Joel Schwarz, News & Information
Journalism's loss is teaching's gain, particularly for Steven Herbert's students in the Department of Geography and the Law, Societies & Justice Program.
Back in the days when Herbert was in high school and later as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, he was focused on becoming a journalist. But then he started wondering if he wanted a career that provided more immediate service to others.
"One day I mentioned this to a professor who asked me, ‘Do you want to be a teacher?' I had never thought of teaching, but quickly warmed to the idea. I thought the challenge of being a good teacher would be an interesting one. At the time I was pretty shy and thought teaching would bring me out," Herbert said.
In the course of getting his teaching certificate, he had to teach a ninth-grade geography class and totally bombed. "Essentially, I talked too much, didn't think to engage the students and bored them."
Herbert's teaching skills have come a long way since then, and he is one of the winners of the University's Distinguished Teaching Award for 2009. He has been a UW faculty member since 2000.
Herbert's style of teaching is to engage students rather than lecture them. One of his students who nominated him for the award puts it this way: "He challenges students to learn with him, not from him."
His teaching prowess also provokes raves from his faculty colleagues.
"…Herbert can do it all. I can think of no faculty member over my 25 years at UW who has done so much at so many levels and so well to enhance our core teaching mission," said Michael McCann, a 1989 distinguished teaching award winner, in nominating Herbert.
Most of the classes he teaches deal with the contemporary world around such issues as policing and other institutions that deal with criminal offending.
"Part of these classes is gathering basic information and I know there is no right answer or correct way to police. So part of my job is getting students to appreciate the range of plausible answers on what the police and other institutions do," he said.
"I also want my students to develop the capacity to assess one answer versus another and to be able to articulate and defend their answers. I hope they find that kind of work enjoyable and that it is not intimidating but exciting. I like the energy students bring to the classroom. It is contagious for me."
As for giving up that earlier ambition of being a journalist, Herbert doesn't have any regrets.
"There is nothing like the experience of a good class. It can be a tremendous re-energizing experience for me. Students help excite me about questions I think about when I see them wrestling with issues with energy and insight.
"I feel blessed to be at the UW. In my classroom I pose some pretty tough questions and expect students to answer them in public. That involves taking a significant risk. I'm amazed at the consistent willingness of so many students to take that risk. Without that I wouldn't succeed and have gotten this award, he said."