t advocate for this central truth, no one else will. If we as scholars don’t advocate for depth and rigor, even while working toward interdisciplinary breadth in a new model for higher education, then a timeless and worthwhile value of our profession will be lost. And the primary sufferers of that loss will be our students, the people we most hope to serve.
I have so many people to thank! If you think I should have mentioned your name, and I forgot – you’re right, and I’m sorry! First of all, thanks to all the wonderful teachers I’ve had in my life who aren’t in this room, who inspired me to enter this field as my life’s work. Special thanks in this regard to the Greeneville City Schools in my hometown of Greeneville, TN, and the master teachers I encountered throughout my twelve years there. They gave me a GREAT education, and taught me a lifelong lesson on the inestimable value of public education to the American people.
Thanks to all the students I’ve taught at Plymouth State, all of whom have taught me in some way, and so many of whom are now my colleagues and friends.
Thanks to the administrators here who have helped me be a better teacher for my students. I particularly want to recognize those who have won this award, or its graduate counterpart, in the past – Virginia Barry, recipient of PSU’s first Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985; Julie Bernier, recipient of the 2003 Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award; David Zehr, 2004 recipient of this award; and Cynthia Vascak, 2009 recipient. By the way, if you’d like a smile sometime, go back and look at the list of recipients of these awards – so many valued friends, wonderful teachers, great spirits!
Thanks to my colleagues and friends in the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance for their consistent example of dedication to teaching and student success above and beyond the call of duty. I was recently copied on an email from a colleague from another department, who wrote to tell us how much she enjoyed having majors from one of our disciplines in her class this semester. She wrote: “They are responsible, engaged, thoughtful, mature, and professional. They are strong writers and strong thinkers.” This is not the first time I’ve heard such words of praise about MTD students from colleagues in other departments, and I can think of no words that make me prouder.
Today, in thinking specifically about teaching, I want to mention three MTD colleagues in particular – Dan Perkins, whom I have referred to elsewhere as “a bright light through 24 winters”; Carleen Graff, who’s given me the privilege of watching a master teacher inspire my own son to engage deeply with the field I love so much; and Beth Daily, recipient of this award in 2008, who quietly, passionately, loves her field and cares about and inspires her students.
Thanks to all of you for the wonderful teaching that goes on all over this campus, among staff as well as faculty, all of you imparting important life lessons to our students with love, concern, and professionalism. I want to single out some personal heroes of mine – colleagues who are well-known on this campus as GREAT, GREAT teachers, who do what they need to do in the midst of teaching and service loads that have administrators and faculty members at other institutions shaking their heads in disbelief in order to remain deeply, passionately engaged with the scholarly and creative work they love.
Robin DeRosa, a master teacher whose acknowledged expertise in the shifting paradigm of contemporary higher education has led to her being named one of higher education’s 50 “must-read” bloggers by EdTech Magazine.
Lourdes Aviles, a master teacher who has published one book, and has contracts for two books in hand, with the American Meteorological Society – the principal scholarly society in her field.
Ann McClellan, a master teacher, who, despite the time demands of having a finger in almost every administrative and faculty reorganizational pie on this campus, is completing a book under contract to the University of Iowa Press.
Becky Noel, a master teacher who is spending time engaged in outreach to communities throughout New Hampshire with historical lectures about our past, and is completing a book under contract to the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Liz Ahl, a master teacher and AMAZING poet, who not only writes and publishes chapbooks – she makes them, and teaches her students how to make them too. Her first full-length book of poetry, Beating the Bounds, was recently published. Go buy a copy if you haven’t yet -- it’s wonderful!
Finally and foremost, all thanks and love to the best artist, best person, and best teacher I know, Marcia Santore, and my fellow students in her small-n classes of one, two, and three, my sons Peter and Thomas. Getting to share my life with them, and learn from them, is a constant joy and blessing.