September 5, 2008
Photo by Mark Ferguson
By Mark Ferguson
Baljit Singh has won seven teaching awards as a professor in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) since he began teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, including being named a master teacher at spring convocation, but not a single one hangs on his office wall.
“My attitude is that we don’t need awards to be the best we can be,” said Singh. “To inspire our students should be thanks enough.”
Singh works with graduate students and teaches a first-year anatomy class. Although he is quick to point out the grade point average in his course is not great, he feels that pushing his students is more important than marks.
“We should be thankful we have this job to teach. There seems to be a perception that teaching awards mean being easy on students, but this is not true. The onus is on us to be rigorous.”
One of the master teacher’s favourite quotes, he says, is from a former student at the University of Prince Edward Island who said, “we like a teacher who walks the walk with us.”
Singh takes this to heart.
In 2000, the university introduced a new Faculty in Residence program where a faculty member lives in a student residence. It was designed to bridge the gap between students and faculty, and to provide academic advising for the university’s residence students. Singh singed up for the program with the intention of staying for one year. Eight years later, he is still living in residence, where he says he and his family—his wife and 4-year-old son—couldn’t be happier.
“Living with students has enriched my life. It’s made me a better teacher.”
Singh is constantly working and improving his teaching philosophy based on how the students respond to his classes. Beyond the normal teaching evaluations issued by the university, he also likes to receive his own evaluations by sitting down with students to talk about what worked, and what didn’t work in the class.
There are two points that Singh insists students know when they enter his class, the first being that they have the ability to change the way a course is taught, and the second being that “I will listen,” he laughs.
“What I like to do is engage students, to learn how a course needs to be taught. My goal is to move into the background so they barely know me, they don’t feel me, but I’m there. I feel happy when they find their own answers, when they question the facts in front of us. The final answer lies with students. I embrace student input.”
Singh doesn’t appear to be in the background however, as everyone seems to know Professor “Baljit” in the WCVM.
As the recipient of the 2008 Master Teacher Award, Singh received a ring, pin and a $1,000 honorarium from the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness – a centre with the goal of supporting and enhancing teaching and learning at the U of S. Some 47 professors have been named master teachers since the inception of the award in 1984.
“I felt happy and humbled because I know the calibre of teachers that have won this award,” Singh said.