Creating a community of learners | Work of Arts
Creating a community of learners | Work of Arts

Creating a community of learners

by | October 9, 2014
Photography by Ryan Parker
Award-winning teacher Micah True creates community in his classroom, transforming students into an engaged group of learners and impacting their lives.

Professor Micah True vividly remembers the moment he first realized he was having an impact on his students.

He had given his class at Tulane University an assignment to deliver a mock newscast. One particularly enthusiastic student ended her presentation with a video clip that, much to True’s surprise, featured a song she’d written about him.

“It was kind of horrifying, but also really flattering,” he recalls. “I thought ‘Wow, they like me.’”

IMG_9881-3387003490-OTrue’s students at the U of A may not have gone to such drastic lengths to express their appreciation, but since he joined the Department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies in 2010, they’ve consistently showered praise and near-perfect scores on him in their end-of-course teaching evaluations.

True, an assistant professor of French literature and folklore, is modest about what makes him so successful in the classroom, and about the recent teaching awards his talents have garnered him: the 2014 Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Teaching Award (Early Achievement) and a 2014 Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

He credits a pair of professors from his undergraduate days as positive role models — his first French professor, who had “a knack for getting everyone to speak in class,” and a journalism professor whose approach to mentoring students through writing assignments has impacted the way True provides feedback to his students now.

He also looks to the other end of the spectrum for guidance about what not to do in the classroom — in particular, a professor who “scared the hell out of everybody” to the point where no one wanted to speak in class.

IMG_0020-3386994026-OIn fact, True believes the most important part of his teaching approach is creating a safe atmosphere that encourages students to participate, as speaking the language is the only way they can make true progress with their French skills.

“Part of [creating that atmosphere] is just being friendly and open with them,” he explains. “Part of it is mixing as much stand-up comedy into the instruction as I can. That doesn’t mean the classroom is a show — it’s not just for fun — but in order for it to be a productive space for the students, they have to be comfortable.”

True also incorporates group activities into his instruction as a way to take the pressure off students. “You could think of it as rehearsing — they get to say everything once and maybe get corrected by their friends instead of being corrected by me in front of the entire class,” he says.

IMG_9936-2-3387006549-OThe success of True’s approach is reflected in his students’ feedback. Many students have commented on his ability to create an inviting and inclusive community within the classroom and on how their speaking skills improved as a result.

“Micah is the best French professor I’ve ever had. I wish he could have taught all of my classes,” wrote one. “Just keep being awesome,” recommended another.

True believes the most important part of his teaching approach is creating a safe atmosphere that encourages students to participate.

When students have the confidence to speak up, it leads to other rewards for True as well. “The most enjoyment I get out of teaching is when I can see that a text I really like is exciting for students too,” he says. “When they’re getting really interested in it and having interesting things to say about it, that’s really gratifying to me.”

Teaching in the Faculty of Arts

Sometimes all it takes is one great professor to change a student’s entire outlook on the world and direction in life.

We’re proud to maintain an extremely high calibre of teaching in the Faculty of Arts. In 2014, we were the recipient of an unprecedented eight University of Alberta teaching excellence awards.

Rutherford Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

William Hardy Alexander Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Teaching Unit Award

Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching


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