Carla Peck wins 2013 Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

“I wanted my students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” Howard Zinn

My first email correspondence with Dr. Carla Peck had this quote appended. It moved me right away, as I’m sure it does her students. It speaks to a feisty tenacity and belief in social justice – core to her teaching philosophy.

Dr. Peck has just won the prestigious 2013 Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, instituted in 1982 to recognize teaching excellence by full-time academic staff.

“I have a philosophy of social justice, particularly in the area of education,” explains Dr. Peck. “To be an engaged citizen you must be aware of what’s going on around you – of poverty, racism, and discrimination. And it’s not enough to just be aware. It’s also important to act. That’s what grounds my teaching.”

Dr. Peck knows her students will soon become teachers themselves, taking what they’ve honed during their undergraduate education out into the world and using it to mould their own students.

“I believe in building a community of enquiry in my classes and trying to work with students – viewing them as future colleagues. I treat them as professionals. Teachers must support each other in their common goals, so I try to build this within class,” she says. “What I hope happens, and think gets accomplished, is that there’s a climate of respect and that things get accomplished. This way, issues around social justice can be made more open. We aren’t just islands working alone.”

Dr. Peck’s undergraduate courses are EDEL 335: Curriculum and Instruction in Elementary Social Studies and EDFX 490: Global Citizenship Field Experience in Ghana. The latter is an experiential course where students travel to Ghana and live out these concepts first-person. The goal: to foster confidence in future teachers so they can be seeds of change within their respective fields.

Dr. Peck enjoyed the rigorous application process for this award. Looking over student and alumni comments, past course evaluations, class scores over her six years of teaching at the University of Alberta, and samples of student work gave her an opportunity to reflect. “I could really see how my teaching has developed and grown.”

This is evident in how 2010 student Brent Gilson feels about her. “Carla has not just made an impact on me as a student, but also as the teacher I am now. Carla was the first teacher I had to take the time to work with us all and guide us to our best work. She taught me that feedback and guidance are the strongest tools we as teachers have in helping our students achieve. I continue to use the skills that Carla helped me to develop and I hope to do the same for all of my students.” Gilson now teaches Grade 3 in Southern Alberta.

Dr. Peck’s first reaction was shock. “Then I just felt completely honoured and humbled because there are some great educators across the university who’ve been given this award. To be in the same category is a great honour.”