4/20/15 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University Professor of Music Dr. Christina Fuhrmann is the recipient of AU’s 2015 Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award. AU Interim Provost Dr. Doug Fiore presented the award at AU’s Academic Honors Convocation on Sunday, April 19, in the Jack and Deb Miller Chapel.
The award, first presented in 1997, was endowed by former Jeromesville residents the late Edward and Louaine Taylor as a way of supporting high quality teaching at Ashland University.
Dr. Fuhrmann, who joined Ashland University in 2001, received her B.A. in music from Marlboro College in Vermont and her Ph.D. in musicology from Washington University in St. Louis. She teaches the music history sequence and several music appreciation core courses, including Love Songs, Music and Drama Across Cultures, and Music in World Cultures.
Her research focuses on theater music and imported opera in early nineteenth-century London. She has published articles in Nineteenth-Century Music Review; Gender, Sexuality and Early Music; Eugene Scribe und das europaische Musiktheater; and a volume on Romanticism and Opera for the Praxis: Romantic Circles series.
She also has delivered lectures at Washington University, Case Western Reserve University and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and presented papers at numerous national and international conferences. Her critical edition of Henry Bishop’s adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro was published by A-R Editions in 2012. Her book, titled Foreign Opera at the London Playhouses: from Mozart to Bellini, will be published by Cambridge University Press this fall.
Dr. Fiore praised the selection of Fuhrmann as the 2015 Taylor Teaching Award recipient, noting that she is highly deserving of this recognition.
“I am so pleased to see Christina earn this well-deserved recognition for her teaching excellence. She clearly exhibits passion and love for teaching. Her students praise her energy and cheerful, happy personality and the varied teaching methods she employs in her classroom,” Fiore said. “Ashland University is a much better institution because of her presence.”
Following the award presentation, Fuhrmann spoke on her teaching philosophy for motivating her students in an address titled “Run the dog you brought.”
Fuhrmann began by expressing how honored and humble she felt to be receiving this award. She thanked both the Taylor Teaching Award committee for selecting her and the Taylor family for supporting teaching.
Fuhrmann, who also has participated in a sport called dog agility, tied many of her comments back to the title of her speech and the sport.
“You may have seen this on TV: a person called the handler guides a dog around an obstacle course. The dog jumps over jumps, runs through tunnels, zig zags through weave poles,” she said. “This sport was not only a great way to have fun with my dog, but the process of training my dog taught me a lot about my own teaching, and I want to share these insights with you today.”
Fuhrmann said that in agility, there is a saying “run the dog you brought,” which means that when watching other handlers run their dogs, people start to imagine that they can handle their dogs just like them.
“(You think) you, too, can execute perfect maneuvers without breaking a sweat and your dog will also respond to the slightest turn of your shoulder. Then, you get out on the course and try to do these things and they don’t work at all,” she said. “It’s not because they’re bad handling techniques—after all, they worked for that other handler. It’s because you haven’t run your dog and you haven’t run the way that you know how. You haven’t run the dog you brought.”
Fuhrmann said this concept also translates to the teaching of students.
“In a similar way, we’ve all marveled at great teachers we’ve had, we’ve all been inspired by our colleagues, but then we’ve all found that we couldn’t be them,” she said. “I have discovered that what is most important about teaching is to teach the students I have with my own skills and my own personality.”
Fuhrmann then shared a few lessons that she has found helpful.
“The most important lesson I learned in dog agility is perhaps the hardest one: it is always my fault. I might think my dog ran past a tunnel because he didn’t feel like listening. But when I look at the video of my run, I see that I was the one who didn’t give the right cue. This is not to say that I am a bad handler.
But it does mean that I am responsible for figuring out what I and my dog need to succeed,” she said. “This translates to the classroom. There is always something that I personally can do to improve my students’ performance.”
She said one of the first things she has found helpful is to create a clear structure.
“Every time your dog does something right, you must reward them. Every time your dog does something wrong, you must not reward them. Only complete consistency can communicate to your dog what is expected,” she said. “This is important in the classroom, too. I feel it is essential to set clear guidelines and rules—both for my students and for myself—and to follow them.”
Fuhrmann pointed out, however, that praise is crucial in teaching. “Teachers shouldn’t only tell students when they’re wrong—they also should tell them when they’re right,” she said.
She said that perhaps the most important—and enjoyable—lesson that she has learned from her dog is that the most central component to teaching and learning is love. She said a recent scientific study found that dogs are more trainable when one increases their levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is anecdotally known as “the love hormone” and is known to play an important role in forming close relationships.
“Love is therefore a scientifically important element of teaching. I have found this to be true on several levels. First, you must love your subject. You must love it enough to devote countless hours researching it to remain current in your field. You must revel in your geeky love of your subject or your students never will,” she said.
“I think it is also important to love your students. You can’t train dogs if you are indifferent to them. And you may be able to train a dog in the short term with intimidation and fear, but these aren't long term solutions,” she said, going on to emphasize how important it is to her to let students know that she cares about them and that she is there to help them succeed.
Fuhrmann added that she also finds it important to keep in mind that students want to love their teachers and classes as well.
“Sure, they can be frustrated with us, disagree with us, expect something different from us. But the vast majority of the time, they want to enjoy our classes and they want to succeed,” she said. “I frequently think fondly of my students – how they drag themselves to class in the midst of snowstorms, how they gamely participate in the activities I ask them to do, regardless of how silly they sometimes seem, how they want so much to succeed.”
Fuhrmann ended the address with a comment that summarizes her philosophy.
“All this is not to say that every single day in the classroom is an amazing, perfect experience. Teaching, like dog training, is messy. There will be failures and frustrations. And this is where I think love is the most important,” she said. “The thing that surprised and humbled me most about training my dog was that no matter how many mistakes we both had made, my dog was always ready to get on that start line and try again, with everything he had. Likewise, our students are waiting there for us. They are eager and ready to run. So let’s get up there with them and run the dog we brought.”
The Taylor Teaching Award Committee, whose purpose is to select the award recipient, reviews submitted materials of faculty members who are nominated by students, faculty or department chairs. The committee, comprised of former Taylor Award winners, also observed classroom sessions of those who were nominated.
All full-time faculty with a minimum of three years of teaching experience at AU are eligible for the award. Recipients of the award cannot repeat for three years and no faculty member may win the award more than twice. The recipients receive a medal to be worn with academic regalia and a stipend.
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###