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 D

J’ai rencontré Prof. X pour la première fois dans un de ces fameux cours de sociologie. Dans ce cours, comme dans tous les cours que je suivrais avec elle au cours des années à venir, elle m’avait ravie par sa capacité d’enseigner sans dépendre sur des notes de cours ou sur d’autres supports. Elle arrivait en classe avec sa sacoche dans une main, et souvent, un café dans l’autre. Sans artifice, elle réussissait à captiver l’attention de tout un auditoire d’étudiants de deuxième année.

La même année, lorsque je l’ai approchée pour discuter un peu de mon insatisfaction avec certains cours du programme, elle m’a sagement conseillée de prendre les cours comme un tremplin vers mes propres intérêts. C’est une recommandation que je retiens jusqu’à ce jour : à l’université, comme ailleurs, si on veut pousser plus loin sa connaissance, il faut chercher au-delà des enseignements de base. Plus encore que le contenu de ses cours en théorie critique ou en épistémologie, elle m’a appris que la quête du savoir demande créativité et autonomie.

~ Former Student

Due to a lengthy set of circumstances as I was leaving high school in northern Alberta in the mid-70s, going to university was a missed opportunity. Instead, I relied on what I could do: write reasonably well. Before graduation, I became a reporter for the small town paper and my vocation as a journalist lurched forward by trial and error. Years later, I thought I’d stretch my skills with some university classes. I enrolled as a mature student at the University of X and followed the advice of many who insisted, “Take anything Dr. X teaches. Anything.”

Never once did Dr. X give even the slightest impression it was her teaching that mattered; rather, it was what she was teaching about that was profound. She encouraged us to revel in the material, to turn it over and over and look at it from different angles, to immerse ourselves deeply in the work of the authors. Now I appreciate how her profound love and respect for the material and her passion to help students gain that same appreciation—not discrete teaching skills—make her an outstanding teacher. But throughout that class, it was also her magic in the classroom I looked forward to each week. My brain hummed as Dr. X repeatedly pulled something fresh out of her literary hat for us to ponder.

I’ve taken more classes since then from other professors in other subjects. That English class remains the best university experience for me because of Dr. X’s abiding love of words, of works of literature and poetry, and her belief that good writing is an essential art; creating it and reading it nourishes our souls. I still keep one of my essays from the class. Across the top she wrote, “I expect to see you enrolled for an English degree, with Honours.” Receiving my diploma could not have been more deeply satisfying than knowing she believed I could accomplish it.

Her advice is sometimes problematic for a writer who is often paid by the word. But 22 years after taking her class, she still sits on my shoulder and whispers as I work: “Good writing requires clarity and economy and, if we are very good and very lucky, one day we also write with grace.”

Because of her, I’m still working on it.

~ Professional Writer & Writing Consultant

Professor X is inspiring in his enthusiasm for the source material. It’s easy to be caught up in his excitement when he describes how some technical hurdle was overcome, and how an idea re-shaped the entire landscape of a certain field. He poses the right problems, challenging always and all ways. Professor X brought butterflies to my stomach. I was excited to attend his lectures because I knew I would see the world differently by the end of the hour. He sparked many thoughts, helping me to develop my own understandings about how biological systems work. Dr. X doesn’t teach his students facts–more importantly, his students feel that what they learn becomes a part of them, because they clearly see that these things are a part of him.

~ Former Student

Dr. X was my professor for Spanish. Even though I graduated three years ago, she still keeps in contact with all her students and me alike. When people ask me about my university experience, I say that it was Dr. X and her classes that changed everything for me. Her passion, wisdom, and lively personality not only make her an admirable asset to the teaching profession, but also make her classes inspirational and fun. Professor X once told me, “Although I love to do research, my life would have no meaning if it were not for my students. Their energy and enthusiasm keep me young at heart.” Dr. X has become a great mentor and friend. Her ardour and zest for life and learning has inspired me to model myself after her, not just in my classroom, but in my life in general.”

~ High School Teacher

In 1969, Dr. X was my organic chemistry professor at X University. At the start of the academic year I did not have an inkling of the major life-long impression that this great individual would leave on me. I enjoyed his laid back and humorous approach to teaching and then “the event happened”.

For one exam, we were given several problems to solve. One of them went something like this: ”Alice and her cat go though the looking glass and wanders around. Alice gets thirsty and she finds a bottle of milk, but she wonders if the milk in this reverse world is nourishing or poisonous.

Please help Alice solve this dilemma”.

Clearly the idea was to work out the isomers of lactose and solve the problem. I had no idea how to solve the problem, so I wrote the following: “Feed the milk to the cat and if the cat dies, Alice should not drink the milk because it is poisonous”. Professor X gave me full marks and wrote back: “This is not what I had in mind, but I cannot argue with the logic”.

