All the classroom’s a stage:

Western prof nominated as one of Ontario’s best lecturers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Professor Allan Gedalof

Joyce Wang

“Love is pain! Love is sorrow!”

Professor Allan Gedalof clenches his fists as he dramatically explains the recurring motif of unrequited love to his popular “Mystery Film and Fiction” class.

While many students sleep through or skip lectures, Gedalof, an English and film professor at Western, is known for captivating students with his infectious enthusiasm, unabashed theatricality and palpable energy.

Because of his creativity, conviction and devotion in the classroom, Gedalof was recently nominated as one of Ontario’s best lecturers by TVOntario’s Big Ideas.

“Teaching is a function of personality,” Gedalof says.

A jolly, magnanimous and brilliant man, the snowy-haired professor delights in challenging students and expanding their horizons.

Gedalof’s love for English and film flourished during his university years. He originally majored in architecture but soon switched to English.

“I realized that I was more interested in the structure of literature and films than I was in the structure of buildings,” he says.

This realization led to an eight-year education that includes a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from Memorial University, a master’s from the University of Alberta, and an English PhD in 18th century studies from the University of London.

Gedalof has taught at Western for over 30 years. He started as an 18th century specialist in the English department and soon began teaching film as well.

He feels lucky to teach both disciplines.

“I never had to choose between English and film,” Gedalof says.

Some of his most popular courses include “Detective Fiction” and “Detective Fiction and Film,” which he has offered regularly since introducing them in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, the English department requested he design a course to attract a broader range of students, so Gedalof created the course “Reading Popular Culture,” which covers subjects like popular music, television and film. This led him to write his latest book, Cultural Subjects, a reader for popular culture courses.

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Gedalof is concerned with the challenges of teaching.

He has spent much time exploring the question of what constitutes effective teaching at the university level. He started thinking about it when he noticed the lack of instructional training university professors have compared to other teachers.

“You have to do serious training to teach kindergarten,” Gedalof says. “You need training to teach pre-school. But, to teach university, you have to demonstrate that you’re exceptionally good at very solitary activities " research and writing.”

Gedalof has written several books encouraging teachers to develop teaching styles harmonious with their personalities, including 1998’s Teaching Large Classes, which remains the bestselling Canadian book on university pedagogy.

Gedalof also has many useful suggestions for students.

“Find something you love doing,” he says. “Get invested in it. Take time to explore extracurricular opportunities. And get to know your profs.”

While accomplishing these things means students often must leave their comfort zone, Gedalof believes this is the purpose of attending university.

“If we don’t take chances, there’s no point being here,” he says.

Because Gedalof knows how much his personality influences his teaching, he’s committed to helping students develop theirs in their own unique way.

“We are in the business of turning out individuals,” he says.

“My students are my best publications.”

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