By STEVEN NALLEY
Michael Seymour sees himself less as a teacher and more as a coach.
“I see my job as preparing them for the big game, and if they don’t do well, it reflects on me too,” Seymour said. “I want to guide them as they practice, rather than just leaving them on their own.”
A landscape architecture professor at Mississippi State University, Seymour said he presents students with in-class exercises and challenges during class to ensure they understand the material and keep them active and involved.
“When I first starting teaching at MSU, I noticed that students were very engaged when they were working on a task, but grew bored and tired the longer I lectured,” Seymour said. “You can’t just talk at them and expect them to retain much of it. That’s always been true for me as a student; I’m still only good for about 15 minutes of listening before I want to do something.”
Such approaches are among the reasons the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture gave Seymour the national 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award.
Sadik Artunc, head of the MSU Department of Landscape Architecture, said he nominated Seymour for the award. Seymour’s resume also includes MSU’s highest teaching honor, the Grisham Master Teacher Award, and he also serves as the department’s graduate program coordinator, Artunc said.
Seymour’s strongest recommendations, however, come from his students, Artunc said.
“What is (or) should be included in the nomination package is up to the nominator,” Artunc said. “Since this is a teaching award, we thought that it was paramount to include (letters) of support from Michael’s students.”
In his own letter of recommendation, Artunc said Seymour routinely receives strong student evaluations in courses ranging from landscape history to the senior-level design studio.
“His student evaluations always highlight his outstanding dedication and love for teaching, his abilities to make knowledge, skills and abilities relevant and clear to students, his demand for excellence and his never-ending search for more effective teaching methodologies and practices,” Artunc said. “He dedicates extended time in and outside of his classes with his students (to) one-on-one mentoring, evaluation and grading of projects so that his students fully benefit from their experiences.”
Emily Overbey, a graduate student in landscape architecture at MSU, said in a press release she could attest to Seymour’s teaching prowess.
“Mr. Seymour’s insight and expertise on the subject matter and his approach to teaching keep the active attention of anyone in his audience,” Overbey said. “He always comes to class well prepared with clear expectations for his students and provides activities for students that fuel active and interesting discussions.”
Seymour arrives at his successful methods by constantly testing the outcomes of different pedagogical approaches, theories and technologies, Artunc said. Seymour said this process shows being a good teacher, like most goals, requires desire, hard work, discipline and perseverance.
“The first class I taught in graduate school got terrible reviews, but I never let it discourage me,” Seymour said. “It’s one of those professions that you can only be good at if you work at it constantly. I probably learned the most from being a teaching assistant in graduate school. I try to be a good listener and learn from my mistakes. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better, but there’s still a lot to learn.”
Seymour said he also had excellent professors of his own as an undergraduate at Centenary College of Louisiana and a graduate student at Louisiana State University. His department is a strong team, he said, and he has learned much from his colleagues and his students.
However, if Seymour’s success has one main secret, he said it is his wife.
“She was a public school teacher and now is pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology while working at MSU,” Seymour said. “She’s very knowledgeable, and we spend a lot of time discussing teaching and best practices. She also helps me to better understand the research on creativity and learning.”