Award-winning teachers hard taskmasters

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Devor, Wuester, and Obergs courses are demanding but satisfying

The three 1995 winners of the University of Victoria Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards come from diverse disciplines but all share a common traitthey make their students work hard and their students love it.

Dr. Holly Devor (Sociology) has a reputation for being a hard taskmaster and for giving tough assignments, yet students wait in line to take the courses she teaches. Students like my classes because I empower them and try to make them feel intelligent and make them work hard, she says. They take things away from class that are relevant to their lives.

Devors courses range from her very popular statistics course to human sexuality and feminist theorywhich are both courses she created. She isnt content for her students merely to like her courses. Her own personal course evaluation forms boldly ask students if the classes changed their lives. Quite a few of the students check yes.

Devor graduated with a BA in psychology from York University and studied three years of physics at SFU before ultimately receiving her MA there in communications. While completing her PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle she returned to SFU to teach womens studies both at the universitys Burnaby Mountain campus and to the inmates of Matsqui and Mountain correctional centres through SFUs prison program. They loved it, says Devor. I met some of the inmates later on the street and they said the classes were the best thing that ever happened to them while they were in prison.

In other words, the courses changed their lives.

Professor Terry Wuester (Law) also admits to teaching tough courses, but The Woo, as hes known to students, brings humour to the classroom and his evaluations are glowing. His humour made the dry material come alive, reads one.

His language is gender neutral without losing its much-loved colour, reads another. Yet, Wuester is quick to pass the reason for his success along to his students.

Here at the law school, we have an unusually good student body, he says. I think high quality students result in a lot of high quality teachers. Not just me, but others on our faculty as well.

Among those faculty members, Wuester stands out. Hes won the facultys annual Master Teaching Award five times. After receiving his BA in history, the Kansas-raised Wuester taught and served as an administrator in a Missouri secondary school for 10 years before going to law school when he was 32. He credits several summers worth of education courses with refining his style.

While completing a graduate law degree at Yale, Wuester applied to the University of Saskatchewan. After eight years there, he came to UVic in 1975 as one of the founding members of the Faculty of Law.

Theres a certain amount of teaching skill thats innate, he says, but I still think you can develop it.

Dr. Antoinette Oberg (Education) acknowledges that her teaching, which asks fundamental questions about the meaning of education, is not always comfortable for everybody. It can mean calling into question taken-for-granted knowledge, normalized practices, and, sometimes, competence.

Although not comfortable for all, Obergs teaching has won wholehearted support from many of those who take her coursesthey include teachers in colleges, public schools, health service organizations, and government, and many of them sent letters recommending that Oberg receive the Alumni Teaching Award.

Oberg was first put in charge of a class when she was in grade 4 at a parochial school in Michigan. In her teachers absence she was asked to take on teaching duties for 60 students in grades 1 and 2. At that stage in her life as a teacher, she followed the subject matter and routines already in place.

In her graduate courses for established professionals in the teaching profession, Oberg does not teach established subject matter. Im not imparting information, Im creating an environment in which people can learn how to inquire and take up their own inquiries, says the education professor who received a degree in Slavic language and literature from the University of Washington, a post BA teaching credential in an experimental apprenticeship program, and a doctorate in education at the University of Alberta before coming to UVic in 1975.

Working with students at an advanced level is very exciting says Oberg. You never know whats going to happen. Its also very moving to be allowed to share in anothers struggle of finding an inquiry and taking it up.

Teaching, for Oberg, is not separate from the rest of her life. The boundary between ones work and ones personal life is permeable, she says. Teaching is an ongoing search. It encompasses everything. When the boundary between the personal and the public is put into question, it becomes an inquiry into how to live.


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