Sudents Speak: Lives Transformed by Teachers -
Paroles d'étudiants:
Des vies transformées par des enseignants


For twenty-five years, 3M Canada has sponsored the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, the foremost teaching award in Canada. This year, the Fellowship’s silver jubilee celebration is inspired by the theme – “Giving Back.” In this book, Fellows are giving back to 3M Canada and to their students inspiring evidence of the power of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship. The book reproduces the voices of students as they recall what it meant to be taught by a 3M Teaching Fellow.

Our newer partners, Studentawards Inc. and Maclean’s magazine, through their support and encouragement, have demonstrated their commitment to teaching excellence and to the original goals of the 3M Fellowship. Thank you, too.

The students who contributed to this book have written from every province in Canada, from abroad, and from a wide range of disciplines and professions. They want their identities and those of their professors to remain anonymous, as they do not envision the book as a collection of self-congratulatory tributes to individuals. Instead, they believe 3M Canada, Studentawards Inc., Maclean’s, and future students can be inspired by their stories of discovery, inspiration, and transformation. This book resonates with gratitude.

The Council of the 3M National Teaching Fellows
Ron Marken, Editor
1987 3M National Teaching Fellow
c. June 2010

The Words of the Students – Part A

3M Fellows were an influential presence in my time at university, never overbearing, but there, and it didn’t take me long to find them. I met one Fellow a month or two in. I heard the legend of another’s classes soon after and took one in my second term. Halfway through my first term, I sent Professor X an email asking if I could join his theatre troupe. That was maybe the most important email I ever sent. I learned how to speak French with volume, conviction, and physicality (so different from the years and years of mumbling dull textbook verbs!), and in that surged a love for the language I had never known was there, dormant and ready to be set alight. And all those hours in the theatre with friends . . . our friendship has since become a model and compass for me, in university and beyond.

The university experience can often feel crammed and funneled, making one wonder what it actually is supposed to be going on. The 3M Fellowship, for me, became a reminder of all the people striving and succeeding to make it worth it, and a testimony to the need to recognize and celebrate those efforts.

~ Former student

In 1986, I decided to return to school. I was working regularly, but performing the routine daily tasks of the job provided me with little intellectual stimulation. I had no desire to pursue a degree, but I fallen into a mental rut.

My dearest friend, a college professor himself, had chanced upon a workshop for educators interested in critical thinking. The instructor was Dr. X. My friend was so overwhelmingly impressed by his teaching talents that he encouraged me to enroll in my first class in reasoning skills. I enjoyed it so much I took another philosophy class from him the following semester.

Many years later, I found myself with enough credits to earn an undergraduate degree. I majored in philosophy and minored in “Dr. X”, having taken at least ten courses taught by him. Along the way, I became involved in helping him plan an international conference in Informal Logic. I traveled to Amsterdam to attend a philosophy conference, and I served as his teaching assistant for a semester. Last month, I graduated with an M.A. in philosophy.

What is remarkable about all this is that my original plan included no more than taking a single class. That first encounter with Dr. X and his passion for both the subject matter and the art of teaching captured me so thoroughly my entire life has been shaped by it. I am now, proudly, the first and only member of my family with a university degree.

More important, I’ve learned to consider myself a true critical thinker. I have great confidence in my ability to conduct my life rationally and responsibly. Dr. X has gifted me with the skills I needed to learn to trust myself.

In teaching me about rationality, Dr. X has paradoxically succeeded in leading me to faith: faith in myself, faith in the genuine kindness of others, faith that every one of us can have a positive effect. His teaching regularly models all three. These are some of the hardest and most rewarding lessons of life. It takes an extraordinarily gifted teacher to be able to impart them. Professor X has the gift.

~ Former student

This is my way of saying thank you to Professor X. She is a wonderful teacher.

I was touched by how she “walks the talk” of effective communication, both in and out of the classroom. Professor X sets an open, warm academic atmosphere that encourages students to engage in animated discussion and experiential learning of communication skills. Her authenticity and passion as a person and professor have been a source of inspiration in my learning.

