• Home
  • /
  • e. What's Happening At RMC
  • /
  • “Love what you teach” – Humility & Dedication on Display at First Installment of 2021 Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award Public Lecture

“Love what you teach” – Humility & Dedication on Display at First Installment of 2021 Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award Public Lecture

Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt 

For only the second time in the 31 year history of the Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award, this year there are two winners. And this past Monday saw the Public Lecture portion for the first winner, Dr. Irwin Streight of RMC’s Department of English, Culture, and Communication.

“I don’t count myself among the number of great teachers,” Dr. Streight admitted during his lecture. “Teaching never comes easy to me even after thirty plus years in the business. I may not love teaching but I love what I teach and that truth can cover over a multitude of pedagogical shortcomings.” That love for his subject was evident throughout his presentation which was entitled “Walking on Water: Reflections on the Truths of Teaching after 30 Years.” He wove a narrative stretching back through the decades to touch not only on the people who have made the professor he is today but also on the lessons he has learned over the years.

“After thirty years teaching is still a bit of a mystery to me but here are the reflections of a reluctant and often terrified individual. One truth is that whether teachers are aware of it or not they can unwittingly chart the course for their students’ lives. A casual offhand remark can easily fill the sails of an impressionable student. And it’s a sobering realization. My own life took the direction it did because of a similar remark,” he told those present on Zoom. “In the absence of other guides in my life, a teacher named Mrs. Anderson told me I should enroll in the creative writing program at the University of Victoria. It was a casual conversation that took place in a busy high school hallway but it set me on my course. It’s doubtful she ever learned the impact of her words but I did as she suggested and I never considered any other options.”

Another truth of teaching, as Dr. Streight explained, is that to teach is to learn twice. “In my years at Queen’s I had a strict attendance policy: ‘We are impoverished by your absence.’ And it’s true. Every student might be the one to teach you something. And the literary scholar is a sleuth and a discoverer. In my exchanges with students I’m almost certainly going to learn something as well. In addition, every day in the university classroom you will meet your intellectual superior. This has been particularly resonant for me on two occasions when students submitted papers I honestly thought were plagiarized because they were far beyond what I had expected of them as students.”

The final truth of teaching that Dr. Streight touched on had more to do with teachers than with teaching itself. “‘Ask that guy, he should know’ is a common theme amongst university professors,” he said. “A scholar is expected to have wide, specific knowledge and if not we feel like an imposter. But the truth is that university professors are sometimes forced into imposter roles. The workaday lives of profs are so unrelentingly full that there is never enough time to adequately prepare for all of our roles.”

By his own admission, Dr. Streight may not love teaching but his love for what he teachers has not only prepared him well for his role as a professor at RMC but also highlights the humility that comes with teaching excellence.

Among the eighty or so attendees who were present for the lecture by Zoom were RMC Commandant G3841 Commodore Josée Kurtz, senior members of the RMC academic staff and members of the Class of 1965, and Cadets and professors from RMC’s department of English, Culture, and Communication.

Dr. Phil Bates, RMC’s Vice Principal for Academics, and 6496 Charles Émond of the Class of 1965, gave a brief overview of the Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award. As Charles Émond explained, “A recently departed classmate of ours, 6604 Jim Carruthers, dearly wanted to be here tonight to recognize how important it is for Cadets to have a professor like Dr. Streight. It was during a moment of introspection some twenty years after graduation that Jim came to the realization his success in life would not have happened without the support and careful nurturing of his professors.” As Charles Émond went on, Jim’s timing was fortuitous: “This happened at a time when the Class of 1965 was considering a legacy gift to the College. We coalesced around the raising the profile of teaching at the military colleges. The Class wanted students not only to nominate but to be directly involved in the selection process. Students are encouraged to participate fully and not be intimated by the presence of previous award winners. This is an incredible privilege for the Class of 1965 and we hope to be able to continue to impact the quality of teaching at RMC for years to come.”

As Dr. Bates elaborated, this year’s Teaching Excellence Award is unique in having two winners. “In February of each year we send out a call for nominations. Professors are never self-nominated but rather are nominated by faculty and students. Every year we get ten to twelve nominations. If those professors choose to let their nomination stand then we have them submit their teaching philosophy and their CV and we get our committee of experts, including Charles Émond, three former Teaching Excellence Award winners, and several Officer Cadets. We meet over Zoom to assess the nominations and come up with a short list of four to six before going back to the nominating committees to try to whittle the short list down to one. We can usually settle on just one but this year, for only the second time in the history of the Teaching Excellence Award, we have a tie. Tonight’s is the first Public Lecture and in February 2022 we’ll have the second presentation by Ms. Annie Riel who coincidentally is the first non-professor to win the Award. She’s a Second Language Teacher in the Language Centre at RMC.”

Congratulations to both of this year’s winners!

For a list of past Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award winners please see here.

The RMC Alumni Association is proud to sponsor the Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award thanks to the generous support of the Class of 1965.

2 Comments

  • Sharon Donnelly

    November 30, 2021 at 11:53 am

    Congratulations Irwin! I came to know Irwin when I was coaching his son. I was immediately drawn to what a great person he was and among many attributes was his humility and engagement when conversing with him. Lucky are those that have him as their professor!
    Sharon Donnelly
    17324