Linda Stephens

Excellence in Teaching Award

Once upon a time in Wisconsin, Linda Stephens was told she wouldn't be a teacher. These days she's being told with some regularity that she is not only a teacher, but one of the best. The 1996 Excellence in Teaching Award is the sociology graduate student's third such honor; she won her department's teaching award two years ago and the Marie Doman Award--given by the women studies department to an outstanding teacher in the College of Arts and Sciences--last year.

Not bad for someone who almost gave up on education completely. "I always wanted to be a teacher," Stephens says. "But when I went to the University of Wisconsin in the '70s, the adviser called us education majors into a room and told us there were no jobs for us and we should choose something else. I was so discouraged that I dropped out of school."

She worked at other jobs, got married and had a couple of kids, but the dream of teaching kept nagging at her. Eventually she went back to complete her undergraduate degree, with the idea of becoming a high school teacher.

"I had only been back a short while when I realized how much I loved research," Stephens says. "Then I decided I wanted to do both teaching and research, so it made sense to go to graduate school." She chose the UW in large part because it offered extensive training for teaching--both in the department and University-wide.

It is training Stephens has taken full advantage of. After only a year as a TA, she was given her own classes, including a stint with the interdisciplinary writing program as well as teaching introductory sociology. What she has mostly taught, however, are courses on the family, her major area.

Stephens likes to get students involved in her classes. She often divides the class up into small groups whose members present some portion of the subject to the whole class. Then, each member of the group develops a research paper based on material collected for the presentation. "That has worked really well in that the students really like the ownership they take of that sub-topic. They become very involved in it and feel they really know something about that topic by the end of the quarter," Stephens says.

"And it's so satisfying to see students make progress," she adds. "It's wonderful when you see them understand and use concepts that only a few weeks before were foreign to them."

Stephens plans to continue her teaching career after she leaves the UW. Jobs may not be plentiful, but she had four offers after four interviews, and chose Clemson University because it provided the best balance between teaching and research. "Other places were offering me `enticements,'" Stephens says with a laugh. "They told me they'd reduce my teaching load if I went there. But that wasn't attractive to me. I want to teach and I want to do research. I think I got wonderful training for both at the UW."--Nancy Wick, UW Office of News and Information

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