Stephen Chew - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Stephen Chew
Professor and Chair, Psychology
Samford University
Birmingham, Ala.

The Slippery Slope to Effective Teaching

Thank you, Amy. I am deeply honored to receive this recognition. I am grateful to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for highlighting the critical role of undergraduate education. And I am especially indebted to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The amazing people I've met from Carnegie and through their programs have had a profound effect on me. I mean, I thought I knew a lot about teaching until I spent five minutes with Lee Shulman (former Carnegie president).

An occasion such as this demands that I acknowledge my own teaching role models, so please forgive me while I name some people who were instrumental to my being here. I'm proud that my first teacher, my father, is here today to see this. I have to thank Gerry Dalby from Carter High, Bob Young and Janet Spence from the University of Texas and Jim Jenkins and Herb Pick from the University of Minnesota.

When I got notice of this award, I thought about my journey from graduate school to here because the purpose of this award is to encourage others to make that same passage. When I was in graduate school, our entire training on how to teach consisted of three, one-hour meetings. One was on how to write a syllabus, one was on how to avoid annoying habits while lecturing, but the most important one was on the magic percentages. These were the percentages of A's, B's, C's and so on that you had to give to be a good teacher. If you stuck to the magic percentages, you would always be considered a good teacher. You weren't too easy or too hard. You weren't contributing to grade inflation. No one could criticize you as long as you figured out some way to get those magic percentages. They were so important that I wrote them down on a sheet of paper and kept it in my desk drawer.

So, I approached my first job with confidence. I devised ways to get the magic percentages and figured CASE would be calling me in a few months. But after a few years of teaching, I confronted the question that I think all faculty face at some point-a question that marks a critical juncture in their career-"I wonder what my students are learning?" A lot of faculty members turn away from that question. They convince themselves that it isn't important or it's pointless to even ask because there is nothing they can do to change it. Some faculty, though, embrace the question. And this question leads to other questions, such as, "What can I do to help students learn?" Such faculty bring all their scholarly curiosity, creativity and requirements for evidence to bear on the problem of improving student learning. And that is how, one day, I gave up on magic percentages and threw the paper away. Thus began my journey down the slippery slope to effective teaching.

Once you adopt the attitude that the measure of teaching effectiveness is student learning, a lot of teaching's most difficult conundrums become solvable. You learn the difference between teaching that makes it easy for students to learn and teaching that makes it easy for students to make a good grade. You give up moving from teaching fad to teaching fad and start to develop knowledge that will move the whole teaching enterprise forward. You give up the idea that good students make for good classes, and you realize that great teachers can create great students, and great students, like Amy Fineburg, can inspire and create great teachers.

Finally, you realize that great teaching is a selfless act. Student learning comes before your own ego and convenience, and you rely heavily on the support of family, colleagues and the school's administration. I am happy to have Daisy and Michael here to share this award as well as many family, friends and colleagues. I'm especially pleased to have Rod Davis here, who convinced me to come to Samford and has provided unwavering support for me.

I am certainly fortunate to have been selected for this honor from among many deserving teachers. I believe deeply in the principles this award represents. It emphasizes the importance of undergraduate education. It stresses the primacy of student learning and that great teaching matters. Finally, it says that faculty can be outstanding scholars and, unapologetically, outstanding teachers. Thank you.