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Teaching Awards:


List of 2008 Awardees

Photo Gallery from the reception.

Valerie Struthers Walker

To Valerie Struthers Walker, teaching is inquiry, both personal and professional. As a senior doctoral candidate in the Department of Teacher Education, and charged with designing a course to explore diversity in children’s literature, Valerie has learned to be a better teacher by studying her teaching, incorporating new technology into her classes, and striving to instill critical practices in her students. Valerie encourages prospective teachers to adopt an understanding of literature, continually challenge their own interpretation of texts, and pushes themselves for ever-deeper complexity and nuance. She holds herself to the same standards,
consistently examines her own instruction, and makes continuous efforts to improve her practice.

Recognizing that her students are the teachers of the future, Valerie employs the newest technology, asks them to create and maintain their own blogs, and uses modern methods to develop ideas, practice communication skills, and prepare for that future. As well, she encourages students to carry into their instruction the same critical awareness that she applies to her teaching. She is demanding of the new technology and she teaches her students to be equally demanding. Valerie is completely student-oriented. She works
closely with her students to elevate their scholarship, continually revise their practices, improve their product, and prepare for careers as scholarly and inquiring professionals. The committee enthusiastically awards Valerie a 2008 Teaching Excellence Award for her dedication to making “teaching as inquiry” more than a phrase.

Gina Garner

Gina Garner worked for ten years as a speech-language pathologist in public schools, and she is extending her career by pursuing a doctorate in the Department of Teacher Education. While at Michigan State, Gina has taught fifteen classes in MSU’s Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, and her students regularly use words such as “passionate,” “thought provoking,” “understanding,” and “respectful” to describe her and her classes. Gina’s passion for teaching is evident in her long experience, her syllabi, her student evaluations, and her professional demeanor. During her interview with the selection committee, as well as in the materials she submitted for review, she revealed remarkable knowledge, depth, and commitment.

Gina’s pedagogical approach is influenced by techniques, approaches, and assumptions she used while working as a special education teacher. As her nominator said, “She teaches students the procedures around special education that are relevant to all teaching contexts
and then goes beyond this introduction to help students make modifications and accommodations in the practices, assignments, and strategies they envision or use in their classrooms.” Gina also uses cutting edge technologies to create a classroom community for her students, posting updates concerning state and national policy, links for interesting information, and serves as a model for an instructor who leads her students into new ways of communicating and documenting their knowledge and experience. We are pleased to
present this award to Gina Garner, for the skill, thoughtfulness, and energy she brings to her teaching. Her colleagues and her students are fortunate to have her as a partner and guide on their professional journeys.

Steve Weiland

Dr. Steve Weiland is a professor in Teacher Education and Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education. His colleagues and students are fortunate that Dr. Weiland has chosen our College of Education in which to locate his passion for teaching, learning, and inquiry. Anyone who has spent time with Steve knows that he never stops making connections; his mind is a virtual hypertext-environment with links that connect literature, academe, media, sports, history,
and popular culture. That Steve makes these connections with insight, wisdom, and solid Brooklyn wit is an added bonus for those with whom he works.

A long time and successful classroom teacher and academic advisor, Steve was an “early adopter” of technology, stepping up to the challenge of online teaching and developing a format unique to the College of Education's online MA program (MAED) and “Course-Based
Independent Study,” a form of self-paced online learning that he employs through one-on-one communication between instructor and student. Taking his work a step further, he understands and teaches online courses as being about both the content – what students, to
his chagrin, might call “the information” of the course – and process – how “online abilities” represent an additional subject to be learned through the courses and program. His courses are thus “meta oriented” in teaching and learning, calling on students to think critically about what it means to live, learn, and teach with digital media and the internet. Steve is part Pied Piper, provocateur, classicist, and visionary – a rare colleague who connects our past, present, and future in an intellectual world where teaching and learning have become
immediate, constant, and digitally-enriched. This award recognizes his role as an innovative, creative, and excellent teacher who is always on the move and eager to bring the rest of us along with him.

Lynn Paine

As a doctoral student, Dr. Lynn Paine worried about whether her work could make a difference. In the opinion of her colleagues and students, she has made that difference, both in her international research in comparative education and in her teaching and advising of students as a professor in the Department of Teacher Education. Dr. Paine's goal is “to problematize the taken-for-granted . . . to juxtapose the familiar with the unfamiliar." Her graduate students cite her courses as the “epitome of global awareness . . . (she)
encouraged us to reflect on fundamental educational issues not only from a variety of cross-cultural and cross-national perspectives, but through a cornucopia of lenses ranging from feminist theory to postmodernism.“ As a result of Lynn’s teaching, her students
thought of themselves as "better thinkers, better researchers, better educators, and better citizens of the global community.”  Lynn purposefully attends to her students as learners, connects her research and teaching, and -- a characteristic common to all of our awardees -- makes her teaching transparent. Her effectiveness reaches far beyond her classes; she is a superb mentor and has guided dozens of students through their dissertations. That many of
her advisees are international students is of special note, for Lynn is devoted to helping them succeed -- personally and professionally -- as they acclimate themselves to the U.S. Endlessly attentive to her students’ development, one of them wrote, “it has been our
regular meetings that have had the most profound effect on my development as a scholar."
The committee was impressed with Lynn’s ability to articulate practices that contribute to her success as a teacher and mentor, and her humility in the face of the hard work of teaching.

Tom Bird

Dr. Tom Bird, an Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education, is a long-time pillar of the College’s teaching community. He infuses his teaching and mentoring with his habit of intellectual probing. According to one doctoral candidate who nominated Tom,” teacher candidates and doctoral students alike apprentice themselves at Tom's workbench. They value his pragmatism, his responsiveness, and his passion for putting things in the ‘tool position’ . . . for cutting straight to the usefulness of available theories, knowledge, and resources.”

Tom describes his work in as “getting down to work,” a process he understands as taking teacher candidates’ work in the schools as his work in the University. He teaches a reasoning process that involves the interns’ careful description of teaching dilemmas, systematic
consideration of multiple interpretations, and identification of alternatives for action. The oral consideration of these cases in TE 801 prepares candidates to write a case study. Tom refers to this process as “the assistant teacher’s workshop.” For doctoral students interested in discussing and improving their teaching, Tom serves as a mentor both officially as a course and team leader and unofficially as a personal guide. A wide variety of instructors, including many non-native English speakers, regularly visit his office to seek his counsel and his listening ear. He brings to these conversations the same insightful questions and skillful analyses that characterize his work with teacher candidates. The committee is honored to have Tom Bird as a colleague.

John Dirkx

Like his fellow awardees, John Dirkx -- a Professor in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program -- has been a pillar of our college for several years. A tireless worker, John literally took over and for a long time single-handedly kept alive the College’s traditional commitment to adult and continuing education, an area that at one time had four faculty. In addition to a heavy teaching load, an equally heavy advising load, a commitment to running a sizable State-backed information agency, and a teacher’s commitment to studying his own learning -- in his case at the Carl Jung Institute -- John has been a model colleague and a model teacher.  John too was an early adapter of the College’s on-line teaching, finding that technology an ideal way to communicate with and instruct his adult learners. And with his development of a Problem Based Learning format, John was among the first in creating for his students conceptual maps to help them navigate the virtual world of learning and, at the same time, explore their own personal and professional development. John is a tireless worker, a practical
innovator, a model teacher, and we are pleased that he has joined the ranks of those colleagues recognized for their outstanding teaching.

 

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