Congratulations to Alissa Trotz on her Induction into the Presidential Teaching Academy – December 2013

We are delighted to share the news of Alissa’s formal induction into the Presidential Teaching Academy last week, a ceremony linked to the Presidential Teaching Award she won last year. Alissa’s comments showed the ways the history of the University of Toronto and the Caribbean are, were, and should be, deeply entwined–citing the words of the Caribbean/Guyanese poet Martin Carter on the subjunctive, and its meaning for thinking through the present and the future, the work of U of T’s chemistry professor Dr. Stewart McClean in supporting students from the Caribbean in the past, including Alissa’s father, and the benevolence of the late Jamaican teacher and linguist Ms. Maud Fuller, who donated her collection of Caribbean books to New College , some of which have made their way into the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Collection. Congratulations to Alissa–and for her words suggesting what the university would look like, if only all of these themes were more widely sounded…..

Notes from Professor Alissa Trotz

Those of you who know me well will have heard me say before that one of the most significant phrases I have come across that describes what I think we are in the business of doing as teachers comes from the Caribbean poet Martin Carter, who in his commemoration address to the University of Guyana’s graduating class of 1974, urged students to see their education, in fact education in general, as part of the difficult but necessary and even joyous struggle to create what he described as “a free community of valid persons.” As I have recently learned from my colleague and friend in the English department, Christian Campbell, Carter’s preferred tense is the subjunctive. This business, then, of creating a free community of valid persons is an unfinished project – and a possible guide to why and how we teach. It requires humility, perhaps the hardest lesson for any teacher to learn. And it is a contingent exercise that comes with no guarantees – making communities of learners of us all.

I want to thank my colleagues (Staff and Faculty) in WGSI, OISE, Caribbean Studies and New College for all that I have learned from you over the years. Bonnie McElhinny’s support as WGSI Director has been truly remarkable and instructive. Pam Gravestock has been phenomenal in the work that she does at the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, and is always unflappable in the face of so many demands. I would like to thank all those who wrote letters of nomination for this award. And most of all, I have been blessed to have shared classroom space with such incredible, talented, dedicated and wonderful students over my thirteen years here. They make it all so worthwhile.

I don’t usually speak of my family in public (you will notice they are not here today, I couldn’t bribe my daughters enough to get them here!), so let me thank and extend my understanding of relations in this way. It still amazes me that I spent some years teaching the introductory WGSI class in the Lash Miller Chemistry Building that close to 50 years earlier, my own father first entered as a nervous graduate student in Organic Chemistry, setting foot in a new country on scholarship from Guyana. I would like to believe that my own approach to teaching has been enriched by the example set by his own supervisor back in the day, Professor Stewart McLean, a Scotsman, who trained several other students from the Caribbean, ended up working intensively with the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Guyana, and collaborated on Caribbean chemistry materials with colleagues from the region at the University of the West Indies, all while still retaining a deep commitment to U of T (in fact you can still find him in his accustomed spot at the Faculty Club each week having his accustomed meal!!). What we learn about actively seeking bridges to our connected selves from the quiet example of teachers like Stewart is, I think, I hope, clear.

And one of the very first persons my parents met when they arrived in Toronto in 1967 was a Jamaican woman, teacher herself, Maud Fuller, who was fiercely loyal to both the University of the West Indies and the University of Toronto. She contributed her extensive book collection to the New College library, and the lessons she has bequeathed are equally important, for she represents the wider communities that make possible what we do, and from whom we continue to learn so much. Maud passed away on January 17th of this year (the words on her headstone in Jamaica say “the classroom was her stage”), just one hospital floor above where and a few days after Roxana Ng, another amazing teacher and colleague here at OISE, also transitioned. I wanted to acknowledge that because there have been a number of losses these past days, that we have felt keenly, and that should and can only deepen and inspire our commitment to the unfinished work that continues. Today, December 9th, would have been Maud Fuller’s 80th birthday, and I dedicate this award to the memory of her unfailing example.