Teaching through memes, kindness: Uwe Stender wins “Best General Education Teacher” award
Students voted Uwe Stender, a lecturer in the German department, as the “Top General Education Teacher” in The Pitt News’ annual “Best Of” survey. It is the first time he has won the title since he started working for the University in 2006.
Stender said he was surprised to hear the news of his victory.
“I’m really excited. I was shocked when I got [the] E-mail [announcing the win]”said Stender.
Stender primarily teaches German Myths, Legends and Sagas, Indo-European Folk Tales, and New German Cinema – all three of which can be considered general education courses.
Corie Miller, a junior psychology student, followed Indo-European folk tales with Stender. She said she was not surprised to learn that Stender had won the award for best general teacher.
“He’s a very good teacher, so it doesn’t really surprise me [that he won]”, Miller said. “But I’m glad other people realize what a great teacher he is.”
Gabriela Hutter, a junior psychology student, also followed Indo-European folk tales with Stender. She said she liked taking a class with Stender because of his kindness.
“He’s really nice and super nice,” Hutter said. “It was always organized when it came to discussing in class, but organized in a way that also allowed us to discuss.
Miller said Stender made a big effort to build relationships with the students.
“He was very understanding and he really tried to understand our generation’s way of thinking and our points of view,” Miller said.
Stender said he tries to make his courses relevant for modern times, especially because some course content — such as myths and folktales — is hundreds of years old. He recalled a recent time when a student compared a saga they were reading in class to catfishing.
“I love when students can apply something that’s really old and not completely modern,” Stender said. “I like that they think that way and try to put it in current times. That’s what I’m trying to encourage – making it relevant for 2022.”
Both Hutter and Miller said their favorite class memory was the day they created memes.
“He wasn’t just lecturing about what we learned in history, he was trying to relate it to what’s happening in the world today because a lot of the folktales we read were written ages ago. “said Miller. “He was trying to relate to things that were happening now and talk about how things had changed, which I thought was good.”
Stender also said part of his teaching strategy is to get students to engage with each other.
“What I’ve noticed is that classes are pretty quiet, people aren’t talking to each other and staring at their phones,” Stender said. “[So I] Break them into small groups, then just encourage them to engage with each other and get to know each other.
He said he did it because he wanted the students to get to know each other.
“When [students] leave the course, the people they are with are complete strangers to them, even if they spend 15 weeks with [each other]”said Stender.
Hutter said the class’s communication structure allowed for good conversations.
“It was still structured, but we were allowed to converse in class,” Hutter said. “We had fantastic discussions. He was not afraid of tangents.
Hutter also said she liked the freedom Stender allowed in the classroom.
“He gave us creativity and the freedom to change plans, but not enough to be chaotic,” Hutter said.
Outside of teaching, Stender works as a literary agent at TriadaUnited States, a literary agency he founded. The agency represents authors such as Olivie Blake, author of “The Atlas Six”and Chloe Gong, author of “These violent delights.” Both books were on the New York Times Bestseller List.
As part of his work with TriadaUS, Stender also collaborates with film studios and production companies to adapt books for film. He has worked with companies such as Amazon Studios and Amblin, Steven Spielberg’s production company.
When Stender is not working, he enjoys running, swimming and biking. He also enjoys watching German football.
Miller and Hutter said they were satisfied with their experience with Stender as a teacher. Both said they appreciated his teaching style and demeanor.
“I really wish more teachers were like [Stender]”, Hutter said. “Some people you can really tell really enjoy teaching and love interacting with students our age. [Stender] was definitely one of those types of people.