A day in the life

By any standard, College Dean Edward L. Ayers is a busy man. A laminated copy of his weekly schedule and the promptings of secretary and "time keeper" Heidi Winter help Ayers run on schedule as he divides his time between teaching, writing and presiding as dean over three-fourths of the University student body.

While others would find themselves spread too thin, Ayers is known for injecting energy and enthusiasm into all of his commitments.

He was named U.S. Professor of the Year for research and doctoral universities by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in a ceremony yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

University Provost Gene Block said the Provost's Office nominated Ayers because he "exemplifies the craft of teaching."

"He's a legendary teacher in the College because of the content of his courses, depth of his knowledge, style of delivery and his innovative use of technology applied to history," Block said. "He delivers important materials in an entertaining way."

The entertainment value of Ayers' teaching style is clear on a visit to his undergraduate history class, "The Rise and Fall of the Slave South."

Shunning the podium to walk the classroom floor, Ayers flavored a lecture on segregation with train imitations and jokes.

"I grew up in segregation. I know that's surprising to you because you think I'm such a young person," Ayers told his class Wednesday morning.

Students responded with laughter.

Describing his "teaching philosophy" en route to a weekly lunch with his three teaching assistants, Ayers said he uses elements of performance to help students imagine activities and behavior prominent in the segregated South -- activities and behavior that now seem out of this world.

Ayers also attributed his theatrical style to youthful aspirations.

"I wanted to be the front man for a great rock and roll band, and in some ways, still do," he said.

While his rock-star dream eventually was shattered by the realization that he has no musical talent, Ayers said he found a suitable replacement in teaching.

He has never looked back.

"I can't imagine another job that is as satisfying on so many levels as the one I have," Ayers said. "I get to talk and read books!"

In addition to talking and reading books, Ayers said he devotes about 80 percent of his time to dean responsibilities.

Ayers told reporters Wednesday that he believes he received the CASE-Carnegie award partly for his ability to act as both professor and dean. He has divided his time between both posts since 2001.

Such division necessitates strict time management.

To make time to travel, fundraise and answer roughly 200 e-mails a day, Ayers has stripped his life down to two priorities.

"I have no hobbies," he said. "I have work and family and that's all I really need."

When it comes to work, teaching takes precedence.

"It's just a priority, and I build everything else around it," Ayers said. "We begin the fall with class, office hours and meetings with TAs blocked out" on my timetable.

For a life devoted to teaching, Ayers said the rewards are more likely to be "a soft, gentle rain of encouragement" than "a huge glorious sunrise," like the CASE-Carnegie honor.

"I'm delighted to have this, but all the individual stuff all along the way is the great reward for the job," he said.

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