By Arthur Fournier
Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures
Its a fabulous honor. Im thrilled, Im surprised, and Im excited, said Shadi Bartsch, one of four recipients of this years Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
However, Bartsch, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, believes it would be more appropriate for the award to go to her students.
I havent changed my teaching style since I arrived from Berkeley, where I taught for nearly eight years, explained Bartsch. Its the undergraduates at this institution who are truly unusual, and Ill say that to anybody.
An experience that occurred about a week after Bartsch first arrived at the University illustrates the claim. It was toward the end of Christmas break in January of 1998, and I was on my way to my new office in Classics. I was following behind two undergraduates, and it seemed that they were engaged in a passionate discussion about somebodys girlfriend, she said.
There was a lot of emotion at stake in the conversation, so I didnt want to eavesdrop, but it was clear to me that some kind of trauma had occurred and these two young men were hashing it out the best that they could on their way to class. As we finally reached the building, I caught the name of the woman they were arguing about. It was Antigone from Sophocles play, said Bartsch.
That was the point at which I realized this is a different kind of place.
In terms of what she has experienced in the classroom, her impressions of the student body at Chicago have fulfilled a sense of promise Bartsch said she experienced that afternoon. Repeatedly, my students here have not only done the work Ive asked of them; theyve come to our sessions eager to participate and to engage with the material. Ive been astonished by their enthusiasm, intelligence and their willingness to make the classroom work, she said.
The undergraduates here just spoil you, she continued.
I think the importance of silence is one of the hardest things for an educator to learn, especially for someone as naturally garrulous as myself, said Bartsch. She said she has come to understand the value of holding back during discussions. When you come into the classroom, youre excited about the material, and you want to share your thoughts, she explained. But you have to realize that the things you say arent weighted in the same way as students utterances.
People often talk about the Socratic method, said Bartsch. As a classics professor, that makes me smile because we know Socrates was really one of the least successful teachers in the entire history of Western pedagogy. He notoriously failed to convince most of his interlocutors.
Bartsch hopes her classes help students understand that the traditional version of antiquity is as much of a construct as any other plausible version. She wants them to recognize that the questions they use to approach a text will shape the answers they get back from it. Even if it doesnt always come to the fore, thats one of the major themes that underlies most of the work I do in the classroom, she said.
I want them to know that there is little per se in the texts we read that forces us to accept any one particular interpretation, she explained. If we want to play with the notion of canonicity, all we need to do is ask different questions instead of condemning the answers, she continued.
For the most part, I simply enjoy feeling as if Im a part of the search for the things that have meaning for us intellectually and ethically, said Bartsch. I suppose thats why I like teaching.