Class act

As we celebrate World Teacher Day on Oct. 5, a few Mizzou professors reflect on what teaching means to them.

Oct. 4, 2021
Contact: Sara Diedrich, 573-882-3243,

Great teachers do more than impart knowledge. They engage and inspire us. World Teacher Day is Oct. 5 — a perfect opportunity for the University of Missouri community to recognize the special people who encouraged us to see something more in ourselves and whose classes we wished would never end.

Mizzou has 1,972 full-time faculty members and more than 90% of them hold a doctorate or the highest degree in their field. Some of those faculty shared what teaching means to them.

Botswana BlackburnBotswana Blackburn

Associate chair and teaching professor, health sciences, School of Health Professions

What makes teaching at Mizzou special?

The people make Mizzou special. MU has collaborative learning atmosphere where a sense of community is valued and celebrated. There is something for everyone.

What makes a successful teacher?

Successful educators have students equally involved in the learning process. They encourage students to express their opinions without fear of judgement. When students have established rapport with their professor, they participate more actively in class and seek assistance more readily if they have any problems, questions or concerns.

How do you want your students to remember you?

I hope my students remember me as someone who cared about both their education and well-being. I hope I’ve instilled an appreciation of learning and that my students reflect on their time at MU and remember me as someone who exemplifies MU’s core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence.

Heather HungHeather Hunt

Associate professor in biomedical, biological and chemical engineering, College of Engineering

What makes teaching at Mizzou special?

The students – they are brilliant, hard-working and inspiring. So many of our students are pulling double- and triple-duty with classes, jobs and family responsibilities. Their unending determination never ceases to make me want to work just as hard for them.

What do you teach students about handling failure?

In the bioengineering programs, we integrate creative thinking and creative practices. That process starts with the idea that you have to be willing to fail in order to innovate — and innovating is what engineers do! Within the safe confines of our classes, as long as we learn from our failures, we should celebrate them and all that they teach us.

How have your students made you a better teacher and human being?

I think I am much more empathetic, flexible and responsive because of my students. They bring out the best in me because I want them to learn and succeed. My job is to meet them where they are and partner with them through the process of learning. To do that, I need to continually think about what is best for them.

Daryl SmithDaryl Smith

Associate teaching professor, Trulaske College of Business

What makes teaching at Mizzou special?  

Mizzou is home to me. It’s family. I feel honored to be able to contribute to this university while in the classroom — or interacting with students outside the classroom — and through various committees and boards.

What has teaching taught you about yourself?   

The best teachers are also learners. As a teacher, I have come to know that I must keep learning and changing.

How do you want your students to remember you?  

My upper-level students will certainly remember how often I tell them to “Think like a CEO!”  I hope that they will remember me as someone who cared about them at a personal level, and someone who tried to have a positive impact on their lives.

Ryan ThomasRyan Thomas

Associate professor of journalism studies, Missouri School of Journalism

What makes teaching at Mizzou special?

My excellent colleagues, who inspire me to be better every day, and the extremely talented students whose curiosity and drive constantly amaze me.

What makes a successful teacher?

I think successful teaching lies in the balance between rigor and empathy. I see my role as holding students to high standards but giving them the tools to meet — and exceed — those standards.

What do you teach students about handling failure?

My career is a series of happy accidents. I use this example to encourage students to be flexible in their life plan and understand that what might seem like a failure at first may later prove to be something rewarding or fortuitous. Every “success” and “failure” teaches us something about ourselves.

Li ZhaoLi Zhao

Assistant professor, textile and apparel management, College of Arts and Science

Who inspired you to be a teacher?

Dr. Jung Ha-Brookshire, my Ph.D. advisor and a Kemper Award Fellow, was the greatest influence on my decision to enter education. She is so passionate about teaching and loves her students. She is a role model for me and has helped me build my confidence in teaching.

What do you teach students about handling failure?

I introduce human-centered-design mindset in my class and an important aspect of that is to learn from failure. Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. For human-centered designers, sorting out what won't work is part of finding out what will.

What has teaching taught you about yourself?

Teaching is my continuing adventure. I hold myself to the same standards that I hold my students. That is, I strive to become a skilled thinker and learner, and I believe that this is a lifelong process.

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