Susan Russinoff, a senior lecturer in the philosophy department, received Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate’s “Teacher of the Year” award this year. The student body nominates candidates, who are interviewed and selected by TCU Senate. Russinoff, who has been teaching at Tufts for 24 years, specializes in logic, critical thinking and philosophy courses.
Russinoff shared her excitement for teaching and influencing students’ interests.
“One of the most rewarding things that has happened is when I have a student who comes into the course to satisfy a math requirement and thinks of him or herself as being bad at math and discovers, over the course of the semester, a real talent for logical thought,” Russinoff said. “It’s really gratifying for me to help a student discover talents and interests that they didn’t know before they took the course.
TCU Senate’s education committee posts a teacher nomination form in each class Facebook page for about a week during the middle of the semester, Phil Miller, the chair of the TCU Senate education committee, and Alexa Weinstein, a committee member, explained. The form gives students the opportunity to nominate teachers and explain why each teacher should receive the award. According to Miller, a sophomore, the committee received a record 125 nominations this year.
Following the student nomination process, the education committee meets to discuss the nominations, according to Miller and Weinstein. This year, the choices were narrowed down to seven teachers, according to Weinstein.
“We look at the student responses and based off of those nominations we pick the top five to seven and interview them, [assigning] two senators usually per interview,” Miller said.
According to Miller and Weinstein, the process of narrowing down the many responses Senate receives into only a few candidates is a long one and not entirely dependent on how many nominations each teacher receives.
“We use a lot of information from the past years, so if teachers received a lot of nominations in the past, then we usually keep that in mind. In addition to that, we look at teachers who received the most nominations, but we also couple that with the fact that some teachers teach very small classes, so they obviously can’t receive that many nominations,” Weinstein, a sophomore, explained.
According to Weinstein, the education committee also reads the comments section of the nominations to select candidates.
“Students write these beautiful stories about professors and what they’ve done for the students, and so we … compile that, and based on all of that information, we’ll choose which teachers got the most reviews, but not only that, which teachers got the best, most substantive reviews, and then we start the interviews from there,” Weinstein said.
According to Weinstein, there are ten baseline questions candidates are asked during interviews, which ask about how long each person has taught, what teaching means to them, what their favorite part of teaching is, significant memories from teaching and more.
“What stood out to us the most about Professor Russinoff was just how honored she was to receive the award; so she had never heard of the award before, and she just thought it was such an honor that the students chose her,” Weinstein said. “The whole time she just kept saying ‘Thank you so much for doing this, it really means the world to me that my students think that I’m doing so much for them.'”
Russinoff is the director of the Ethics Bowl team at Tufts. This year, she helped drive the Ethics Bowl team 18 hours to Chicago when their flight was cancelled due to bad weather. She also teaches “Introduction to Logic,” “Introduction to Philosophy,” and “Reasoning and Critical Thinking.”
“A new interest is philosophy for children … Children are naturally curious and ask a lot of philosophical questions, and you can engage them in philosophical discourse,” Russinoff told the Daily.
Russinoff taught her course “Philosophy for Children” for the first time this semester. As part of the class, her students designed lesson plans and taught them to the children at the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School.
Russinoff shared that she was “surprised and delighted” to receive the award.
“I’ve enjoyed teaching at Tufts for now 24 years, and one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the work so much is because the students are so terrific, and I’ve enjoyed working with them. It’s a great job,” Russinoff said.