My college ride has been full of surprises and this week was no different. I attended the annual Honors Program information presentation on Tuesday night, and it ended with an unusual twist. Dr. George Pimentel went through the traditional formalities but closed with a special presentation from the students for Dr. Bob Ruff. As each of them shared comments about how much Dr. Ruff had changed their lives, I was impressed with what a difference one teacher can make.
Ruff has been teaching for almost fifty years, with the last thirty-nine of them here at Vol State. He is known for using a style of teaching made famous by Socrates in which the students engage in conversation exploring opposing viewpoints in search of truth.
Jessica Saunders is currently a student in Ruff’s American History/Literature combo class. This is an Honors class in which two disciplines are combined, creating a holistic experience for the learner. “He has been amazing. I have learned more from him and Professor Blomgren than I ever thought possible. He holds you accountable when you are doing something wrong without making you feel bad. The group discussions are wonderful, but when I try to take that method to other classrooms, it fails. He has taught me that even when you feel like giving up—don’t! Just keep on.”
Grady Eades is the department chair for social sciences. “Many people say they use the Socratic Method and claim they don’t lecture, but Dr. Ruff really does,” said Eades. “He doesn’t have a set schedule. The conversation directs where the lessons go, so it’s learning in the truest sense of the word.” Eades said that colleges often focus on things not directly pertaining to learning, such as meeting administrative requirements and bureaucracy that comes with the territory. “Dr. Ruff is deliberative. He takes his time and is thoughtful about things; he doesn’t rush just because the world around him wants him to. When it comes to making decisions and treating people appropriately, when people get caught up in thinking this has to be done right now, he continued on at his own pace.”
English Professor Nancy Blomgren has been the second half of the combo class for seventeen years. “He doesn’t assume students are all empty vessels that need to be filled,” said Blomgren. “They already have something there that can be worked with. Once they know that, then they can do just about anything. He knows his students can do it, even though they may not know it. His students end up doing far more than they thought they could. That’s a real gift to give to somebody. When he leaves, there will be a void, and things will be different, but, I think the impact he has made on the way his colleagues think about students will continue.”
Volunteer State Community College