Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2016

Faculty Award winner

Tison Pugh

 College of Arts & Humanities


The common feature of all medieval literature, despite differences in authors, cultures, and genres, is that it is very, very old. When beginning my courses, I often face resistant students who have predetermined that, due to its age, the literature under examination is irrelevant and offers nothing of interest to contemporary society. For my pedagogy to be effective, I must break down such resistance and demonstrate that old literature remains very much alive. To accomplish this goal, I rely upon pedagogical practices that center on students as individuals and as members of a learning community.

Reaching out to students individually, I demand that they respond to course readings with analytic rigor and imaginative empathy. For example, to understand Beowulf we must explore it within its cultural context, paying close attention to its narrative structure and language, as well as how it engages with Anglo-Saxon legendary history. But a text is not a lifeless corpse only meant for critical dissection, and I also ask students to make connections between the past and the present. How does Beowulf enlighten current constructions of gender, and how does it relate to the current War on Terrorism? The issues with which medieval literature engages never die, and I provide ample opportunities for my students to consider a text rigorously while engaging with its issues imaginatively.

In addition to asking my students to engage with critical issues as unique individuals, I also provide opportunities for them to share their perspectives with one another. By forming learning communities through opportunities for group discussion and peer reviewing one anotherís written work, I ask the students to trust one another and to allow themselves to help (and to be helped by) their peers; with such a base of peer support and mutual concern, my classrooms permit students to experience the triumphs of learning as individuals and as part of a scholarly team. Rigorous critical thinking and excellent writing skills remain of utmost importance in our changing digital landscape, and my courses offer students the opportunity to develop these skills.

My role in the educational process is to adapt to new conditions in the continual quest to foster personal initiative in students while providing guidance that does not devolve into a crutch. For students to develop into independent critical thinkers, they must be challenged yet nurtured, and I seek to bring about this vibrant tension by demanding evidence of engagement from all students. As an active scholar, I integrate my research into the classroom and demonstrate the methods of humanistic inquiry for students. Finding the perfect balance among subject matter, student needs, and classroom praxis in teaching is an elusive goal, but one that I find inspiring. This challenging task is bounteously rewarded when students tell me that they will never resell their copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It may be old, but it's a vibrant, alive, and priceless piece of literature, no matter how much the bookstore might give them for it at the end of the semester.