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'My happiest days involve seeing students working together'

Nov. 6, 2013

Rebecca Brittenham was recently honored with the IU South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award -- but the professor of English admits that she still sometimes gets butterflies before teaching.

“I was actually quite shy,” said Brittenham, who grew up in Seattle and received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. “It took me years of hard work to relax in the classroom and just enjoy my students. Even after all these years of teaching and training teachers, I feel nervous -- and excited -- about going to class.”

Rebecca Brittenham

The award-winning IU South Bend professor's favorite part of teaching? “The completely unpredictable thrill of finding out what students are going to do, and say, and write next -- they always surprise me.” | Photo By IU South Bend

The Distinguished Teaching Award is given to faculty members who exhibit outstanding teaching skills who are rated by students and fellow faculty members.

Brittenham joined the IU South Bend English Department in 1999. In addition to teaching various writing styles to students ranging from freshmen to graduate-level, she has also taught women’s studies classes and recently acted as director of the IU South Bend First-Year Writing Program.

In 2013, she received a university-wide Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence. She received the Trustees Teaching Award in 2011 and became a member of the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching in 2006.

Brittenham said her love of teaching is constantly renewed through small interactions with students. “I can't get over their kindness when I goof something up in class, their real generosity toward me and toward one another -- it's phenomenal sometimes,” she said, adding that her happiest days involve seeing students working together and treating each other's writing with respect and critical attention. "My heart just swells when that happens.”

The hardest part of teaching is seeing a student struggling in a class and not being able to find a way to help, she said. “I often wish there really WERE a core secret to good writing that I could just hand out.”

Her favorite part? “The completely unpredictable thrill of finding out what students are going to do, and say, and write next -- they always surprise me.”

Brittenham is co-author of “Key Words for Academic Writers” with Hildegard Hoeller and co-editor of “Making Sense: Readings for Writers” with Robert Coleman, Scott Campbell and Stephanie Girard. 

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