Faculty Awards: Ian Mueller and Janel Muellerfor Excellence in Graduate Teaching
Ian Mueller Professor in Philosophy
Janel Mueller William Rainey Harper Professor in the College, English Language & Literature
By Shula Neuman
It's been said that after several years of
marriage, couples begin to anticipate
each others' thoughts, finish each others' sentences and sometimes even begin to look alike. In the case of Janel and Ian Mueller, they've developed the same talent: teaching.
University faculty members for more than 30 years, the Muellers each have been honored this year with the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
Janel, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the College and Professor in English Language & Literature, teaches graduate classes in Renaissance and Reformation texts and contexts. Ian, Professor in Philosophy, concentrates his teaching on ancient Greek philosophy.
"I've learned more about teaching from Janel than from anyone," Ian said.
"We do compare notes," Janel added. "We tend to eat dinner late, and during that time we get some conversation in."
The Muellers joined the University in 1967. In 1971, they pioneered a Core curriculum course, Greek Thought and Literature, with David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Professor in the Humanities, and Michael Murrin, Professor in English Language & Literature. This joint project afforded them the opportunity to learn about each other's teaching styles and to reflect on teaching methodology.
Ian recalled, "We talked a lot about the substance of the course and about teaching. We learned a lot from each other. We would ask, 'Why did you ask that student that question?' We needed to do that, because we had never really had any training in teaching when we were graduate students at Harvard. We each have different strengths and weaknesses."
As a result of their own development as teachers, they have become aware of the importance of graduate school as a training ground for future teachers as well as scholars.
Both Muellers feel that their effectiveness as "teachers of teachers" comes from the independence and intellectual encouragement they give their graduate students within the classroom as well as outside of it.
Taking her cue from Anne Ferry, one of her own teachers at Harvard, Janel uses the lecture format sparingly. Although she introduces the framework she wants her students to consider, she encourages her students to discuss as much as possible and to develop their own ideas concerning a text's significance.
"The aim of graduate work is the oral exam and eventually the dissertation," Janel explained. "In my advanced courses, the students take major responsibility for presenting the readings. In my introductory graduate courses, I have a staggered series of assignments that I feel leads the students to more autonomy while still teaching them about the discipline."
Ian concurs with this need to foster students' autonomy, and also works to illustrate to his students how much commitment and initiative scholarship requires. In a reading group he runs outside the formal class structure, he convenes with students and slowly works through texts -- often covering no more than 50 lines of text in two hours.
"I am trying to get students to see that intellectual activity is quite difficult," Ian said. "It takes time, concentration and thought.
"Another important factor in our teaching -- and this is true for both of us -- is the detail of commentary on the written work of our students and the time we take to have conferences with our students about the content of their papers."
"For us," Janel added, "the emphasis is both on instructing our students and drawing out their intellect. We don't want disciples. We want to foster intellectual acuteness and independence in the individual."
"The intellectual level at this university is incredibly high," Ian said. "To me, the most effective way I can teach is by giving the students the time they need to discuss their ideas and papers."
Next fall, the Muellers will be on leave so that Ian can embark on his newest project, a translation of an ancient commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Janel will continue her current editing work, turning to the writings and letters of Queen Katherine Parr, the last wife of King Henry the Eighth. She recently completed a collaborative project with two colleagues editing the writings of Queen Elizabeth I. Their work will be published by the Press.