Excellence in Teaching
Excellence in Teaching
Dr. Jeff Wiemelt
Associate Professor, Director of Freshman English
Re-writing the Standards of Teaching
What makes a great teacher? Some say good lesson plans. Some say a burning desire to impart knowledge to others. Jeff Wiemelt, Southeastern’s 2008 winner of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, says it’s imagination.
“A good teacher has to be able to imagine things from a student’s point of view,” he said. “It’s got to be as much about learning as it is about teaching.”
Graduate student Victoria Tangi whole-heartedly agrees with Wiemelt’s teaching philosophy.
“He has that rare quality of really knowing his students, something that enables him to guide the student into the production of his or her very best work, work that requires stringent effort and discipline, but that brings out the student’s best abilities,” Tangi said.
Wiemelt strives to make his classes challenging and allows his students the opportunity to make choices.
“If I want students to make choices in my classroom, I need to be flexible as a teacher,” he said. “I want them to take ownership over their learning. I certainly want to organize my class so that the students have a feeling of accomplishment at the end; I don’t want them leaving my class thinking it was easy,” he said.
Wiemelt came to Southeastern in 1995 from Madison, Wis., to grow the writing center. And grow it did. From it’s humble beginnings, the writing center has become the bustling program it is today, serving thousands of students each semester.
The primary objective of the center is to help students build excellence in writing across their curricula. In fact, excellence is a recurring theme with Wiemelt. He constantly strives to improve the standards of writing, not only in the English department, but across various departments in the university to shape and enhance how writing is taught
in the classroom.
“This student-centered philosophy, established by Jeff Wiemelt as the center’s director, has provided many years of opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to become an integral part of a culture of writing across Southeastern disciplines,” said David Hanson, head of the Department of English. “Jeff mentored his students by giving them a ‘stake’ in the center; he also required them to take responsibility and accountability when things did not go smoothly. Empowering students is a mark of a great mentor and teacher.”
During his tenure at the writing center, Wiemelt trained and supervised 400 paid graduate, undergraduate, and volunteer staff. He supervised delivery of roughly 17,000 individual writing conferences for students from across the Southeastern curriculum, and also developed, conducted, and supervised some 150 in-house and on-site writing-related workshops for students and faculty.
“We have an opportunity to help teachers within the English department and beyond shape and enhance how they teach writing in the classroom,” he said. “Certainly we played a big role in promoting good teaching in our own English classes, but then we became the default experts for ‘how do we teach this biology lab’,” he said.
Wiemelt’s experience with the center enabled him to have a direct impact upon what he calls the “culture of teaching” through his involvement in the American Diploma
A national initiative of Achieve, Inc., the American Diploma Project was created and funded by the National Board of Governors and national business leaders to help states raise academic standards, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for post secondary education, work and citizenship.
Wiemelt was selected as one of five national K-college teachers assisting in the project’s ‘backmapping’ of new national English and Language Arts standards onto observable classroom-based performances as a guide for curriculum development and assessment.
“I was fortunate to be part of the Louisiana delegation as the representative for the Louisiana System,” he said. “After that I stayed on as a consultant rewriting the standards for what it would mean for a high school teacher in an English IV class to try to implement those standards into her own classroom.”
In fact, the very standards that Wiemelt helped develop are now held as the national models that are distributed around the country.
“The more immediate goal of the Louisiana delegation was to write a set of state- based standards that we could take back to our high school redesign commission,” he said. “When they met last year for revision of their own curriculum standards, that was one of the guiding documents they used.”
Currently Wiemelt serves as the director of the freshmen English writing program. He oversees the administration of roughly 150 course sections of freshman composition and supervises and mentors 55 freshman English faculty, including classroom visits, materials review, and workshop development.
“I have learned an important lesson from friends and students, surely the most important insight any teacher must possess, and the one all those years of preparation and training so often fail to convey that a teacher must remain a learner, and those that teach us best are the students and colleagues we see each day.”