BJ Rye: Teaching with Candour and Aplomb
BJ Rye (and her son, via ultrasound)
Written by Bailey Jacobs, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE.
If you find yourself seated in the classroom of Dr. BJ Rye’s Introduction to Human Sexuality course, you’ll likely observe a few blushing, wide-eyed, and even giggling students. You may even sense a tinge of the classic high school health class embarrassment in the air. The course content might make even the most “erotophilic” of individuals uneasy, but Rye approaches her subject with candour and aplomb.
What do students expect from a course such as SMF 204, Introduction to Human Sexuality? This question was of great interest to Rye, an instructor with twenty-two years of teaching experience. Upon further inquiry she found that the answer was consistent: “Students want the subject of sexuality approached with a positive mentality,” and want factual, unbiased information. Equipped with this knowledge, Rye strives to create an affirming learning space for SMF 204 and to deliver the course content in an engaging yet matter-of-fact manner.
With her mug of Maritimes tea in hand, Rye walks the classroom aisles casually lecturing her students on topics that many individuals wouldn’t wish to discuss with their own children, let alone a lecture hall of university students. While her students only see her effortless teaching persona, Rye confides, “I wasn’t always this comfortable.” She further explains that, similar to many new instructors, she contended with nervousness, which she managed by standing near the podium, relying on the lecture notes she had prepared. Laughing, she reveals that “people used to joke that I had an umbilical cord attached to my notes—that I could only go so far before I bounced right back.” Though it took longer than nine months for her new and unflappable teaching persona to gestate, thorough lesson preparation and extensive lecture practice helped Rye sever her umbilical connection to the podium.
Rye brings a direct approach not only to her course content but also to her classroom environment. She affirms, “You must be explicit about the rules from the beginning.” Rye doesn’t like having to reprimand her students, so to prevent this she is forthright with the ground rules on the first day of class. One of Rye’s policies, for example, is that the technologies that students bring to class must be used for educational purposes only. Cell-phone use is prohibited during class time, and laptops are to be used solely for learning. Students who wish to employ a laptop during class are asked to sign a contract outlining the technology uses permitted in the classroom.
After laying out the classroom protocols, Rye swiftly delves into the curriculum with no holds barred, leaving student jaws agape the first time she utters the name of an anatomical reproductive part. It’s easy for an instructor to stigmatise the topic of human sexuality, but Rye provides her students with a frank and positive view on sexuality, “approaching the subject with humour and openness.” From her many “I have a friend who…” stories, to the “show and tell” items that she passes around the classroom, to her own personal anecdotes, Rye has a knack for not only keeping her students engaged, but providing them with a comprehensive education. When asked why she shares personal anecdotes in the classroom, she quotes an inspirational instructor of her own, and simply states, “If you can’t relate ideas to everyday life, people won’t get it. Relevance is what makes it understandable and memorable.” For Rye, keeping things simple, direct, and positive is the key to exceptional teaching.
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CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: