Each year, the Red River College Students’ Association presents a Teacher Award of Excellence in recognition of an instructor’s outstanding teaching practices and dedication to students.
Typically, the RRCSA receives approximately 100 submissions for this award. This year, they received over 450 submissions from students whose instructors made a difference in their learning — in a year like no other.
The 2021 RRCSA Teacher Award of Excellence has been awarded to Darren Stebeleski, a Graphic Design instructor in Creative Arts, who has been with the College for 10 years this August.
After a successful career working in the graphic design industry, Stebeleski was drawn to teaching because he realized he enjoyed talking about and studying design even more than he liked practicing it. It was then that he pursued his master’s degree with the goal of teaching design.
When asked what inspires and excites him most about teaching, Stebeleski says he loves introducing students to the idea that design is everywhere around us.
“I love teaching my students the rules of graphic design in the first year, then watching them skillfully bend — and even break — these rules during the rest of their time at the College.”
“What inspires me personally is graphic design that is done in the service of people, versus commercial or corporate work. I am always interested in the work being done in the area of social justice, work that is helping to amplify the voices of people’s movements or that is demanding an end to an injustice.”
Over the last 15 months, like many instructors across the College, Stebeleski had to pivot his graphic design classroom to an online, virtual format — a challenge for many, but as he explains, it provided an opportunity to connect with students differently and equalize his classroom in many ways.
“Personally, I think online learning has been hardest on the students,” he says. “That said, something I love about being online is how it has equalized the classroom. I am less an authority figure and more of a facilitator of their learning … I’m just a guy telling them about this stuff that I think is cool, and trying to make it relatable to their lived experience.
“This equalization works other ways, too. A lot of barriers seem to be broken down between the students by this situation we are all in. There’s this degree of anonymity to being online that seems to have made them far more open to speaking out in class. The chat on Teams is also amazing, to see so much activity there — crosstalk, jokes, students’ inner thoughts, and pointed questions.”
Stebeleski received 14 nominations from students for the award. In the submissions, there were several recurring themes and words used to describe him, including: encouraging, enthusiastic, going above and beyond, informative, prepared, and caring.
When asked what this award means to him, Stebeleski says that being looked at in this way by young people of such high calibre is humbling, and a deep honour.
“It’s significant to me that this recognition is coming from the people who I am here to serve,” he says. “That they would go out of their way to suggest I am deserving of such an honour is so deeply meaningful, it’s difficult to even speak about without getting emotional. I’m just trying to do my job to prepare them as best as possible to navigate what can be a very difficult industry. To me, the way the students have risen to the challenge of working during this year is what has been truly remarkable.”
Here is a glimpse of the submissions made by Darren’s students:
- “Darren is an excellent instructor who goes above and beyond to help his students.”
- “Darren has made this school year so great, even during this pandemic.”
- “Not only is Darren incredibly knowledgeable in design, but he also has a wealth of experience from life that he uses to prepare his students for difficult situations.”
- “Darren is a breath of fresh air. He lights up the whole class and encourages everyone to participate.”
- “Darren not only emails us with a weekend update as to his progress in marking, he delivers encouraging words to motivate us, and includes a music track or playlist to check out and also gives an explanation to why it’s a good track he wants to share.”
- “His classes are always full of smiles and joy. My classmates and I gained energy from his class.”
- “He’s everything you could hope for in a teacher, and more.”
- “It’s the highlight of my day and the class I always look forward to having.”
- “Typography was a highlight of the week for everyone in the class. Darren’s teaching style is enthusiastic and encouraging.”
- “I would not be half the graphic designer I am without his feedback and support.”
- “He teaches us thoroughly, and I honestly say I want to be just like him when I grow up!”
- “We love him!”