The Teaching & Learning Center at Mountain View College seeks to share teaching practices across the entire institution. The following article showcases a faculty member, provides insight into the environment they’ve created for MVC students, and demonstrates effective teaching practices.
This month we showcase Professor Markay Rister.
What is one element about MVC that makes it the “best college on earth?”
I like the small size of the campus and the very collegial faculty. We not only work together, but we also socialize across the divisions and enjoy each other’s company. It really does make MVC feel like a family. MVC also has the most beautiful campus: I can look out over the tops of the trees from my second floor office, and in the fall, the colors are spectacular!
How would your students describe you or your teaching style?
Hands-off! I lecture very little and most of that is more Socratic questioning. My classes are also very interactive. The students do a lot of work in ever-changing groups, which they seem to enjoy and find successful.
What teaching strategies do you find most successful in your courses?
I try to make every task relevant to the goal, no busy work ever. I try to find ways to help the students work more efficiently without sacrificing the quality of the finished product. Most importantly, I listen. I try to make sure that I understand the student’s question or concern before I reply, and I try never to move on when there are still questions that need to be explored.
What do your students love most about your courses?
One example is that I allow them maximum flexibility with attendance; I teach several sections of the same course and allow the students to attend whichever section best meets their need, either occasionally or permanently. In addition, because basic composition is a skills course rather than a content course, the students can measure their own success and have a concrete skill that carries into their academic and professional career. The students also know that I am available to them for help in future courses. When I see them for the last time at the end of the semester, I always tell them that they know where I am if they need me in the future, and many take me up on that offer.
What is one creative solution you’ve implemented to address a specific challenge in your courses?
For most students, turning in an essay for a grade is a matter of guess-what-she-wants. Using a descriptive rubric and a stack of sample essays for calibration, I teach the students to grade their own essays. They must work with a small group to arrive at a justifiable grade for their own essay, make whatever improvements they want, and then submit the essay with an evaluation sheet which tells me what grade they think the essay deserves and why. I read the essay and agree or not, giving feedback. By mid-course, they are usually right on target. Because they have the skills to evaluate accurately their own work, the final product is much higher quality. I use a generic rubric based on the expectations in academic writing, so that the skill they have gained transfers to their other classes, regardless of discipline.
What has been your most positive or rewarding teaching experience?
The most rewarding aspect of teaching is the students who come by my office or drop me an email long after the course to ask advice or let me know what they are doing. I especially cherish the times when a student tells me that he or she has become a teacher because of my example or does something in the classroom because of the way I taught. I recently announced that I would be retiring at the end of this spring semester, and I have been amazed (and humbled) at the number of former students who have contacted me to tell me what they are doing and to wish me well.
What advice would you give to a new faculty member at MVC?
Keep your office door open to students, even those who don’t specifically belong to you. Stand in the hall for the first few days of class each semester to help the ones who can’t find their classroom or the offices. There is a lot of work to be done for the institution, but remember that the students are always our priority.
Who is one person at MVC who has been instrumental to your success (and why)?
There actually have been two: Lew Sayers mentored me when I first arrived and helped set the tone for my work here; he was a fine example of enthusiasm and dedication to his students. Quentin Wright, a former dean and VPI, gave me many opportunities to broaden my scope professionally and to have some influence on the changes in the Developmental Education program in our state.