By Teresa Brooks
College is the time in a person’s life where he or she can begin to grow, not only as an academic, but as their own person. That’s why college professors are so important to students—they help people find themselves.
Margaret Brabant, a political science professor and chair of the faculty senate, knows that. How she teaches and communicates with her students is the result of others making impacts on her life, she said.
“During my undergraduate work, a favorite teacher of mine one day stopped me on the quad and asked, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ And when I told him I didn’t know. He said I should teach, he said I was ‘a natural,’” Brabant said. “After his 40 years in the classroom he could pick out teachers. He was the one to push me to go on to graduate school and become a teacher.”
Senior pharmacy major Tori Brown is in one of Brabant’s classes. She said she chose to delay another class to make sure she could take a class with Brabant.
Brown touched upon Brabant’s connection with her students.
“It was remarkable that she was able to keep things so professional in the classroom but so quickly opened up when the course was over,” Brown said.
Another one of Brabant’s students, junior political science major Brian Bean, said he has recognized her ability to make connections with students within her classes.
“If she knows you, she will joke around with you, but it is always within the context of the class,” Bean said. “It is never inappropriate.
“Her class is less like a lecture and more like a conversation with the students. You don’t have to sit there and think ‘What does she want me to grab from this?’ because she cares about the students opinions and teaches from that.”
That is something that Brabant strives to achieve in the classroom.
She said she wants her students to know that the expression of their opinions and thoughts are what make learning possible.
“Classes work because students work,” Brabant said. “It’s mutual. I think students often underestimate their power to influence the way teachers teach.If you give back to us, we feed on it because it’s a calling.”
She shows her students what she expects from them simply by setting the example. She said right now the position she has taken in her teaching is knowing that making mistakes is okay as long as her students are learning, because that is what matters.
“It’s okay to stumble,” Brabant said. “God knows I do it all the time. It is part of the learning process. So I think that’s where I am right now in my teaching. I’m not so worried about looking a little foolish because I think it’s worth the risk for what I see in my students’ eyes and what they can produce on paper and what they say in class. It’s worth it.”
Brabant said being a mother may have also made her teaching more multidimensional.
“Having my own kid gives me a different sense of what you might be experiencing and going through,” she said. “I’m not ever going to lower the bar, but I know that I want to have fun in the classroom as well as teach.
“Because I think that when we let down our guards a little bit, when we allow ourselves to be exposed and perhaps a bit vulnerable, that’s where real learning can take place.”
In her 19 years of teaching, Brabant said she has also learned what her role should be as a professor.
“I’m here as a guide, but I’m standing on the side of the road and I’ve got a lantern and that’s about it,” Brabant said. “And I can wave it, I can set it down, I can hold it over my head, but I can’t lead you. I can’t take you all the way down that road because I don’t know where your road is going. I’m just on the side of your road in this particular moment in your time and that’s it and if I shed some light that’s marvelous and I’m delighted.”