The University of Chicago Magazine

August 1997

Respect: Great teachers have it. And give it.


Classroom classics: Gregory Hillhouse (top) and Elizabeth Alexander(below) were two of 1997's Quantrell winners.

If good teachers are not, like happy families, all alike,they share certain traits. Take the five professors who received 1997 Quantrellawards. The nation's oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, the Quantrellawards went this year to a poet, a chemist, a writing instructor, a politicalscientist, and a biologist, but when they talk about teaching, similarthemes are sounded.

"It's very important to me to help students findwithin themselves their own opinions, their own visions, their own metaphors,"says Elizabeth Alexander, assistant professor in English language and literature.Awell-regarded poet (her latest collection is Body of Life), she quotesa friend who also teaches: "When someone writes something beautiful,I'm not the mother of that baby--I help ease the passage onto paper, likea midwife. I find out what words are inside of them, no more, no less."

Gregory Hillhouse, an associate professor in chemistrywho has taught at Chicago since 1983, says that "the most satisfactorything about my job is seeing someone who doesn't necessarily know if theywant to be a chemist and seeing their interest sparked."

Whether he's lecturing in the "Little Red Schoolhouse"writing program, working with graduate student lectors for the Schoolhouse,or teaching in the Humanities Core, Lawrence McEnerney, AM'80, says thathis teaching style "attempts to take the energy that I feel I bringto classes andd use it to get students energized as well." McEnerney,who has worked as a writing consultant for business, law firms, governmentagencies, and other organizations, says that his job "is not onlyto teach [students] the tools of writing, but also to teach them that toolsare never value-free."

When students write papers, agrees Nathan Tarcov,a professor in political science, "I tell them to have a real thesisthey are trying to argue and to present contrary points of view, ratherthan just picking a topic and writing about it. I want students to remember20 years from now how they fell in love" with the texts in Classicsof Social and Political Thought.

An expert on the brain structure of reptiles and birds,Philip Ulinksi, professor in organismal biology & anatomy, often findshimself reaching "away from my own area of expertise" when heteaches in the introductory biology sequence for science concentrators:"In these classes, we approach biology in quantitative fashion. Youhave to be as rigorous as the math department in adhering to the logic."

The six Chicago professors honored for graduate-levelteaching also sounded a common theme, voiced by David Tracy, the AndrewThomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley distinguished service professorin the Divinity School, and one of four professors to receive faculty awardsfor excellence in teaching in the graduate divisions: "By the endof each graduate course I teach," he told the University Chronicle,"the students have become colleagues."

Honored with Tracy were Jean Comaroff, the BernardE. and Ellen C. Sunny distinguished service professor and chair of anthropology;James Lawler, the Edward Carson Waller distinguished service professorin Romance languages and literature; and Robert Wald, professor in physics.Assistant Professor Elizabeth Garrett, who is a well-known expert on thefederal budget process, won the Law School award for best teaching. DoloresNorton, the Samuel Deutsch professor in the SSA and an expert in earlychildhood development and ecological environment, received the SSA awardfor excellence in teaching.

--Tim Andrew Obermiller

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