- Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award (2010)
When Renato de Souza Alvim was growing up in Brazil, he and his friends frequently played "school." He always wanted to be the teacher.
"As time went by, I realized that education was my passion," says Alvim. His understanding of the learning experience is influenced by the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, who once described learning as "reading the world beyond the reading of the word 'world.'" "From his perspective," Alvim says, "critical thinking widens life experience of those who seek education by opening the possibility to read beyond the immediate decoding of messages.
"Helping students to think critically as they engage in the study of language, literature, and culture increases my own sense of responsibility and expands my perception of their strengths and limitations; at the same time, it helps students to become aware of their own responsibilities."
Alvim was previously honored as Outstanding Associate Instructor (2008-2009), in part for his ability to customize the activities in each class to the students in it, getting to know who his students are and what makes them tick. His students talk about his ability to convey the particulars of learning Portuguese through teaching techniques that go beyond the necessary worksheets, lectures, and PowerPoint presentations to include games, music, making posters together -- and a healthy sense of humor.
"Whether it was talking about his culture, his dog, or even his addiction to Xbox, it was always easier to focus and learn when I heard the rest of the class laughing and actually communicating real thoughts and opinions through the foreign language," writes John Burnside, a former student from Alvim's intensive Spanish course.
Professor Eduardo Brondizio, chair of IU Bloomington's Department of Anthropology, says he was impressed with Alvim's transcription of an important colonial document that was central to the understanding of the formation of Brazil. "Renato did an outstanding job," says Brondizio. "I have read the original document several times in the past and became enthusiastic at the opportunity to see it accessible to a wider audience. Since that experience, I have observed Renato as a teacher, presenter, and active member and organizer of the Brazilian Association at IU as well as events promoting the study of Portuguese."
Travis Selmier II, a visiting clinical assistant professor at IU's Kelley School of Business, recalls, at the age of 50, entering an intensive, six-week course that would cover one year of Portuguese. Selmier had previously studied Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish, but entered the class with no recent exposure to Romance languages. "Renato was extremely skilled at concept explanation and has a gift of teaching grammar," says Selmier. "His level of empathy is one of the very best I have encountered in all those years of language study."
Alvim said he values the contributions of each student much in the way the United States values contributions from various nations to our eclectic language and culture. "Thus we promote a safe environment for all students to participate in from the beginning," he says. "Students feel encouraged to participate in and discover themselves enjoying something they never had before. Education as a process involves understanding, patience, and a will to grow together."