May 27, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 17

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    [milton ehre] by jason smith
    Milton Ehre

    Milton Ehre, Professor in Slavic Languages & Literatures

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    “The role of the teacher is to make himself superfluous,” said Milton Ehre, Professor in Slavic Languages & Literatures, who has received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

    “The less they need you, the better the teacher you are. It’s like being a parent.” You are successful if “they just come home for Thanksgiving,” Ehre said with humor.

    “If someone asked me the secret of good teaching, I’d say it is to have good students, then everything after that is a piece of cake,” he said. Having taught at the University for 32 years, Ehre has increased the knowledge of many an intelligent student.

    In describing his classroom, he said, “We try to keep it relaxed, try to have a sense of humor. I try to encourage participation, but I don’t force students to participate.”

    He said he feels sympathy when a student does not participate. “I think everyone wants to participate, but some are overcome by shyness and inhibitions.” He recognizes that quiet students can excel in learning. “Sometimes students who don’t talk in class can be excellent students,” he said.

    One method he incorporates in his classroom is reading texts aloud. Ehre, who currently is teaching two courses––one about the works of Aleksander Pushkin and another titled Human Being and Citizen––reads aloud from both literature and philosophy texts.

    Audibly reading the text helps students absorb the materials, he said. “It makes the text present instead of an abstract discussion.”

    Ehre said if he had a teaching philosophy, it would be to love what you are doing. He chose his profession based on the examples of those who came before him. “The teachers I had in high school seemed to be happy people,” said Ehre, who as a teen-ager decided he wanted to follow in their footsteps. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from The City College of New York in 1955, he taught elementary and secondary school.

    He said he enjoys working with undergraduate students because of their “openness to ideas and the fact that they’re not settled into pre-professional modes. They’re inquisitive about many things––about everything actually.”

    That same inquisitive spirit is what led Ehre to his present career. He began studying Russian as a hobby while attending night school. In 1966, he completed a master’s degree in the language, and four years later, he earned his doctorate degree from Columbia University.

    While teaching at the University, Ehre has translated works by Anton Chekhov and Nikolay Gogol and written Oblomov and His Creator: The Life and Art of Ivan Goncharov. Currently, he is translating Pushkin’s dramas. This September, as a guest of the Academy of Science of Russia, he will be a member of a commission for the creation of the history of Russian literature in the 20th century.

    During the course of the last 32 years, Ehre has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, a Guggenheim fellowship and two Fulbright-Hays fellowships.

    In some ways, the Quantrell Award is more meaningful, he said. “I’ve devoted my life to teaching, and it’s very nice that other people noticed. This is like pure whipped cream––which I’m not allowed to eat.” As for the award, he is partaking in the delight.