Annette Debo, professor of English at Western Carolina University, has been named one of the best teachers in the University of North Carolina system in recognition of a teaching style that emphasizes listening to her students instead of merely lecturing to them.
Debo, who also serves as the English department’s graduate program director, is among 17 recipients of the 2014 UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching, announced Wednesday, March 26.
A member of the Board of Governors is scheduled to present Debo with the award at WCU’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies that begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 10. Debo also will speak at the Graduate School commencement ceremony Friday, May 9.
Debo and the other recipients of the UNC honor, representing an array of academic disciplines, were nominated by special committees on their home campuses and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Personnel and Tenure.
In making its selection, the UNC committee commended Debo for her ability to engage students in stimulating, challenging and sophisticated discussions about literature and literary theory. The committee noted that she regularly wins glowing reviews from students for providing a trusting environment in which she can ask the difficult questions and students will respond knowing they are in a safe community of learners, and that her faculty colleagues praise her commitment to helping students understand the value and impact of what they learn in her classes.
“Dr. Debo’s pedagogy makes it clear that learning is not limited to the classroom, demonstrating instead that it takes place in a variety of contexts – in tandem, in contradiction, and in response to what happens within the classroom environment,” said Laura Wright, head of the WCU English department. “Dr. Debo recognizes that teaching is a transaction, an exchange between individuals – teacher and students as well as students and teacher – that allows her to learn from those who simultaneously learn from her.”
Faculty colleague Brian Gastle said that one of Debo’s areas of expertise is in African-American literature and she teaches classes ranging from freshman level to advanced graduate seminars that tackle such subjects as gender issues and theoretical issues. “These are among the most, how shall I put it, delicate kinds of classes to teach, given their often controversial and personal subject matter. While she is personally invested in these issues, and displays a passion for her field, she also negotiates those issues well with her students, fostering respect for differences while engaging them with difficult and sometimes conflicted and conflicted material,” he said.
One of her students said that Debo “has had the greatest impact on both my college education and professional future” and called her “a role model of professionalism, which is an important attribute in an educator as they are preparing students for their professional careers.” Another student praised Debo for “her always-present smile, her passion for teaching, her constant support and advice, and her overwhelming desire to see her students succeed.”
Debo teaches classes in modernism, African-American literature, literary theory, and women’s literature. She is author of “The American H.D.,” published by the University of Iowa Press in 2011. Weaving together literary criticism, biography, cultural history and archival research, the book offers a new story about the significance of the United States through a study of the life and work of modernist 20th-century writer Hilda Doolittle, who is known as “H.D.” An American who spent her adult life abroad, H.D. helped launch the free verse movement and authored experimental novels, short and long stories, essays, reviews, a children’s book and translations.
She also is co-editor of the MLA volume “Approaches to Teaching H.D.’s Poetry and Prose,” and her edition of “H.D.’s Within the Walls and What Do I Love?” is forthcoming from the University Press of Florida in 2014. She is past co-chair of the H.D. International Society, and she held the H.D. Fellowship for 2012-13 at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Her articles have appeared in African American Review, Callaloo, Paideuma, South Atlantic Review, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, CLA Journal, and College Literature. She currently is working on the monograph “A Fine Fury,” which addresses social justice, the Civil Rights years, and the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez and Natasha Trethewey.
She received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Virginia Tech, her master’s degree in English from Virginia Tech, and her doctorate in English from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Established by the Board of Governors in April 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the university, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus. Winners must have taught at their present institutions at least seven years. No one may receive the award more than once.