Sue Ann Miller, PhD

Good teaching is more than meeting classes to transmit reams of information. The best teaching is really helping others to teach themselves. Students come to college to learn, but they often do not realize that learning is a life-long process and that what they need to learn in college is how to learn. Learning happens best in active situations, not in passive reception of transmitted information. Information has limited value if it is not managed with understanding, so I created learning situations that helped students teach themselves.

The subjects I taught involve overwhelming amounts of information, but I discouraged intellectual bulimia in favor of thoughtful selection. Students were required to select and cite specific and appropriate examples. They chose from mental stores just as professionals in any discipline must, and just like those professionals, students learned to manage information and to make informed choices.

I believed in setting high standards that challenged students, and this gave me a reputation for being demanding. Students deserved no less, so I maintained high standards in a culture that seemed to reward popularity and entertainment over substance. Although learning is enjoyable and can be quite entertaining, it is not always "fun" as students may describe it. I prefered to challenge students rather than to risk insulting students by expecting too little of them.

Most students met a challenge well; some even better than they may have expected. How will students really know what their capabilities are if they are not challenged? Still, some students avoided challenge in the misguided belief that A's on a transcript were the only thing that mattered. Such maneuvering is transparent to those who evaluate academic records for admission or hiring. Students who avoid challenge also miss opportunities to grow.

I tried to help students realize that it is their actions and attitudes that are the real essence of learning. Students who did well in my courses attended lectures and laboratories regularly and with attention; they did more than simply occupy a seat. Those students also read related course materials, and they sustained an effort to learn in ways that best suited their personal style.

I shared an awe for the art that is in developmental and structural biology. I reminded students that the relevance of some of what they learn stays with them through life in ways they may not anticipate. My goal was to create situations that made it so that my students would never walk past a meat counter or through a natural history museum, or even look in the mirror, or at their own children, and see things as they did before they took one of my courses. Former students returned from vacations at the shore or on wild trails, east and west, with anatomical treasures they noticed on a walk and thought I could use in my Vertebrate Organization lab. Graduates returning to campus years later often cited something memorable from class. These were gratifying contributions that suggest that something good happened in my classes.

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This page last modified: June 2016