Marlee Marie Spafford, recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, 1988


Marlee Spafford is one of our own graduates. Following the completion her Doctor of Optometry degree in 1982, she undertook graduate research in physiological optics at Waterloo, for which she received a MSc degree in 1985. The high quality of her master’s research was recognized when she received the W. B. Pearson Medal at Convocation that year. She then joined the faculty of the school of optometry, where she is currently an Assistant Professor. Dr. Spafford continued to be a dedicated researcher, active in clinical research dealing with binocular vision and electrodiagnosis, a relatively new and important area of clinical science. As a new faculty member, Dr. Spafford very quickly acquired a reputation as a stimulating, enthusiastic, caring and approachable teacher, and, almost from the beginning, was to have a profound impact on the methods of teaching clinical optometry at Waterloo. Her teaching has consistently demonstrated to students the need to base clinical decisions on sound scientific principles. Dr. Spafford’s exemplary teaching has already been recognized within the school of optometry; she was the recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award in the school in 1986 and again in 1987. In addition to heavy commitments to both teaching and research, Dr. Spafford has continued to hold a demanding administrative portfolio in the school of optometry, as the school’s admissions officer. The nomination file for Dr. Spafford is replete with letters from both students and colleagues, attesting to her devotion to teaching, her easy sense of humour, her unequivocally high standards of scholarship, and her tightly organized yet relaxed approach to instruction. To quote from a nomination letter prepared by the student society: “Dr. Spafford possesses the typical qualities associated with a good professor – a solid knowledge of the course being taught; a clear, well-organized presentation of the material covered; and an openness and responsiveness to questions and concerns of students. What sets Dr. Spafford apart, however, is her genuine concern for her students. Dr. Spafford relates to students as a colleague and friend. This professional, yet personal approach develops a rapport with students, removes the impersonal barriers of many educational environments, and results in genuine student interest, motivation and, most importantly, learning.” A wealth of letters and anecdotes in the nomination file illustrates the affection and respect with which Dr. Spafford is regarded by both current and former students. One student commented that not only was Dr. Spafford a dynamic and dedicated teacher, but also demonstrated that well-rounded quality so important in a university education: “… she was a fantastic lead center for the recently successful optometry women’s basketball team, (quite appropriately known as ) THE EYESORES.” In the words of another student, who is in a particularly good position to make judgment: “As a former teacher myself, it is remarkable watching her “in action.” She does, intuitively, what many teachers learn to do only after many mistakes. If there is such a thing as a “natural teacher,” then Dr. Spafford is one of those gifted individuals. How appropriate it would be to recognize and encourage the efforts of one who recognizes and encourages so many!”