After taking a course with her and serving as her Teaching Assistant, I’ve recommitted to pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology. I was previously thinking of throwing in the towel.

~ Former student

Dr. X is personable, enthusiastic and hip! He has a true passion for anatomy, conveyed with ease to the veterinary students who learn from him. His knowledge base is incredible, and his ability to pass on and inspire this knowledge in others is a gift few other young professors in his position possess.

~ Assistant Teaching Professor Department
of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery

In a nutshell, Dr. X is the embodiment of energy and engagement. His lectures are so memorable that ten years later I can still hear the captivating story involving armies, archers, and generals through which he enthusiastically introduced our class to the field of strategic management. Beyond the classroom, his enthusiasm translates into a spirited student engagement and even stewardship towards his students. As one telling illustration, I am currently completing my own PhD in general management because, in no small part, Professor X’s inspired teaching and steadfast mentorship sustained me over the years.

~ PhD Candidate

Dr. X recognized the importance of traversing the gap between theory and application. He knew that one must not only be able to understand the fundamentals but also to apply those fundamentals to real world problems. And, not surprisingly, he was right.

Over my career, I have seen time and time again that the most successful people are those with strong abilities to turn abstract ideas into practical solutions.

~ Senior Trader Foreign Reserves Management
Financial Markets Department

Dr. X is a knowledgeable professor, a humorous friend, and even like a caring father. Because he is so experienced, you can ask him questions in every field.

~ Former student

Professor X was an encourager. She had a unique “realness” that made her my favorite, and this realness created an environment where my questions and perspectives were genuinely valued.

Dr. X was both a friend and a teacher. She brought out the spirit in me, not just the academic. Most refreshing was her humility. She didn’t seem to be aiming to prove anything, which made her wonderfully approachable. There was an overall sense of being on a journey together. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for her.

~ Former student

I first heard Professor X lecture more than twenty years ago. I never step into my own classroom without observing, quietly, how he taught me always to respect the views of my classmates – and to trust my own views. He exhibits a certainty that every discussion will lead to a valuable conclusion, a manner that wins over even the most skeptical student. I have never met an instructor who can so provoke a class of strangers and still end each semester with a roomful of devoted apprentices.

~ Associate Dean and Associate Professor
Distinguished Teacher, 2007

If one asked me to describe a true Teacher, I would say that I see her as knowledgeable without being conceited, passionate without seeing herself as a missionary, somebody with principles and at the same time with deep capacity for empathy. X, my favorite Professor, is all that, and much more. You have to know her personally to experience her extraordinary gift to invite you into the enchanting world of knowledge. Her classes are inspirational; her greyhound instinct to detect the moment of truth in every person’s ramblings is sustaining; the dog-eared, well-read books she gives you every time you come into her office become sentimental memories of breathtaking intellectual encounters.

Every time I see Dr X in the hallways, I am reminded that a University is not a place to make a career, but a place to share knowledge and ask questions. She taught me to trust my instincts and not to be afraid to follow them. She taught my daughter. She is her favorite professor too. What can I say – Dr. X is the real thing.

~ Associate Professor

A pivotal moment in my education came during a seemingly banal activity—drawing Lewis dot diagrams. I was with Professor X during her office hours, even though she was not actually my professor at the time. She had come to teach our section of chemistry for a week while the assigned professor left for a family emergency. During that week a course that had seemed dry and opaque became fascinating. Naturally, when my professor returned, I continued to attend Professor X’s office hours and went to her chemistry section whenever I could.

The Lewis dot epiphany came during the drawing of the Lewis resonance structures of the nitrate anion. After all these years, I remember this so clearly. We had just drawn a number of structures, and I thought I was getting the hang of it. Professor X suggested we do one more. “Pick your favourite molecule,” she said. Not having a favourite molecule would have been entirely uncool, so I picked the first thing that came to mind. It was a lucky choice because coming up with the Lewis dot structures for the nitrate anion has some potential pitfalls. Nonetheless, with a little help I was able to draw the three resonance structures, and I felt like I was getting it.

