Texas Tech University

Teaching Academy Promotes Education at Texas Tech University

David Gay

June 20, 2019

Supported by the Office of the Provost, the academy consists of faculty members from every college.

Established in 1997 and supported by the Office of the Provost, the Teaching Academy at Texas Tech University advocates for teaching excellence and promotes service related to the university's teaching mission. Members also get the chance to share knowledge about various teaching strategies and advise and mentor fellow colleagues.

Comfort Pratt, an associate professor of bilingual education in the areas of curriculum, instruction and teacher education in the College of Education, as well as the chair of the executive council of the Teaching Academy, said John M. Burns established the academy when he was the provost. Burns wanted to get a group of faculty together to collaborate in terms of teaching.

Comfort Pratt
Comfort Pratt

The goal of the academy, Pratt said, is to advocate for excellent teaching on campus. This is done by promoting service related to teaching as well as arranging for presentations on teaching and hosting workshops.

Michael Galyean, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs for Texas Tech, said the Teaching Academy highlights the core mission of the university.

"Fostering the development of excellent teachers and recognizing their efforts is vital to our success," Galyean said. "In that regard, the Teaching Academy serves a central role of providing a means to highlight the work of outstanding teachers on our campus. Equally important, however, is the role of the Teaching Academy in providing a venue for exceptional teachers to discuss and advise the university administration on important issues related to the teaching mission."

Pratt first became involved with the academy after she delivered a presentation to incoming teaching assistants. After the presentation, she said David Roach, the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Arts & Sciences, approached her about joining the Teaching Academy.

"He could have just said thank you and that's it," Pratt said. "But, he walked up to me and said, 'You know, we have a Teaching Academy here.' He thought I would be a perfect fit."

Teaching Academy Executive Council
Teaching Academy Executive Council

The academy consists of 212 faculty members from various colleges and departments across the university. Pratt said because of its status, membership cannot exceed 20 percent of the number of faculty at Texas Tech.

"We have certain requirements," Pratt said. "That's what makes it an academy and not just an organization. Also, it makes us work harder, because if you aspire to become a member of the academy, you do a good job at teaching so you can demonstrate it."

To become a member of the academy, a potential member must be nominated by a current member of the Teaching Academy and recommended by another. Pratt said each year, the academy sends out a call for applications to all Texas Tech faculty members. Full-time faculty members from any department who have been with the university for at least three years can apply.

Rob Weiner, pop culture librarian and a professor in the Honors College, has been a member of the Teaching Academy since being inducted last fall. He said the application process is very demanding.

"You have to put together a dossier," Weiner said. "You have to prove that you have a love of teaching and you really care about your students and their ability to learn and think critically."

Weiner said he first heard about the academy after attending some of the events they had hosted in the past. But he did not understand what the academy's full role was until he became a member.

"It's a great honor to be among Texas Tech's best professors, teachers and instructors," Weiner said. "I think the Teaching Academy does a great service in terms of building an atmosphere with an emphasis on teaching. We're not just a research institution. Teaching is enormously important in terms of being able to convey knowledge, ideas and critical thinking to students."

One way the academy promotes teaching throughout the university is through scholarships like the Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec Teaching Development scholarship. Pratt said this scholarship gives faculty the chance to go to a conference and learn something that makes the teaching culture better for the university.

The academy also hosts the annual John M. Burns Conference each fall and gives out the Departmental Excellence in Teaching Award. The award showcases one department each year that has made unique and significant contributions to the teaching mission of the university, Pratt said.

 The Department of English and President Lawrence Schovanec
The Department of English and President Lawrence Schovanec

This year's award went to the Department of English. A ceremony was hosted May 9 to honor the department and present them with a plaque. Present at the ceremony were Schovanec; Brian Still, chair of the Department of English; W. Brent Lindquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences; and Rob Steward, senior vice provost for academic affairs. The department also received a $25,000 cash award to be used for the enhancement of teaching in the department.

Elissa Zellinger, an assistant professor of English, said the Department of English stands out because of its dedication to teaching.

"Receiving this award means that we are a dynamic, supportive community of teachers who are dedicated to our students," Sellinger said while accepting the award. "It affirms, frankly, what we already knew: that our cutting-edge efforts to create inventive, inviting classroom environments are a success."

The executive council of the academy also is responsible for selecting the recipients of the Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest individual teaching award at Texas Tech and the other institutions within the Texas Tech University System. This award is for faculty members who demonstrate teaching excellence both within and beyond the institution. These faculty members are nominated by the deans of their colleges.

This year's awards went to J Chance Brooks, a professor and the associate chair of the Department of Animal & Food Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources; Mitzi K. Lauderdale, an associate professor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning and the associate academic dean for students in the College of Human Sciences; Brie Sherwin, an associate professor in the School of Law; and Alan Shinn, a professor of percussion in the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts. Teaching awards also went to Andrew B. Wallace, a professor in the College of Science and Engineering at Angelo State University, Dr. Charmaine A. Martin, a professor in the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and two Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center professors, Vardan T. Karamyan in the Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy and Steven Sawyer in the School of Health Professions.

One of the most important things the Teaching Academy does is interact with students and listen to their thoughts about the quality of teaching on Texas Tech's campus. Pratt said every year, the academy hosts an event that involves students, giving them a chance to talk to faculty about what they need out of their education.

"If we don't do that, then we won't hear students' voices," Pratt said.

Through the academy's most recent "Meeting of the Minds" event, Pratt said students had the chance to speak with faculty about the culture of teaching at Texas Tech. Other topics included course evaluations, what helps students in the classroom and the difference between "teaching to the test" and teaching for knowledge.

Members of the academy also work with each other, visiting each other's classrooms and evaluating what resources and strategies could make the teachers more effective. Pratt said this helps make the teaching culture better.

"We don't want to completely change the teaching culture, because we know it is good," Pratt said. "We want to make it better by infusing into it new ideas and new strategies. You can easily think you are a good teacher. But we don't just want to be good teachers; we want to be known for superior teaching."

Walter Smith, a professor of curriculum and instruction specializing in science education in the College of Education, will be inducted into the academy next fall. He said the academy helps Texas Tech put an emphasis on teaching.

"We are a great university and part of that is being a great research institution," Smith said. "But, it also is being a great teaching institution. I like how the university is trying to improve instruction and part of doing that is calling on people who have some skills in teaching to share it with other faculty members."

Weiner said Texas Tech having a Teaching Academy shows the quality of teaching across campus.

"It illustrates the fact that good teaching is happening in all disciplines," Weiner said.

For more information on the teaching academy, visit the academy's website.