A BBQ on a warm September evening. Conversations on local food production. Solving time management problems.
These descriptions would normally apply to a friendly relationship between two people, but at Bishop’s University, these are common occurrences between professors and students.
Just ask Ryan Millar, a fifth-year Education student studying Social Studies with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language.
“The professors at Bishop’s are some of the most caring people I have ever met,” says the Richmond, British Columbia native. “They have a very hands-on approach when it comes to our education. They want to make sure that you really do want to become a teacher.”
One of Ryan’s inspirations is Dr. Avril Aitken, who has taught in the School of Education for 10 years. She describes her tenure at Bishop’s as a completely new chapter in her 36-year career as an educator, thanks in part to the size of her classes.
“The small size of my classes fosters a certain kind of intimacy that makes for deep and engaging discussions in the classroom,” she says. “The students get to know each other on a more intimate level, and this closeness makes them feel safe enough to tackle difficult topics in the presence of their peers, such as racism, homophobia, etc. Another positive outcome is that the students learn more about themselves.”
In some cases, the benefits of the small classroom can extend way beyond a student’s academic life. Ryan recalls a difficult time where he was overextending himself in various campus activities. “One year, I was holding down 5 jobs on campus. I was exhausted! One of my professors noticed and asked me how I was doing. We ended up having a long conversation about my schedule. She asked me if there was anything she could do to help.’’
“It was a pretty special feeling to know that someone like her was watching over me,” says Ryan. “I know of several other professors who interact with students in the same way.”
Dr. Aitken’s goal for her students is for them to become passionate vehicles for transformation in their own classrooms. With Ryan and students across the Bishop’s campus witnessing first-hand how their own teachers lead in and outside of the classroom, they are no doubt well on their way to becoming exceptional leaders themselves.