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Pieces of Eight


2006 Teaching Award Winners Share Philosophies

Following are excerpts from the teaching philosophies of 2006 teaching award winners Gregg Hecimovich (English) and Dr. P.J. Schenarts (Medicine). Philosophies of additional award winners will be featured in upcoming issues.

Gregg Hecimovich
Department of English
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award

In the classroom, I have found a space rich in possibilities. To make the classroom a site of self-discovery, I frequently experiment with teaching techniques.

English professor Gregg Hecimovich, winner of a 2006 Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award, incorporates the classic children’s game, “Operation,” to help his students take an active role in their own education. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)

For instance in my British literature survey course, to complete our study of Percy Bysshe Shelley, we read the difficult closet drama “Prometheus Unbound.” The drama is about the reintegration of universal “man” though the renunciation of hatred and the triumph of pity. (As Blake notes: “They have divided themselves by Wrath, they must be united by / Pity…in terrors of self-annihilation”).

To aid in our understanding, I bring in the popular children’s game “Operation.” In the game, players must surgically remove and then replace bones and organs without touching the electronically sensitive edges (the nose lights up and there is a buzz).

I re-stack the cards and rearrange the rules of the game. In class, the group gathers around and everyone participates. Students re-enact Shelley’s narrative by reading lines from the poetic drama before executing their tasks.

For instance, Asia’s famous lyric, “My Soul is an enchanted boat,” usually finds a student winding up a toy boat in a bowl of water and placing the plastic heart in the boat. As the boat and heart course their way through the waters, the student recites Asia’s famous lyric representing the triumph of Love and its slow procession toward re-integration.

By the end of the class, the wishbone (“Hope”), the pen (the “Arts”), love (the “heart”), the Adam’s Apple (“speech”) – all are re-integrated in the body of Prometheus. Finally, the class helps to dramatize the Epithalamion of Shelley’s fifth act by orating over the “resurrected” body of Prometheus. Shelley, like Milton Bradley, like our own class, plays with poetry.

My practical methodology (my “performance” as teacher) is largely Socratic. I find this pedagogy particularly effective in encouraging students to take an active role in their own education, since it emphasizes student agency in exploring and shaping questions and in fashioning answers.

In my courses, I mix mini-lectures, close readings, student reports, and dramatic productions to help students stage and rehearse the themes central to the course. For instance, when teaching novels and dramatic monologues, I require students to produce and perform their own interpretations of representative scenes.

First, they research the historical background of the material they present. Then they explore the social, political, or theoretical contexts of their subjects. Finally, in full costume, they perform their interpretations for their peers.

I attempt to provide in such assignments what I attempt to provide in my written work – a commitment to history and theory, grounded in a dedication to close reading and a passion for literary language.

Invariably, students who initially balk at the language of “My Last Duchess” or the narrative absurdities of Dickens’s social satire begin to understand literary performance not simply as words on a page but as a necessarily multivalent and visceral experience. The kinesthetic play of literature, I contend, models and rehearses the imaginative, physical, and practical tasks that enliven and make whole day-to-day living.

By allowing students to realize and perform meaning in my courses, I invite students to engage the many levels on which meaning and experience are structured to explore the ideas and social formations that govern an author’s world as well as our own. I remain committed to convincing students that revision occurs not merely in essays, but in the daily codes and rituals that subtly structure thoughts and lives.

P.J. Schenarts
Brody School of Medicine

Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award
and the 2006 Robert L. Jones Award for Outstanding Teaching

If one looks up the word “teacher” in a thesaurus the following synonyms are listed: advisor, guide, mentor, master and even slave driver. However, it is the word “coach” that fully embodies my personal philosophy of education.

Surgery is a “full-contact sport” with the learning being both physically and mentally demanding. A surgical educator must appreciate this unique characteristic and be sensitive to the emotional toll it takes on the learner. During these difficult times an effective clinical teacher must be able to find the intrinsic motivation that each student has to elevate his or her performance.


The teacher must also provide energy, enthusiasm and even humor in order to reinvigorate the learner and keep them in the game. At the level of graduate medical education, the learner is much like a talented athlete.

They are self-motivated and seek out progressively greater challenges. Unfortunately, many learners do not fully understand their maximal potential and frequently underestimate it. The teacher must work to improve an individual’s understanding of this potential and the importance of fully exploiting it.

For adult learners, medical training needs to satisfy the minimal requirements for graduation but must also be tailored to meet the individual’s future professional goals. Once these goals are developed and an understanding of their potential is achieved, the student and the teacher need to build a mutual partnership that will push the limits of the student’s knowledge, skills and abilities.

At times the student may not be comfortable being pushed this hard and it is the teacher’s responsibility to maintain a challenging, but not abusive learning environment.

To avoid confusion and personality conflicts, educational expectations need to be reasonable, clearly stated in advance, and frequently reinforced.

To avoid the negative connotations of a master or slave driver an effective teacher must be able to balance being demanding with being respectful, and insistence on excellence with the realities of human frailties.

Students must feel that achieving their maximal potential is an objective the teacher also shares.
Training medical students and residents in surgery is fundamentally different than almost any other educational endeavor. To begin, the surgical educator is not only a coach but is in fact a player-coach, who must be able to provide effective teaching about surgical disease while simultaneously not jeopardizing the patient’s well-being.

This is probably the most challenging aspect of surgical education. It requires the educator to fully understand the nature of the clinical problem while at the same time comprehend the learner’s abilities.

In order for the student or resident to progress, the educator has to be able to relinquish control but not the responsibility for the patient.

The second way clinical teaching is different is that the number, types and acuity of patients being evaluated at any given time is constantly changing. This inherent variability requires the effective clinical teacher to be flexible, innovative and knowledgeable in the full spectrum of surgical disease.

Under these conditions there is no time to develop a comprehensive lesson plan and the educator must be able to present an up-to-date, accurate, organized approach to a wide variety of problems. The clinical situation does not excuse poor quality teaching or teaching material that is wrong or outdated.

Finally, my greatest accomplishment is watching students and residents become successful at the next level. Being an effective teacher is not about being a master, a slave driver or even popular for that matter.

It is about coaching the learner to their highest level of performance that will have a positive and lasting effect in the future.

This page originally appeared in the Feb. 23, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at