Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research

Excellence in Teaching Award

Jackie Bixler, Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures

February 2018

Jackie Bixler, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Deartment, is the winner of the February Excellence in Teaching Award. This award, given by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, recognizes effective, engaged, and dynamic educators at Virginia Tech.

Bixler, who teaches Spanish language and literature courses, finds continuous joy in teaching. “You can be in a bad mood, feel tired or sick, but the minute you walk into that classroom, it all goes away,” she said. “I go into a zone and always come back from the classroom smiling. It’s not acting; I’m genuinely happy.”

Having spent her 38-year career at Virginia Tech, Bixler noted that instructional technology has changed and increased, but personal interaction with students is still the key to success in the classroom. “I think the beauty of teaching languages is that our classes are relatively small,” she said. “We have the opportunity to really get to know our students. I see my role as more of a facilitator creating a dialogue.”

To create that dialogue, Bixler uses humor. “If you have no sense of humor, you have no business being in a classroom,” she said. “I want my students to feel comfortable speaking Spanish, so I encourage them to laugh at themselves, at one another, and at me.”

Bixler also makes herself available to students outside of class time. “They can always contact me by email and I am willing to have any conversation they want to have,” she said. “It can be about other classes, career choices, study abroad, or family issues. I just want them to know I’m here for them.”

She noted that she learns as much from her students as she hopes they do from her. “Not about Spanish, but about their lives or about their generation, I guess, their culture,” she said. “Teaching is fun. You can see them get enthused, see the lightbulb going on behind their eyes.”

To really dig into a language, Bixler encourages all her students to go abroad. “Sitting in a classroom for three hours (a week) doesn’t do it, and I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Spain and Mexico” she said. “I recently got an email from a student who said she was thinking of me and wanted me to know how much I had changed her life by taking her to Mexico 15 years ago. “She was a student from Richmond, who had never been on an airplane, never been out of the state, never seen the ocean,” Bixler continued. “It was so beautiful to watch her. She said that as a result she learned Portuguese and has been to Brazil on several trips. That made my day.”

Those types of emails from students are reminders of why she teaches. “That’s the good stuff,” she said. “That’s what keeps us going, knowing the influence we have on students, how we change their lives.”