Eleanor Townsley

Citation for 2005 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

Eleanor Townsley is a “great teacher.” Many of us at Mount Holyoke use the trope “great teaching,” to understand what it is that we do or aspire to do. For example, today we honor Eleanor Townsley for her “great teaching” and for being a “great teacher.” But how are we to unpack what this means?

A closer look at Eleanor reveals that she received her B.A. from the University of Queensland, Australia and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. She teaches Introduction to Sociology, Survey Research and Data Analysis, Archival and Field Methods for Sociology Majors, the Sociology of Gender, and Social Inequality. She is a comparative-historical sociologist who studies the role of the intellectual in society. Her book on Eastern Europe, Making Capitalism without Capitalists, focuses on the role of the intelligentsia during the transition from socialism. She has written on intellectuals in the U.S., irony, post-socialist theory and housework. Though all this is impressive, it doesn’t tell us too much yet about “great teaching.”

Fortunately she also studies "tropes” ¬– which she defines as a figurative use of words, which organizes and expresses our collective understanding. Her essay, "The Sixties' Trope," recently published in Theory, Culture & Society, uses "the Sixties" as a case study to craft a theory of tropes. We can take a hint from Eleanor here, and just as she excavates the trope of the sixties, we can unravel some of the dimensions or tropes of her stunning work as a teacher.

Loved. Great teachers are loved by their students and Eleanor is loved by hers. “I love Eleanor’s teaching.” “Love you and your class, Eleanor!” “I loved Eleanor!” And of course this keeps them coming back for more. “I’ll probably be ......taking more classes with Townsley next spring...because I like [them] so much.” “[I] ...am in fact considering an “Eleanor Townsley Minor”, or at least a sociology minor heavily weighted towards Eleanor Townsley-taught courses.”

Enthusiastic. Great teachers are enthusiastic. And Eleanor’s students definitely find her enthusiastic. “She was very excited when she lectured ... I could tell by the enthusiasm in her voice.” “Her enthusiasm was contagious and it clearly increased my interest in quantitative analysis.” “I never thought I’d be interested in statistics and Professor Townsley’s enthusiasm inspired me to do well in the course.”

Intelligent. Great teachers must be intelligent and use their knowledge to inspire their students. “Eleanor knows a ton!” “The lectures were brilliant.” “Not only is she funny and very intelligent, she provokes students to think.” “Attitude: bad ass, but intellectually so.” “Eleanor is great - very fun, very articulate, intelligent, clear, [and] helpful.” “She is a wonderful teacher, extremely intelligent, and a great role model for a female in the field of sociology.”

Motivating. Great teachers motivate their students. “[Eleanor] is one of the most inspiring professors I have ever had.” “She was great for instilling self confidence....” “Eleanor Townsley made me want to learn statistics.” “I was expecting this class to be stuff I’m not interested in, but I was so glad to be wrong!”

Humorous and Engaging. How could a great teacher fail to captivate and enthrall her students? “Eleanor rocks, but I’m sure you already know that...” “[Eleanor]...is more entertaining than television.” “She often answered questions ‘right on’ ” and she “even made class amusing” and “... presents the class vividly.” “I am so enthralled by the course topic. “

A “great teacher” at Mount Holyoke College: Loved, Enthusiastic, Intelligent, Motivating, Humorous and Engaging. Eleanor Townsley, a “great teacher.” She rocks.