Office of the Chancellor

September 10, 2004

UW-Green Bay faculty member Denise Scheberle, professor of public and environmental affairs, received the 2004 Teaching Excellence Award as presented by the UW System Board of Regents. In her acceptance speech upon receiving the award at the Regents' September meeting in Madison, she shared her thoughts on education as a lifelong calling. We present the text of her remarks as follows:

Remarks to the Board of Regents
by UW-Green Bay Prof. Denise Scheberle

September 10, 2004

Good morning. Saying “thank you very much” doesn’t seem to capture my deep appreciation or my feelings about this award. I am incredibly honored to receive this award. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my professional life, and you have honored me in a way that I will never forget. Thanks to the Board of Regents for spotlighting teaching, the awards selection committee who I know read files of many outstanding faculty, to the wonderful staff at the Office of Professional and Instructional Development (OPID) led by Lisa Kornetsky who both supported and challenged me to develop scholarly teaching, to my colleagues on the Green Bay campus, so many of whom are deserving of this award, to Chancellor Shepard and Provost Hammersmith who consistently champion teaching on our campus, to my husband Steve who supports me in everything I do, and to my students who teach me something every day. I thank you all very much.
   This year marks two decades of teaching for me. Nearly twenty years and over 3,000 students later, I have much to do and more to learn about teaching to maximize student learning. My teaching is a work in progress, but as I reflect on my experiences, a few observations come to mind.
   The great educator Horace Mann challenged us to “be afraid to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I can’t think of a better place for these victories to occur than in a public university. Often, we think of the contribution of research. But, teachers hold an awesome power to change lives, too. There’s an old adage that suggests that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” The sentiment behind that saying reminds us that sometimes people just don’t understand the power that teachers have. We can find ways to help students believe in themselves, build confidence, grow in their thinking, their attitudes toward one another, and their ability to see the complexities of human existence. Sometimes these changes are apparent within the classroom, but they are also reflected years later, when you see students embrace their professional lives with integrity, confidence and grace. One reason I stand here today is because a teacher I had believed in me.
   With such power comes immense responsibility. I owe the university and my students a learning experience that challenges them, empowers them, and that offers information that is on the cutting edge of my field of study. Significant learning happens in an environment infused with trust, respect and openness. Simple things like learning names, taking the time to get to know individuals, preparing for class, establishing learning objectives, go a long way in setting the stage for learning. So, too, does mentoring and modeling behavior. If I want students to learn how to think critically, I need to do it in the classroom. If my learning goals include developing attitudes of citizenship, stewardship, compassion, and dedication to academic work and a love of learning, I must lead by example, both inside and outside of class.
   I also have a deep appreciation for the power of teachable moments--those “ah-ha” moments when students and teacher are riveted to an event, a particularly telling comment in discussion, or an astute question. These are the moments that we remember--these wonderful windows of opportunity for learning. And sometimes they come at unexpected times.
   I recently took my six year old grandson Trystin for his first airplane ride. I knew it was going to be a fun when we entered the airport filled with flags from other countries, and Trystin said, “Look Grandma, Gryffindor!” Later during the flight, he was glued to the window. When the announcement came to fasten our seat belts, I told him we were about to land. He wrinkled his brow and asked, “Are we still on earth?” To which I replied, that yes, we were, that we were about to land in Minneapolis. He pondered the word “Minneapolis” for a moment and asked, “Well, do they speak human in Minneapolis?” Now, here was a teachable moment when we could talk about space travel, geography, works of fiction and different languages. It also illustrates the importance of understanding what preconceptions we all have when we learn new things.
   Teachers should be creative, so students can be creative and critical thinkers. Howard Gardner suggests that creative individuals regularly solve problems and pose issues in a way that is initially novel, but ultimately appropriate and culturally valued. One way to do this is to create situations where students learn by doing, and when learning is connected to life experiences, just as the airplane ride was for my grandson.
   Recently in the Public and Nonprofit Management class, students organized the first campus-wide series of dialogues about democracy, which they called the Phoenix Forum, to talk about citizenship, patriotism, diversity, voting and America’s role in the world. The purpose was not further polarize students, but rather to seek new ways of understanding through student-to-student dialog. Over 120 students participated in six different dialogs. It was creative, it was hard work, but it brought forward new ideas and new framings of public issues. Student leaders increased their sense of facilitation and organizational skills while nearly all participants reported a deeper appreciation for civic engagement.
This semester, students are in the midst of planning the Steps to Make a Difference Walk. They will learn first-hand the challenges nonprofit organizations encounter, they will also learn the value they bring to their communities. As one student put it last year, “I learned that deep-down, I really am a good person and that what I do matters.”
   In sum, I ask students to risk a good deal as they shift from passive learning to co-production in the classroom. We use imagination, we treat each other with respect, and we grapple tough issues. Students continue to surprise me with the depths of their passion and understanding. You see, they have the power to change me, just as I am once again humbled by the power of teaching and the great honor of being a teacher.
   Perhaps it’s time for a new adage: Instead of “those who can, do, those who can’t teach”—how about: Those that can see the immense satisfaction and privilege involved in teaching should; those that think that teaching is “just another job” should not.
   Again, thank you very much for this amazing award.


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