“But,” said Professor X, as she redrew one of my Lewis dot structures, “I’ll bet you’d like to do this.” Looking at this newly drawn structure, I had to admit that she was right. The structure had looked fine to me, but I’d fallen into that potential pitfall I mentioned earlier. When she pointed out that there were too many bonds to the central nitrogen, I could have slapped myself. Instead, I think my eyes got as big as saucers with the amazement that Professor X predicted what mistake I was going to make before I ever made it.

That moment was pivotal because it taught me the difference between lecturing and teaching. Lecturers treat students like blank slates. They endeavor to inscribe their knowledge into the emptiness of their students’ heads. True teachers, like Professor X get inside their students’ heads, and have a deep understanding of not only the kinds of mistakes that students make, but what those mistakes mean about how the students understand the material. And so it was that Professor X’s teaching attracted me to chemistry, and biochemistry and chemistry became my specialization, although it had not been my goal when I went to university. I took every class Professor X taught, and had many more opportunities to experience the exquisiteness of her teaching.

Experiencing that kind of teaching first hand, not only attracted me to chemistry, it also attracted me to education. I ultimately got my doctorate in science education, and have made it my life work to help people make sense of the science in their day-to-day lives. There is no question in my mind that I was set on this path years ago in Professor X’s office, while trying to figure out how the atoms in my “favourite” molecule would share their electrons.

~ Former student

Professor X brought passion to every lecture, making the learning experience interactive and entertaining. She wae involved in all aspects of the school community – which made her the best example of a “leader by example” I have ever witnessed.

~ Company CEO

Professor X was one of my teachers during my MBA, at a point in the program when many of us had secured exciting positions for post-graduation. Professor X made our future work lives real for us, post-MBA. He brought to life the challenges and disappointments we would likely face, preparing us to face them head on, in his endearing grandfatherly way. It was a true pleasure to be his student.

Three years on, I continue to reflect on the stories and learnings from his class.

~ Project Leader U.S. Consulting Group

I am a Psychology graduate, and Professor X was my thesis advisor. I can still remember the day I selected him as my advisor; it was in my third year when I attended a thesis preparation seminar. A number of the psychology professors spoke about their areas of research and briefly discussed current projects they were working on. While I was interested in many different areas of psychology, Dr. X captured my attention when he said that his thesis students are one of his top priorities. At the time I had no idea just how serious he was.

I think what impressed me most about his teaching style was the unique feedback he provided – something I’d never seen before. He used audio recordings. When I handed in a section of my thesis, Dr. X would put a few marks on my page and then audiotape himself explaining everything I could improve upon. What a genius idea! I have never received feedback so thorough, and my writing skills improved a great deal as a result.

Not only was the feedback more detailed, but also it was also quite lengthy! I still remember when I handed in the first draft of my thesis introduction, which was about 10 pages in length. The audio file was an hour and a half long. An hour and a half ! I couldn’t believe it. He was teaching other classes, completing his own research, balancing multiple thesis students, and attending many conferences and seminars. How did he find the time to create an hour and a half long audio file for me? I continued to receive numerous audio files over the course of the year with excellent constructive criticism, valuable advice, and of course his interesting anecdotes to help illustrate his thoughts.

Although the audio feedback was incredible and my writing improved tremendously, I think the thing I value most about my thesis experience was the personal relationship. I met with Dr. X once a week for an hour to discuss my thesis, which often resulted in off-topic discussions. He genuinely cares about his students and proved to be an excellent mentor.

I have since moved on to a postgraduate program where I am continually reminded how lucky I was to have such a great teacher, one who went above and beyond what was expected of him as a professor.

William Arthur Ward once said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The greater teacher inspires.” Professor X inspired me.

~ Former student