Prized teacher challenges students

Published: November 17, 2006 | 5057th good news item since 2003

Class begins on this day like any other. Robert “Bob” Pontious, English instructor at Brunswick Community College, cheerfully enters the classroom carrying a big stick over his right shoulder, a folder under his arm and an Ohio State University mug in his free hand. Pontious is about to do what he does best: teach.

Pontious teaches so well, in fact, that he has recently earned the distinction of being the top community college instructor in the state. [More Quick Hits: Successful Strategies by Award-Winning Teachers]

In October, the N.C. Community College System awarded him the state Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2005-2006 school year, and he’ll receive it Friday. Out of 48 candidates, he was chosen after two rounds of eliminations. The field narrowed to 10 finalists, and then five, through interviews with various system officials.

Ashley Barnhill, president of the faculty senate, said Pontious was chosen as BCC’s top instructor in August because of “his commitment to his students and his belief in high academic standards.”

BCC President Stephen Greiner then submitted his nomination for the award to the state system.

Pontious, who is chairman of the English department, has been an instructor at BCC for eight years.

An avid reader since the age of 4, Pontious said he decided to pursue a teaching career in English while he was still a college student, thanks to a history instructor’s encouragement.

A native Midwesterner, Pontious first began teaching at an Ohio technical college. He and his family eventually made their home in Wilmington, and he continued his teaching career at BCC, where he feels “students need me the most.”

Through his experience as a community college educator, his personal teaching philosophy emerged.

“Students live up to or down to your expectations. I expect my students to work hard and rise to the challenge,” he said.

Aside from setting high standards for his students, Pontious also implements innovative teaching methods through the use of cooperative learning groups.

These teams of students work together under his guidance. Pontious feels that students learn more in an interactive, less-structured environment. [How to Use an Interactive Whiteboard Really Effectively in your Secondary Classroom]

On this day in particular, he separates his expository writing students into groups according to their positions on gun control. Through open discussion, he teaches them about the principles of rhetoric, overcoming biases and avoiding errors in logic. He comes to class prepared with facts to argue on either side; today he argues in favor of gun control to help a student who is outnumbered 10 to 1.

“It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not. What’s important is the logic,” he said to his class. “You came in with opinions; I came in with facts.”

From the back of the classroom, a student said a phrase often heard during discussions about gun control: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

If that were true, he said for the sake of argument, one could kill just as many people with a stick as a gun. To demonstrate to students how this may be flawed logic, he picked up the stick he brought to class, having anticipated such a response, and waved it around to illustrate the point.

The goal of such antics is to promote critical thinking skills, challenging students to “evaluate” and “listen to the other side.”

Judging by his students’ reactions, the point was well taken.

Outside of the classroom, Pontious established the June Shaner Courageous Achievement Award, which is given yearly to a developmental English student who has overcome obstacles while pursuing an education at BCC. The award honors an English instructor who lost her life to cancer.

Pontious said he is convinced that teaching is his plan in life.

“It’s being made abundantly clear that my purpose is teaching,” he said.

The real affirmation of this belief, Pontious said, is not receiving awards. It comes from the words of appreciative students he has helped and inspired over the years.

“The best part (to teaching) is students who make it,” he said.

Published in Teachers
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