Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Carlos G. Spaht
Professor of Mathematics
Louisiana State University in Shreveport
Didasko, the ancient Greek word for "to teach," can be literally translated as "to cause to learn." I always keep this idea in mind as I teach mathematics. I use tools including time-tested classroom techniques and computer technology. But perhaps my most important tool is the enthusiasm that I hope animates my lectures. In the classroom, I try to speak expressively and gesture with my hands and body. I try to smile and laugh, tell jokes and share anecdotes. My purpose in all this is simple: to get students excited, stimulate their interest and motivate them in mathematics.
I believe the true key to successful teaching lies in nurturing relationships and building rapport with students. I try to engage all learning styles, stay flexible in the classroom and set up unique situations where real learning can take place.
Although I have been teaching for 35 years, there's always more to learn, and I always try to improve my performance in the classroom. Since I believe students rise to the level of expectations, I try to create a supportive environment that nurtures exceptional performance. Because I have a genuine interest in each of my students, I believe that they reach within themselves and put forth their very best effort.
In the classroom, I use a combination of lecture, small interactive groups and class projects. In one of my favorite courses, I teach math majors to actually prove math theorems themselves. I encourage students to ask questions and make comments, and I try to listen carefully to their responses. I praise them when they do well, and I am patient with them when they are struggling. In a few cases, something remarkable has happened: Several have switched their majors to one of the mathematical sciences.
As much as I enjoy teaching college students, one of my favorite things is volunteering to help high school students. Ten years ago, I established Math Helpers Inc., which uses LSU-S faculty and students to tutor inner-city youth in the Shreveport area. Math Helpers has helped hundreds of students and has twice received awards from the Volunteers of America. Another program I helped create, direct and continue to teach is called Financial Independence for Life. This program teaches students and their teachers money management, financial planning, income protection and investment strategies.
I believe my biggest impact on young people has been through the Louisiana Preparatory Program, known as LaPREP. I developed this two-year summer program to help prepare middle- and early high school students to complete college degree programs in math, science or engineering. About 90 percent of its more than 450 participants have been minority students. Most of them are female, live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and expect to become first-generation college students. None of the former participants have dropped out of high school and all who have become eligible have enrolled in college; about 85 percent of them major in math, science or engineering.
When I was a kid, I experienced discrimination when my father ran for governor of the state of Louisiana. Since then, I have constantly fought for those who are economically underprivileged or socially mistreated. In my professional career, I have carried this over in the form of developing programs and educational opportunities for students who need encouragement to overcome these circumstances.
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