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The Teacher As Taskmaster

A good teacher must combine the qualities of taskmaster and nurturer – a difficult act, but one that Marion Brown has mastered during 32 years of teaching in the Department of Agricultural Journalism. His efforts have earned him a Jung Teaching Award for 1997.

“My courses are heavily task-oriented,” he says. “My students write and speak. I criticize their writing and speaking; question the quality and depth of inquiry and thought they have put into their drafts and outlines. I try to keep the focus on the process of organizing without losing sight of the importance of outcome.”

He does this while maintaining, or sometimes generating, enthusiasm for the tasks at hand. As one colleague observed, “Many students come to this campus with substandard writing skills. They often recognize that they can”t write well and are embarrassed and/or defensive about their lack of training. Marion has developed effective strategies to help these students overcome the mental blocks they may have about writing and turn them into effective communicators. His writing classes become exciting adventures that draw all of his students into the discussion. The poor writer feels as welcomed to participate as the confident one, and that makes for effective learning for everyone.”

During his tenure at CALS, Brown has taught nearly every course in the Ag Journalism catalog, along with developing and revising several of them. He regularly taught two courses per year during his nine years as department chair, including the Ag Journalism capstone course, Publicity, Media and Methods.

Brown also teaches non-majors who have to take a writing course. For most, this is the recently revamped AJ 100, Introduction to Communication: Inquiry and Exposition. He uses audio and video recordings to enable the students to become their own critics and learn from observing themselves as communicators.

In student course evaluations, non-majors taking required courses can be tough customers. While they sometimes complain about the workload, his AJ 100 students consistently rate all categories of the course above 4.5 on a 5-point scale; in most semesters they gave Brown a solid 5 for concern and helpfulness.

He teaches one section of AJ 100 and supervises five teaching assistants who handle the rest. Supervising TAs involves teaching the teachers, at which Brown excels. He helped to develop a detailed syllabus and series of assignments for the course, and works intensively with his TAs, weekly and sometimes daily, to maintain integrity across all sections of the course.

“Perhaps most impressive of all is the training he provided for the TAs we hired to teach various sections of the course,” a colleague noted. “He maintained very high performance standards for these graduate students at the same time he reassured them that they were capable of first-rate teaching. Somehow his vision for TAs was irresistible. They did indeed perform extremely well.”

A student”s comment illustrates the Brown classroom experience: “As a returning adult student, my fears were enormous and my confidence low until I sat in the classroom of Professor Brown. His obvious enjoyment of teaching and vast experience creates a dynamic learning environment. He does all of this while nurturing each student to his or her full potential,” one student wrote. “Because of Professor Brown”s outstanding teaching and personal encouragement, I have chosen Ag Journalism as a major and am thriving within this school.”