Excellence in Teaching Award
Mike Ellerbrock; Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
Michael “Mike” Ellerbrock, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, is the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award for the month of March. This award, given by The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, recognizes effective, engaged, and dynamic educators at Virginia Tech.
Ellerbrock, who has been at Virginia Tech for 26 years, considers teaching to be an honor and a privilege. “Every time I walk in front of a class, I think ‘I’m getting paid for this,’” he said. “It’s really nice to watch students come alive. How gratifying is that?”
He applies a rhetorical teaching technique in the five courses he teaches: Macro- and Microeconomics, Sustainable Development Economics, Religion & Science: Friends or Foes, and Peace Economics. “I pose lots of questions for students to engage, take ownership of their learning, and discover who they are,” Ellerbrock said. “I tell them I can give them all sorts of facts and theories and historical knowledge, but I cannot give them wisdom.”
Building positive professional relationships with his students is important to Ellerbrock. “Teaching is all about being in relationship with the students in any class,” he said.
Ellerbrock also inspires a humble confidence through the relationships he makes with his students. “If a student catches me in a mistake, I’m the first to admit it,” he said. “If I immediately turn around and say ‘whoa! good catch,’ they love it.”
Ellerbrock prefers his students call him by his first name as part of relationship building. “Professionalism can go a long way in forming positive relationships, but don’t confuse formality with professionalism,” he said. “I’m not lowering the bar [by allowing students to call me Mike], I’m asking them to raise it.”
Ellerbrock’s most memorable teaching moments often come years after a semester is over when, for example, former students visit or mention something he said that made an impression on them. “And half the time, it wasn’t even my major point,” he said. “It’s something I said spontaneously, and it really touched them. I think there’s a lesson there.”
If Ellerbrock had one lesson to offer new professors and instructors, it would be to be authentic.
“Let the students get to know you,” he said. “Never forget that they are human beings and you are a human being.”