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A John Abbott College teacher was the only Quebecer out of five instructors from across Canada to receive the 2016 College Sector Educator Awards from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Michelle Kwas, a John Abbott College professor and department chair. (Photo courtesy of John Abbott College.)

Beloved instructor scores top marks with students

Michelle Kwas, a JAC psychology professor and the department chair is also the first teacher from the Ste. Anne-de-Belleuve CEGEP to win the award. According to the STLHE’s website, the accolade recognizes “individuals who promote and support the development of their peers and/or the Canadian college sector with regard to teaching excellence.” Teachers from colleges, CEGEPS, polytechnics or equivalent schools across the country can be nominated by their peers. JAC Academic Dean Erich Schmedt said Kwas is well deserving of the award. “She is one of the finest members of our excellent faculty,” he said, adding Kwas’ passion for teaching is obvious.

High marks

On the teacher ranking website Rate My Teacher, which is run for and by students, Kwas is a consistent favourite. “The most amazing teacher I’ve ever had!! She made going to class every day something to look forward to,” wrote one student, while another called Kwas a “very motherly” teacher who “really knows her stuff.” Many remarked about her creative approach to imparting knowledge. For her Child Psychology course, Kwas has students raise virtual children using computer generated offspring they must parent to the age of 18. And like any child, things can go wrong along the way. “‘We use an online program that comes with the textbook,” Kwas said of the assignment that pairs students as parents who must make decisions together about childrearing. “Some of the virtual kids might take risks, try drugs, not do well in school, or not get accepted into college,” Kwas said of some of the possible outcomes of the assignment that’s had such an effect on some students they’ve been known to apologized to their own parents for past behaviors, or come into class fretting about the fate of their virtual offspring.

Kwas, a mother of four daughters, said she tries to create a family-like environment in her department and in the classroom. She is known for having an open door policy, a basket of candy at the ready and for reaching out to students who may be struggling. “After my first exam I make a date with anyone not succeeding to find out what happened. Not to lecture them but to find out what they need. The strongest students will seek the teacher out but the weaker ones just need some guidance and to get excited about learning,” she said. Kwas will receive her award next month when she attends the annual STLHE conference, which will be held in London, Ont. The other award recipients come from schools in Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

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