Source: Boston Sunday Globe May 23, 2005

Front of the Class


Howard Tinberg admits that when he first started teaching, he didn't listen to his students as well as he should have. But now, the Bristol Community College professor lectures less and listens more, urging his students to take part in their own learning.

An English professor, Tinberg won the 2004 Outstanding Community College Professor of the Year from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Tinberg has taught English at Bristol in Fall River since 1987. He teaches composition and British literature and has created a course on the Holocaust in literature and history.

He has been director of the college's writing lab since 1993.

As one of his teaching techniques, Tinberg sends students into their community to research their interests.

What students bring to the table: "While I once saw students as passive recipients of the knowledge that I would transfer to them, I now regard students as active agents in their own learning - indeed, as researchers themselves, fully capable, if given the opportunity, to make new knowledge and to achieve expertise . ... They are not empty vessels. They come with a range of experience that can be useful in the classroom."

What teachers need to learn: "The challenge for faculty over the long haul is to remain students, to remind themselves to be intellectually active and step out of their own environments as teachers. "

A common misunderstanding about community college professors: That "we really don't or can't engage in research and keep up as scholars in our field .... We can be really sound scholars and really good researchers."

What community college teachers need to do: "We need to ground our teaching in theory. We also need to go out to conferences and remain connected, which is difficult since we're teaching four or five classes a semester and we need to work harder to get out and meet other professors to exchange a dialogue."

Theory's relevance to a 19-year-old? "We have to know what a 19-year-old knows to discuss theories of development . ... Studies have been done following students to see how they learn."

The plus of a writing center. "It's hard to focus on individuals in the classroom. The writing lab specializes in a one-on-one teaching moment and, in my case, I get to tutor students over some time and assist some students on their portfolios."

On his favorite class: "I studied British literature in graduate school, so teaching it brings me back to that point in my career, but my professional identification is in composition .... Since I'm the child of Holocaust survivors, I also have a personal connection with the Holocaust course I teach."

On tutoring: "It's a developmental process and some take longer than others. I'm working with a student now who is writing a paper on the benefits of video games but his paper wasn't structured to highlight his knowledge effectively . ... He isn't putting in new information but rearranging material so that it highlights his research. He's getting there."

KATIE Oliveri