I marvelled over the years about the open minded, intellectually and emotionally honest approach to teaching of this man. He was and still is one of my heroes. His role is large in my development as a teacher. When I myself received a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, I e-mailed him immediately and thanked him.

~ Professor

Too often in literature courses, despite serious discussion, the material remains dead. Professor X could resurrect a poem from oblivion, make iambic pentameter ripple through the air, alive again, and keep a line spinning in my head for hours afterward. Anyone who says the technicalities of poetry are boring has a lot to learn, and the learning begins with Dr. X.

~ Former student

Professor X was my teacher, and every day he came to class excited to teach, and excited to hear what we thought. Professor X had a bigger impact on my intellectual life than any other adult. It may sound grandiose to say this, but the major ideas I have had in cognitive science are directly or indirectly due to interactions with him. He can’t be blamed for their bugs, however!

~ Doctoral Student

I was in the second semester of my undergraduate studies when I took Professor X’s class. Having come from a different country and entered directly into the third year of the psychology program, I was feeling very self-conscious and confused about what was expected from me.

My first semester went by in anxious memorization of heavy textbooks and I was becoming less and less excited about school. And then I entered professor X’s class. He had a completely different approach then the rest of the professors. He is not the type of teacher who pours his expertise into your head and expects memorization. He instead asks a question, poses a problem and gently leads you to your own discoveries. And this is done with a lot of patience.

It is amazing how far his approach went for me. It made me realize that I have the potential and the ability to think critically and arrive at my own ideas. It also made me realize that knowledge is not something definitive and absolute (therefore, not really worth memorization), but rather always evolving, that questioning old ideas leads us to discover new ones.

Needless to say, I was once again excited about university. I took three other classes with professor X and he was the reason why I decided to continue my studies and entered graduate school.

~ Doctoral Student

I’ve had the privilege to take part of one of Professor X’s classes in my first year of graduate school in Psychology. His class was radically different from all other lectures attended in my academic path. It consisted of discussions inspired by powerful fundamental questions blurring the frontiers between Psychology, Physics, Art, and History. Critical thinking and creativity were encouraged rather than the usual cramming of facts. His love for teaching, his passion, and his generosity with students were exceptional.

I believe Professor X is a brilliant pedagogue and an inspiring humanist who aims to accompany students in a quest for meaning of the deepest kind. He does not simply add another book to your academic library; he helps you find the secret passage behind the bookshelves, one that leads to the chamber of your own free mind.

~ Doctoral Student

It seems appropriate that a professor with so much heart teaches cardiovascular physiology. How do you encourage a group of first year medical students to understand the heart? The solution is elegant; you organize a contest, “heartfelt images,” and let them merge the arts and sciences with Da Vinci spirit. Sometimes in our lives our paths cross with someone truly remarkable who influences us in such a positive way that our lives are never again the same. Such is the case with Dr. X. Over the past eight years, she has played many important roles in my life: my professor in many classes at the University of X, my current swimming coach, and now my friend and mentor. Her dynamic personality and the passion she possesses for whatever she teaches makes those who walk into her classroom (or onto the pool deck) engaged and captivated.

Dr. X embodies the values and virtues that are slowly being diminished in our society today. She embraces honesty, diligence, hard work, and perseverance in all she does. She spends many extra hours preparing her lessons to make them relevant and meaningful. She knows what students are capable of and expects excellence, pushing students like myself to dig deeper, work harder, and follow our dreams.

She simply is the definition of the word ‘inspiration’. Because of her I am now embarking on my first year as a teacher. Her fingerprints are on the canvas of my life and I thank her for what she has helped me to achieve and who she has helped me to become. My life is richer because of Dr. X. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to her.

~ Teacher

I was a student of Professor X. She’s an amazing teacher and has done a great job in educating young minds. Her lectures were precise and concise. They were also well organized, which made revisions easier. She could explain complex concepts in simple words, which helped me to build a strong foundation in chemistry.

~ Former student

Dr. X was my professor over the course of my undergraduate Kinesiology and Business degrees at the University of X. Of the roughly 60 university professors I’ve had to date, she has set the standard for excellence. Few professors have her ability to elicit debate on sensitive but critical topics. What would often be considered too risky a topic to discuss elsewhere, in Dr. X’s class would evolve into an honest and thorough discussion. In her classroom, you felt you were doing more than going through the motions to earn a grade; you were critically analyzing human behavior and history in the context of sport and physical activity. Dr. X challenged us beyond the superficial, and her high expectations forced us to evolve as students. I am particularly fortunate to have known Dr. X as a professor and as a coach. I am an Olympian in the sport of Modern Pentathlon, and Dr. X has been a coach and mentor over the course of my career. She embodies the unique qualities that make a genuine difference in students’ university experiences, and ultimately their lives, as contributing members of society.

