Gerling receives excellence award

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The winner of this year’s SHSU Excellence in Teaching Award is Spanish teacher Dr. David Ross Gerling.Gerling has taught at the university for the past 13 years, and said he is very excited to have won the award.”I’m not going to feign humility,” said Gerling. “I am overjoyed. I am definitely overjoyed. It couldn’t have happened at a better time in my career.”The Excellence in Teaching Award is an honor given out annually to the teacher whom students have selected to be the very best. The SHSU Teaching Excellence Committee, a nine-member panel comprised of faculty members, tallies the votes and decides upon the finalists, and ultimately, the winner.”This is the students themselves telling the committee who they want,” Gerling said.It is the students, Gerling said, to whom the honor also speaks.”I think they know what they want,” he said. “I think they’re saying to me I met their expectations. That’s the greatest honor anyone in the teaching profession can have.” Gerling said there are two rules he governs himself with when teaching students. The first is he teaches language acquisition and not language learning. He said acquisition implies the students learn the language for real communication.”There has to be an aural contact with the language way before students produce it orally,” he said.Gerling said the second rule is to create an intimidation-free environment. He said college students learning foreign languages who feel intimidated from the first day are likely to either drop out or “languish.”Gerling had been nominated for the award twice before, in 1992 and 1993. Both times he was a finalist.This time, Gerling said SHSU President James Gaertner called to tell him he was nominated.Gerling said usually a call from the president himself can be very startling, but added Gaertner was very reassuring.Gerling also said he was unaware of who he was competing against and not knowing made him do the best he could.”I would rather look at it as a competition with myself instead of another colleague,” he said. “Part of the fun is you don’t know whom you’re up against, what department they’re in, whether they’re a man or woman.”Apart from being nominated by students, Gerling also had to submit a teaching portfolio and demonstrate a typical class for the committee.”Since I assumed no one on the committee spoke Spanish, I gave everyone in class a first semester course,” he said. “At the end of the 20 minutes, all of the committee members learned the vocabulary.”Gerling said apart from being asked to submit a philosophy of teaching document, he was given next to no instructions on what he was to include in his portfolio. He even called it a Teaching Evidence File by mistake. He said he chose to assemble it like a legal document, and thinks his design might have been one of the reasons the committee chose him.Originally from New York, Gerling said his experiences riding the subway trains were what first made him intrigued with the Spanish language.”Although I did not have the luxury of being born into a Spanish-speaking family, I had a surrogate Spanish-speaking parent, the New York subway system,” he said. “That provided me with the first sounds of the Spanish language that would become a part of me forever.”Gerling received his undergraduate degree from the Marist College and his masters from both New York University and the University of Madrid. He received his doctorate at the University of Arizona.Gerling has lived in Spain, where he met his wife Mara-Isabel, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and South America, and worked for the United States Information Service in the Department of State during the Nixon administration.Gerling said his decision to teach at Sam Houston came out of circumstance.”I was looking for a job in the Houston metro-region,” he said. “I was attracted to the fact that this was a state supported school. I like the attitude of students at state supported schools.”Gerling’s office is full of items that show his past and personality. He has a large map of Spain adorning one wall, and has both the film “Serpico” and the book sitting on his bookshelf.”Frank Serpico is the New Yorker I’m most proud of,” said Gerling. “He is a role model for his ethics, and his chutzpah.”Gerling said one long-term opportunity the award will get him is the chance to join the committee that granted it to him.”I think it is a committee of great honor because it is the most important committee on campus.”