“The Celebration of Teaching” brings students and faculty together in gratitude

By Amelia Leaphart
Executive Editor

For its third Celebration of Teaching, the Center for Teaching filmed a series of reflections between twelve Sewanee students and a faculty member who impacted them. The Celebration, a week-long spotlight of educational achievements of the previous year, is usually an in-person process where professors visit different classrooms and appraise their colleagues’ work. 

This year, the Center opted for an online format that accommodated the move to remote learning and allowed participants a more intimate setting to discuss the theme of this year’s celebration, “appreciation.” The 2020-2021 school year was an academically challenging year for both parties, with professors creating both in-person and remote learning opportunities and working in a compressed academic calendar.  

Emily Puckette, professor of mathematics, and Mark Hopwood, associate professor of philosophy, both work as co-directors for the Center for Teaching, which promotes best teaching and learning strategies for a liberal arts education. When the University moved to remote classes in March of 2020, the Center for Teaching continued to provide resources for professors on pedagogy, offering guides to moving courses online and teaching in remote classrooms. When the campus opened up to students in the fall, new resources for hybrid courses and teaching in tents were added.

Understanding the challenges faculty and students alike experienced, Puckette and Hopwood chose the theme ‘appreciation’ to provide students and professors a time to reflect on their experiences together. In the fall, many professors experienced an outpouring of gratitude from students showing their appreciation for them working overtime in order to create safe learning environments for their students. After observing the effect of student gratitude on professors, the Center of Teaching added a channel for professors to express gratitude back to their students. 

Students from the class of College of Arts and Science 2020 and 2021 and students from the School of Theology were contacted to participate in this program and invited to initiate a conversation with a professor who shaped their time at Sewanee. 

“We wanted senior students to be reflecting back on their college years and identify a faculty member who had an impact on them one way or another,” Puckette says.

The students then had to videotape a conservation with their professors which Adam Hawkins, instructional designer and technologist, edited for the website. 

“I want to get the word out to students so they can see these things and see all the appreciation for the students so they know what an amazing year it’s been,” Puckette says.

The shift in the Celebration of Teaching prevented a sense of intrusion in classes, “but we wanted faculty to be appreciated, we wanted faculty to see other faculty in some other way, appreciation was just what we needed to do for this year,” Puckette says.

Ivana Porashka (C’21) credited French professor Aymeric Glacet for inspiring her to utilize Sewanee’s French department. Sarah Cordell (C’20), converses with her previous psychology professor, Katie Nelson-Coffey, about how their learning relationship fostered Cordell’s calling to work with the elderly after graduation. Edith Amason (C’21) and chemistry professor Evan Joslin reflect on the past four years working through challenges in STEM. Ben Sweeton (C’21) and politics professor Amy Patterson shared multiple classes together, and Patterson notes Sweeton’s growth in learning from a focus on grades to a genuine desire for learning. Bernice Leveque (C’21) and Professor of Classics and Ancient Christianity Paul Holloway reflect on their close academic relationship through writing and class-discussions. There are a total of twelve videos, which Puckette describes as a “treasure trove.” 

“I think gratitude is something that motivates me a lot, so for me, it feels very good to pass on the gratitude so people feel they are appreciated,” Puckette says.