Mary Margaret "Duffy" Kasum begins and ends the description of her teaching philosophy with the same two words: students matter.
Kasum, who has taught French and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha since 2002, recently received the University of Wisconsin Colleges’ 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
A senior lecturer in the world languages department, Kasum is dedicated to promoting and assisting student learning by being an innovative, enthusiastic and always evolving teacher.
“They are the most important people I come in contact with,” she said. “The whole reason any of us have a job is the students.”
Ray Cross, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges, presented the award to Kasum at the fall convocation in Appleton. The award recognizes “an uncommon commitment to teaching and learning, high expectations of students and a good intellectual rapport with students” among other criteria.
Kasum’s students attest to her effectiveness as a teacher – and their affection for her as a person.
One former student, Elizabeth DeLong, presented Kasum with a thank you card at the end of the semester. In it, DeLong expressed her “sincere gratitude” for the “helpful yet challenging criticism” and Kasum believing in her, “a tardy student who took Spanish thinking she would just refresh herself with Spanish for a missions trip but now wants to make it a part of her future career; a student who was touched by your passion for teaching and deep concern for your students.”
Another student, Kaitlin Vosswinkel, in a recommendation letter, provided numerous examples of Kasum’s classroom innovation. She wrote that Kasum was “constantly giving us real opportunities to broaden our horizons.”
Hercolleagues also praise Kasum and her teaching skills. Recommending Kasum for the award, assistant professor Deborah Paprocki touted Kasum as a knowledgeable teaching resource who is always striving to expand her teaching horizons. “It’s a treat to work closely with someone who cares so much about her field and with whom it is so enjoyable to exchange ideas,” said Paprocki, a Spanish instructor whose office is next to Kasum’s.
Part of Kasum’s success, as confirmed by colleague and student comments, is her ability to lower the anxiety level that some students might have about learning another language. From the first day of class, Kasum strives to make students feel like they are in a safe place, she said. She appreciates students making mistakes.
“You can’t learn a language without making mistakes,” she said.
To learn a language, Kasum said, you have to be flexible and open to the language’s ambiguities. Kasum hopes that through her teaching students learn to appreciate differences and come to realize that there are often multiple answers to addressing a problem.
“It’s about how to look at other people and being open to different concepts,” she said. “It’s really a job about expanding visions.”
Kasum is a big proponent of study abroad programs. Spending time abroad can change students on a deep level and allow them to become citizens of the world, she said.
Kasum said she shares her award with other adjunct instructors who work very hard but might not be recognized.
“I feel very humbled,” she said.
For Kasum, a resident of Mequon/Thiensville, teaching will always be an adventure. “The topic could be the same every year. The teaching you do is never the same,” she said. “Different people always bring a new element to the experience.”