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Teaching the Teachers

Riggsbee honored for her training of future teachers

Jan Riggsbee works with Durham Public School students Casey Barr and Joy Wright.

When Jan Riggsbee stands up in front of a class, she's not just concerned about what she's teaching. She also thinks about how she's teaching.

As director of elementary teacher preparation in Duke's Program in Education, Riggsbee teaches teaching. So every class meeting is a chance to show her students how it's done.

"It's like a lab," says Riggsbee, whose prowess earned her the Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award. "When looking at plans for my class sessions, I think about the strategies that I can use to motivate and engage students. I feel constantly challenged to teach content while demonstrating innovative teaching practices."

Honoring Teaching and Mentoring

Duke University this week honored faculty and students for excellence in teaching and mentoring in Trinity College and the Graduate School. Here is a list of award winners: The teaching awards recognize faculty and graduate students for their knowledge, ability to encourage intellectual excitement and to communicate that excitement to students.

The mentoring awards, sponsored by the Graduate School, underscore the importance of mentoring in education. This is the first year that graduate students were eligible for the mentoring awards.

Alumni Undergraduate Distinguished Teaching Award

Jerry Reiter, Statistics and Decision Sciences

School of Law


Distinguished Teaching Award

Catherine Fisk, professor of law

School of Medicine

Golden Apple Awards

Stuart Grant, Clinical Faculty

Daniel Schmitt, House Staff

Jack Haney, Basic Science

Pratt School of Engineering

Klein Family Distinguished Teaching Award

Kathryn R. Nightingale, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

Lois and John L. Imhoff Distinguished Teaching Award

Joseph C. Nadeau, associate CEE professor of the practice

Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research

Earl Dowell, William Holland Hall Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising

George A. Truskey, professor and chair of biomedical engineering

Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award Winners:

Richard L. Lublin Award

Lee Baker, Associate Professor, Cultural Anthropology

Dean's Distinguished Service Award

Alvin Crumbliss, Professor, Department of Chemistry

David and Janet Vaughan Brooks Award

Alexander Hartemink, Assistant Professor, Computer Science

Howard D. Johnson Award

Claudia Koonz, Professor, Department of History

Award for Excellence in Teaching Writing

Jason Mahn, Mellon Fellow, University Writing Program

University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award

Thomas Nechyba, Professor, Department of Economics

Robert B. Cox Award

Jan Riggsbee, Assistant Professor, Program in Education

Dean's Awards for Excellence in Mentoring: Faculty Award

Herbert Edelsbrunner, Professor, Computer Science and Mathematics

Susan Lozier, Professor, Nicholas School

Laurie Shannon, E. Blake Byrne Associate Professor, Department of English and Department of Theater Studies

Graduate Student Awards:

Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching

Lisa Cavanaugh, Department of Business Administration

Marc Reibold, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature

Dean's Awards for Excellence in Mentoring

Lawrence Boyd, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Adam Hartstone-Rose, Graduate student, Biological Anthropology & Anatomy

Kristina McDonald, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

That means that her students might hear a lecture, break into small groups to discuss key points, prepare an activity for application in the public school classroom, take part in a student-led seminar to debate issues related to public education, and participate in a reflective session to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching methods -- all in one 2 1/2 -- hour class.

By using different kinds of research-based methods, Riggsbee creates a classroom environment in which her students learn actively and retain the information she's conveying.

"We're applying these methods to our own content, with the ultimate goal of application in the schools," Riggsbee says.

Her students say it works. "Not once did I have to ask myself what great teaching looked like, because the answer was right in front of me," student Amy Hamilton wrote in a letter of support for the teaching award.

In his letter nominating Riggsbee for the award, Harris Cooper, director of the Program in Education, said, "She is a tireless and exceptional educator -- I believe there is no other faculty member in the college who spends more time and effort, and does so more effectively, than Jan Riggsbee in educating Duke's undergraduates."

Riggsbee describes her work as a "mission," and part of that is serving as a mentor to her students outside the classroom. Program graduate Jan Scott Farmer noted in her support letter that Riggsbee also helped students by "hosting dinners, emailing current events in education, and finding books that I could use in my class."

This summer, Riggsbee is mentoring students from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill who created "Student U," a summer program for Durham Public Schools students held at Durham Academy. The program provides a six-week summer school and ongoing tutoring and mentoring for middle school students, provided by college and high school students.

Dan Kimberg, who graduated from Duke in May, says Riggsbee was one of the first people he told about his dream to create Student U.

"She's the real deal," he says. "She is one of my great friends and mentors in this world. She's truly an incredible person."

Riggsbee agreed to be on the Student U advisory board, helped create their training program for the student instructors and is working as a teacher mentor this summer.

"Jan has been such a support from the first time I told her the dream I had," Kimberg says.

Although Riggsbee is teaching undergraduates now, her background is in public education. She started teaching in 1975, and has been a classroom teacher and school administrator, most recently serving as Head of Triangle Day School, an independent K-8 school in Durham, from 1999 to 2002 while on leave from Duke.

"Teaching has been my life," she says. Even as a university professor, she is thinking about the children that eventually will benefit.

"Our [Duke] students are so bright. They're leaders," she says. "It's a way for our graduates to make a difference in public education."

That dedication to the classroom also has led her to support teachers in the Durham Public Schools. In 2006 she was named director of Duke's Academically/Intellectually Gifted Licensure Program (AIG), which offers elementary, middle, and high school teachers training and a license in teaching gifted children. She also works with Duke's Center for Teacher Learning and Collaboration, which offers support and training to mid-career teachers in the Durham schools.

But Riggsbee says the real measure of her success is how well her students are doing. She proudly reports that Farmer was nominated for Teacher of the Year at Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet in Durham after just one semester of fulltime teaching.

"Their success makes me feel successful," Riggsbee says. "What could be more important than empowering undergraduates to make a difference in the lives of children?"