Find the 'amazing' in all you study and teach

30 November 2015 | Curated Helen Swingler. Photo Michael Hammond.
Distinguished Teacher Award winner Dr Azila (Tzili) Reisenberger.
Distinguished Teacher Award winner Dr Azila (Tzili) Reisenberger.

Her classes are like communities and she's always on the lookout for that amazing bit of information to impart when she's teaching, says Distinguished Teacher Awardee for 2015, Dr Azila (Tzili) Reisenberger, Head of Hebrew in the School of Languages and Literature.

Q: What do you teach and how did you become a teacher?

A: I teach Hebrew language and literature as well as gender and sexuality and gender and religions.

Q: What enthuses you about being in front of a class or group, or helping an individual?

A: The diversity of students, the young minds and the fact that, through the introducing my research to newcomers to this subject, we are engaged in an intellectual fun relationship is exhilarating.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Fun and positive. Fun: I make sure that I find something amazing in anything I study and everything I teach. Students pick up on this and are very engaged.

Positive: I never put a student down. My students pick up on this and are never afraid to engage with the material or with each other. Our classes become a community.

Q: What do you think makes a good teacher?

A: Sharing knowledge and awakening the students' curiosity.

Q: How do you adapt to diverse classes in terms of language, culture, nationality, and so on?

A: As I myself am not a native English speaker and on occasion make linguistic booboos, it makes everybody feel that they are not stupid if they do not express themselves perfectly. And the class is flowing. There is a lot of participation. When we meet somebody new, I always ask them to tell us about their lives. And we have socials.

Q: Does technology play a big role for you?

A: It helps the students work in their own time. It's also useful when students have to catch up. 

Q: And how does your research shape your teaching?

A: It keeps my work fresh and up to date.

Q: Who was your best teacher, whether at school, university or elsewhere, and what made you remember them?

A: Two teachers shaped me: one in high school who told me that I was the cleverest young lady she'd ever met. After that day I never got less than A in any subject (I didn't want to disappoint her!). And the other teacher was at university; a visiting biblical professor who introduced the topic in such an interesting way that I changed direction and became a biblical scholar.

Q: What are your five top tips for teachers?


  1. Make sure to know the subject really well.
  2. Treat your students as colleagues; don't talk down to them.
  3. Demand perfection from yourself, and the best that your student can do. Do not accept mediocrity. It is insulting for them and for you.
  4. Engage. Learn the students' names and more about them.
  5. Have fun.

Q: Any other comments or anecdotes you'd like to add?

A: Be inclusive. One of my PhD students was a disabled woman and I used to drive to her home for our seminars, as it was a huge inconvenience for her to come to campus. And another of my PhD students was an 80-year-old woman. When she walked onto the stage to be capped at graduation and the students saw her white hair and huge smile, they rose to their feet. The whole of Jameson Hall was clapping and whistling. Feeling like a rock star celebrity, she waved to them and then turned and blew kisses to me.

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