Friday, April 27, 2012

Dr. Ruff Retires - After Investing 39 Years in his Students

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.
Adjunct English instructor, Arlo Hall is a former student of Dr. Ruff’s.  “In a lot of ways, he is the benchmark for what makes a good teacher,” said Hall.  “He was shocking, interesting, and challenging and he was also the first teacher that treated me like an adult.  He is not afraid to challenge his students; he expects them to try as hard as they can.  He does a great job of directing the conversation without monopolizing it.  I think of him as the definition of critical thinking.”
Philosophy major Janie Bresee uses the skills she learned in his class on a regular basis.  “At first his reputation was a little intimidating, but after I got to know him, I was more comfortable in the class.  He provoked me to learn—not with a lecture, but from the questions he would ask.  He helped me to learn how much I could handle.  I went into the class thinking that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work, but I found out that I had more within myself than what I realized.”
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.”
Director of the Honors Program, Dr. George Pimentel, has worked with Ruff for ten years.  “One of the things I have always admired about him is his ability to get students to want to learn.  He’s tough, but he has a way to get students to participate.  Some of us have talked about how we can get our students to love learning like he does.  He will be missed on this campus.”
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


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