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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Annie Hesp


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Annie Hesp, advanced instructor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, for encouraging students to move beyond the classroom to engage with the wider world of work, Spanish culture, and students’ own personal interests. This can involve anything from making connections between aspects of Medieval Spanish Literature to a student’s own life to an appreciation of how to leverage techniques learned in a translation class into paying jobs. At a practical level, Annie’s pedagogy tends to involve a series of discrete activities and tasks that cumulatively build toward a larger project that asks students to reach beyond the classroom to apply their new-found knowledge. This sometimes involves coaxing students out of their comfort zones and into an new, more active role. An extreme example of this is the Camino de Santiago Summer Program, in which she leads students on a medieval pilgrimage route across northern Spain. But in each of her classes there is an element of outreach and entrepreneurial growth.

Annie teaches Spanish language, literature, culture, and translation. She teaches virtually every student Majoring and Minoring in Spanish at Virginia Tech as they progress from language courses to content courses such as Introduction to Literature, Translation, and Medieval to Early Modern Spanish. In courses with a direct real-world application, such as translation, Annie requires students to engage directly with that world of work. As part of the Spanish Translation course, students are asked to design and carry out a real-world translation task for a business or organization that might need their services. Students are not required to negotiate payment for their work, but they are required to reach out and provide samples of their work. Every semester students are pleasantly surprised at the positive responses they get (including some offers of paid employment). But Annie is especially proud of her track record in inspiring student engagement and interest in topics such as Medieval Literature—which many students tell her they initially expected to be dull. She accomplishes this with a strategy of irreverence and reinvigoration. So many students expect the classics of Spanish literature to be boring, staid affairs. Annie’s assignments and in-class discussions work to immediately subvert that expectation by demonstrating the messy vitality of sex, violence, desire, pride, shame and yearning that animate and animated these works for their contemporaries and for us. In part, this involves simply calling attention to what is manifest in the text but which students can’t quite believe is there: “yes, this is all about sex,” or “no, you couldn’t just leave home at that time and in that culture.” But beyond this simple act of naming, there is important work to be done in encouraging sustained student reflection and analytic engagement in the text. Annie does a lot of individual work on writing with her students, even when her courses are not explicitly writing intensive. Several students have commented in evaluations and in person that they have found these individual one-on-one sessions some of the most valuable and remarkable of their careers as Virginia Tech students.

“I would pay more tuition if it meant that professors like Annie could receive more $ because she deserves it,” one student wrote on an evaluation. Annie has consistently gotten high scores on her SPOT evaluations. She has won awards both for international outreach and for teaching: she was named Panhellenic Organization Outstanding Faculty Member in 2012; she won the CLAHS Excellence in International Initiatives Award in 2013; and she won a Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2015. She was also invited to be the Fall 2012 Commencement Speaker by a committee of students. But she feels that the most valuable marker of her success as an instructor has to be the sustained and enthusiastic mentoring relationship she has with so many past and current students.

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Teacher of the Week

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