By Victoria Modenesi, Social Media Director
Dr. Frank Grady is the current chair for the Department of English and the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for 2016. The award celebrates and honors teachers who have demonstrated outstanding teaching abilities for at least seven years at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The award has vigorous criteria, including up to six letters of support from students, alumni, colleagues, administrators, and community leaders. As a faculty member at UMSL for more than 20 years, Grady’s letters of support were from various sources. He said that some of the alumni who submitted the nominations studied with him 10 to 15 years ago and that “it’s both gratifying and humbling to think that they remember and continue to value those experiences.” But who is behind the award?
Grady explained that explain he has been inspired by his teachers and mentors throughout his academic career. Grady, who completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his PhD at the University of California at Berkley, said, “I’ve benefited from having studied with passionate, energetic, challenging instructors from high school… to college… to graduate school… Once you get to the other side of the desk, not embarrassing one’s mentors turns out to be a strong motivation.” Grady also explained that “working in the company of successful instructors, the kind that you often hear students talking about, keeps you on your game.”
Grady tries to be like his mentors as much as possible. When talking about his experiences in the classroom in general, Grady expounded on the traits that are a source for his admiration. “The [teachers that] I’ve admired routinely brought…mastery of the material, a contagious and unwavering enthusiasm for the job at hand …a sense of humor…and a commitment to taking student’s efforts seriously and to holding them to a high standard,” he said.
However, Grady brings his own perspective and years of experience to his teaching. He explained that his classes are student-centered, but that this result is “inevitably the focus of my efforts as well as [the students’ effort].” He tries to appeal to different learning styles but said, “If my practice can be said to appeal to different learning strategies, that’s because over the last decade the integration of classroom technologies has helped me develop a pedagogy that’s increasingly flexible.”
In recounting an anecdote at his son’s baseball game, Grady demonstrated how his pedagogy has grown to into a mindset for life. He recalled an instance in which he assisted his son’s baseball game and the coach was having a hard time communicating with one of the players; the jargon that the coach used was unintelligible to the kid. “You can’t teach that way—not baseball, not literature, not cooking, not car repair,” Grady said. “You always need at least two and preferably three or four ways to explain something in order to help someone put it into practice. That’s certainly what I try to do in the classroom. “
His success in teaching has been also dominated by his resolute passion for medieval literature, with an emphasis on Chaucer in particular. His choice field of study was first fueled by a lecture on Chaucer, though Grady says, “Chaucer and medieval texts work as well as anything else to serve the larger goals and values of a liberal education: rigorous critical analysis and clear communication, flexible and innovative thinking, the cultivation of a sympathetic imagination. Plus I think they’re a lot more fun than some of the alternatives.”
Keep an eye out for some of Grady’s courses in the upcoming spring semester.