Addicted to the classroom
Frank Harvey, Excellence in Teaching award winner
Andy Murdoch - May 28, 2012
Political Science Professor Frank Harvey, one of Canada’s top foreign policy thinkers, has won a few teaching awards during his twenty year career at Dalhousie. But this year, the winner of our top teaching award, the Dalhousie Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching, reveals what motivates him to become a better teacher.
“I have to tell you, one of the things that I think creates the foundation for better and better teaching is fear. I am typically worried about letting the students down.”
Every semester, he reads student comments and evaluation forms. He thrives off positive criticism and takes each suggestion to heart. All dedicated teachers do, he says.
“We are all in the same boat. Every prof is basically in the same place, trying to improve,” he says. “The only way to improve is to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes, and to get feedback. Over time, you get a sense of what works.”
One year, a class discussion might fall flat. The next year, talking over the same issue with different students, fascinating insights begin to bloom, he says.
So his lectures constantly evolve. He sweats historical details, removes points that didn’t work, labours to keep slides and videos up to date and regularly brings in guest lecturers who can offer first-hand stories from conflict zones like Afghanistan or Iraq.
Once, Dr. Harvey hosted the Israeli Ambassador to Canada and a representative from the Palestinian Authority. In his mind, there was no clearer way to expose the divisions and common ground shared in that part of the world. His students agreed.
“I can’t lecture that. You have to experience it through those speakers,” he says.
Dr. Harvey designs his lectures on American foreign policy and international violence to generate debate.
“I don’t want to reinforce conventional wisdom and I don’t want to reinforce biases. I want students to open up, unpack the issues, see what they assume, look at the alternatives, and then make an informed judgment.”
When it all comes together and you connect with students through a lecture or seminar, there’s no better feeling in the world for a teacher, he says.
“When you get that feeling, it’s self-reinforcing. You really get addicted to having a great class.”
And that high, Dr. Harvey says, might be his greatest motivator to work as hard as he does in a classroom.