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​Teaching Award Recipient: Listen to Students

Providence, R.I.--Dr. Mark S. Hyde, who believes that listening to students is the key to teaching success, says he learned that lesson more than 40 years ago--when he wasn’t very good at teaching or listening.

As a graduate student in Michigan, Hyde was chosen to participate in a research project. He taught in a classroom with two video cameras--one aimed at him and one trained on his students. After every session, he had to review the tapes. And he didn’t like what he saw.

“The results were shocking and upsetting to me,” Hyde told a group of colleagues during a presentation in the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). “I thought I was doing a good job….I realized that what was so clear to me was not so for the students, necessarily. I had to get the students’ perspective.

“I began to realize teaching wasn’t going to be as much fun as I thought it was and was going to take a considerable amount of work,” Hyde said.

That hard work paid off. Hyde, a professor of political science at Providence College since 1970, this year became the ninth recipient of the College’s premier teaching honor, the Joseph R. Accinno Faculty Teaching Award. He was nominated by students and alumni, and selected after a review by faculty peers.

Dr. Laurie L. Grupp, associate professor of education and CTE director, said what resonated with the committee was not just what students had to say about Hyde, but what former students said about him years later.

Establishing boundaries

During the CTE presentation, titled “Listening to Your Students: A Conversation with the Teacher of the Year,” Hyde emphasized that students cannot learn unless they are prepared. To make sure they are, he imposes boundaries. All students are addressed formally, by their last names, in the early weeks. No one who arrives late is allowed into class. And students who are unprepared are shown the door.

“I start out very early with boundaries. You have to lay down the law, and for a while you can’t vary,” Hyde said. “That provides the context. Once the boundaries are set, everybody can relax. Then it’s easy. It’s fun. We joke around.”

Hyde holds himself to the same rules. He can’t be late, and if he forgets papers he promised to distribute, for example, he appoints a student disciplinary committee to decide his penalty.

Even members of the Teaching Award Selection Committee were a bit intimidated by Hyde’s syllabus, Grupp said. Some wondered whether, if they were late for their visit, they would be allowed in his classroom.

But what they saw was “a disarming approach” to teaching, Grupp said.

“It is a talent. Not everybody can pull that off. And the respect is there. It’s really a great thing to witness,” Grupp said.

Techniques to consider

Hyde shared some classroom techniques as well:

• At the end of class, instead of asking whether students have “any questions,” Hyde names the most important concept taught that day and asks a student to explain it. After that, he asks a second student to evaluate the first student’s answer.

“There are two benefits,” Hyde said. “You’ve just told them the most important concept, and you see whether they’ve gotten anything out of it.”

• Exams, if well written, can be a great assessment tool, Hyde said. He grades them within 24 hours.

“Think about your objectives to that point, and the content you’ve covered, and use the exam as an assessment,” Hyde said. “If everybody’s getting a question wrong, it’s probably not their fault.”

• Using an idea he credited to his retired colleague, Dr. James M. Carlson, Hyde said he assigns students exercises and activities to do outside of class, then reviews them in class, asking, “Did everyone get the right answer?” If some students say no, “explain it to them,” Hyde said.

Dr. Paola Cesarini, assistant professor of political science, told Hyde, “You have this talent for wit and deliver it with the sharpness of a blade.” She wondered whether his approach could work for women.

Hyde said he thought it could, but added, “Believe me, I have no universal answer. What I try to do in my classes works for me. It satisfies me.”

Dr. Robert H. Trudeau, professor emeritus of political science, said Hyde’s talk showed that “he did not have this talent initially, but rather figured out these objectives for himself and worked very hard. This is not instant talent. He’s worked hard to do this. It can be done.”

“Bob is right. It’s hard work,” Hyde said. 

--Vicki-Ann Downing


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