Bruce TiberiisLast spring, after teaching for only two years, biochemistry instructor Bruce Tiberiis won the Science Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award, much to his surprise. 'There are millions of things I do wrong,' he says. 'I stand there thinking people are going to dot.
There's no way people are going to sit through this lecture - it's pretty dull.'
Typically, excellent teachers talk this way.Primarily because they are such good teachers, they are always looking to improve their performances.
But the fact is, students tell Tiberiis his
lectures are organized, coherent and complete.He
attributes this to long hours. 'When I first started teaching I was working all the time.Last year I was still working about 60 hours a week.With a BA in Chemistry from the University of Arkansas and a Ph.D. in Physiology from UBC, Tiberius had to put in some when he landed a full-time position teaching two third year courses in biochemistry.
'It probably helped that I was in a field other than my own.' Even though Tiberiis
had been doing research in the biochemistry department, he
had to relearn most of the material. 'And then what I would see is where somebody was likely to be confused b the textbooks.I try to figure out the things you can tell people that will save them time.Where are they likely to run into confusion?
Where can you point out are relationship that will have them two hours of searching on their own?,"Tiberiis
says."I gave a lot of time and thought to how to organize it, looking at each thing as best I could through the eyes of the audience.What would make sense to them?Not what would I say to my colleagues, but what would make sense to these people.'
returned to university as a mature student, he
found the teaching at UBC
to be poor, especially in introductory classes. 'It seemed to me that for those the best solution was to hire a full time teacher.Because there's so much administrative stuff in large classes the students don't get any opportunity for individual attention," Tiberiis If you have professors who are spending much of their time doing research, realistically they have to discourage people from asking questions."Tiberiis
says good teaching takes time.And there's no getting around that. 'It also takes someone who's willing to give some thought to the mechanics of teaching,' he
adds. 'Many researchers resent that."Tiberiis
provides students with a set of lecture notes via two overhead projectors and handouts so they are not frantically writing down notes in class.Because the projectors are far apart, he
moves back and forth constantly. 'And I'm half Italian so I move my hands a lot.That helps a bit."He
adds that he
also changes his
tone of voice more than most lecturers do. 'Generally each sentence I'm saying has enough meaning to me that my voice reflects how I think it fits into the overall pattern," he
says."If you're paying attention to what you're doing you find you can convey a lot of meaningful stuff just in your manner, your attitude.You can convey skepticism, which is one of the most important things.You can ask 'What's weak about this official story?'.Tiberiis
is careful to provide students with help when it comes to memory-work.That way, they can spend more time doing assignments and extra readings which are more rewarding. 'There's always this question of whether you're teaching rote memory or whether it's meaningful stuff.I find there's a fair bit of pretense and illusion surrounding this,' he
says. 'We're supposed to teach them how to think so we try to do things that sound like we're teaching them how to think, without really thinking it through ourselves.A lot of people are vague: 'Well, if I tell them everything, that's rote memory so I'll leave off some of the details and then they'll have to think.' If you do that in an indiscriminate way all you're doing is being vague.It's going to take them many hours to go to the books and learn the same rote stuff, but that's not the same as thinking."Tiberiis
says it's better to select certain materials which lend themselves to analysis, and then admit that the rest is rote and teach it as such. 'For that kind of thing your job is basically to be a shoehorn make it go in easier , and that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do, .he says. 'Don't be ashamed to help them memorize material.'
Above all the relationship between teacher and student is a 'human relationship with all that implies - all the political power struggles, all the civil matters of courtesy," Tiberiis
says.He was amazed to return to school and find out how insulting some professors are to their students. 'Even an excellent teacher who did wonders for me would start just about every lecture by insulting his audience.He
seemed that uncomfortable that he
had to tell us how stupid we were before going on to give a good lecture," he
says.These attitudes seem to come out of elementary school teaching, according to Tiberiis
."I teach adults.They're my boss.They hired me," he