2013 Honors Excellence in Teaching Award

by Shannon Foss, June 14th 2013

Frances McCue, 2013 Honors Excellence in Teaching Award recipient
Frances McCue, Honors Excellence in Teaching Award 2013
Photo credit: Mary Randlett.

Frances McCue is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department and the Writer in Residence in the Honors Program at the University of Washington. She earned her doctorate from Columbia University and an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) from the University of Washington. In 1996, she co-founded the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. She is the author of THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE STILL RUNS, THE BLED, THE STENOGRAPHER'S BREAKFAST and the forthcoming MARY RANDLETT PORTRAITS. She teaches a variety of courses in the Honors Program with the aim of bringing writing into the classroom and the community.

Shannon Foss, CHID '16
Shannon Foss
Comparative History of Ideas '16


had the privilege of taking Frances McCue’s Winter 2013 class titled Teaching to Transgress. The distinct character of the class was evident from the very first day. It began with Frances approaching each and every student in the room, sticking out her hand, and saying, “Hi! I’m Frances,” and it culminated in a cocktail-party style mixer in the middle of the room.

Within those first few days, Frances outlined her objectives for the class: for us to gain a sense of the glory and baggage we bring to teaching, to radicalize our view of what education is and can be, to establish lasting connections between classmates, and most importantly, to make us uncomfortable; not in a negative way, but in a real, vulnerable way. She told us that if by halfway through the quarter we hadn’t felt uncomfortable in her class, then we ought to come talk to her. I’m happy to report that I don’t think anyone had to take her up on that. As I’m sure you can imagine by the fact that I’m here today, her goals were readily accomplished.

This class was the most “unconventional” I had ever taken. At one point we held a debate, half of the class entrenched on either side of the room, a table separating the two groups in case things got real. When it was time to write the midterm, we were given large sheets of butcher paper on which to map out the connections between our own lives and the material we had read. We engaged in teaching puzzles, where we simulated different teaching situations, both inside the classroom and without. Frances taught us how to use writing, in her own words, as a “way of thinking.” We wrote, in her class, as to both develop and express our views about teaching, views that we perhaps didn’t know existed until we were called upon to compose them. And of course, she was always willing to talk, consult, and scheme about ideas; not only interested in what we were doing, but genuinely excited about it.

That’s Frances’ teaching style: it’s probing, though-provoking, intent on realizing that teaching and learning are not just about the material, but also about the people who engage in the material. She’s the type of person who really sees her students. Working with Frances is, at heart, a personal experience. She creates an open space where students can think, create, explore; an environment of respect where we can drive our own studies, but also one which challenges us to think more deeply and more expansively. And Frances also incorporates feedback, from peers and teacher alike; not just one-sided feedback, but genuine conversation, real dialogue about real ideas.

There’s a quote I would like to share with you. It’s by Mark Twain, and it says, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” I don’t think that anyone who has been in one of Frances’ classes would deny that she’s the type of educator, the type of person, who makes all of her students feel as though they have the capacity for greatness.

It’s for this reason, and so many more, that Frances McCue has been chosen to receive the 2013 Honors Excellence in Teaching Award. This plaque will hang in the Honors space next year alongside the poster which is on display here today. So, on behalf of the entire Honors Community, I am now pleased to present the Honors Excellence in Teaching Award to Professor Frances McCue.

Shannon Foss
Comparative History of Ideas
Class of 2016