~ Modern Pentathlete 2008 Olympics

Dr. X was the first professor I knew who preferred being called by his first name instead of by his titles. This was a refreshing difference, somehow seeming to break down the imaginary pedagogical barrier separating teachers and students. It was part of his style, and just one of the many elements that makes him a great educator.

The precision of his lectures still astonishes me to this day. Every letter, every number, every moment diagram – drawn to perfection. It may seem like a small point, but it makes a big difference in the clarity and effectiveness of presentations. And, sustaining such precision in a lecture setting, with time and student attention-span constraints, is not as easy as it may seem. As a professor myself, I occasionally step back and look at the relative gibberish I wrote on the blackboard after one of my lectures. And I wonder what Professor X would think.

It has been my experience that in everyone’s schooling, one person stands out as someone who motivates you to seek new levels of excellence and defines the thought process that allows you to reach your full potential. For me, X was that person. And I am sure he has had the same profound effect on countless others.

In my nineteen years as a student, I was fortunate to study under a number of excellent teachers, but X was easily the best teacher I had. The way he taught it made the poetry and prose somehow more vibrant, richer in meaning, and more closely linked with our own experience of the world. We learned a great deal about the music inherent in fine poetry. We learned to unabashedly celebrate the power of the English language.

Although seventy-five students were enrolled in that class, the classroom experience felt more like a seminar of fifteen students, all of whom were fully engaged Once, he had to miss a class, but we carried on in his absence. His illness prevented him from meeting the next couple of classes as well, so he asked me to lead a discussion of archetypal patterns, a topic that interested me greatly at the time. It’s remarkable that a class would carry the flame for three class sessions, even though the professor was absent. No one skipped class.

This anecdote speaks eloquently about his respect for students and the trust that he placed in us. In turn, we respected the breadth and depth of his knowledge and we were inflamed by his passionate enthusiasm for his subject matter. His love of language and literature was contagious; that passion for his scholarly pursuits was quite palpable.

~ Chair , Communications Department

I was lucky to be a student in two of Professor X’s classes, one being in my very first year of university. I could not have had a better and more motivating start to my academic career. Professor X’s teaching style was anything but typical. His lectures dug much further below the surface of the standard curriculum; I knew this because it has now been seven years since that first class I took with Professor X and I still recommend him to any students I know at the university. Professor X teaches by connecting with the students on a personal level through anecdotes that make the lectures less doctrinal, and this is so important when studying intimidating material.

I am so grateful to have had Professor X on my list of referees when I applied to graduate school and law school. Professor X takes the time to get to know each of his students on a profound level through their work, and this shows through the extensive comments and support he provides with every assignment. He values hard work from his students and receiving encouragement from him feels like a million bucks in your pocket, because he is an expert and a true legend at the university. I am so proud to say that I know Professor X, and that I am in part the law student I am today because of his teaching, encouragement, and guidance.

~ Law student

It gives me a great pleasure to write about Professor X, my teacher, colleague and friend, and one of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship winners.

Dynamic, innovative, inspiring, mesmerizing—just a few words to describe X, an exceptional teacher, who has a driving passion to educate people at all levels about his favorite subject. I am especially indebted to him as, during my doctoral program at the University of X, his charisma, enthusiasm, and extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge ignited my interest, resulting in a successful academic career in Canada.

Professor X’s classes have always been exceptionally popular; he goes above and beyond expectations to deliver courses that both engage and challenge his students, and has the remarkable ability to stimulate them to think critically and creatively about what they are learning. Grasping opportunities to excite people about literature is his passion. This passion makes X such an outstanding teacher, and his pedagogical research makes him an exemplary teacher-scholar.

X’s enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge makes him the kind of teacher students remember gratefully long after they have left the university. He was instrumental in transforming my life and the lives of hundreds of other students, colleagues, and friends with his brilliance, knowledge, inspiration, curiosity, creativity, warmth, support, and love for literature and education.

~ Associate Professor

X was the most inspirational professor and also the most authentic mentor I’ve ever known – as a scientist, an artist and as a teacher. He said insightful things all the time, and endowed them with a simple wisdom. “Keep your wits about you!” was something he’d tell us before an exam, and later it would be repeated amongst friends on mountaintops, on highways, on receiving advice about life. To this day, striving motivates me to pay forward the investment he and other teachers have made in me.

~ Former student