When you think of a good teacher, what comes to mind? Are they entertaining? Are they passionate about what they teach? Do they engage the students while making them actually learn something? Many would agree it’s all of the above and more, and finding a teacher that exemplifies all the desired traits proves difficult. However, for many students at UAA, one name comes to mind when asked about a teacher that has it all: Ron Crawford.
A typical class with Crawford, professor emeritus in history and geography at the Chugiak-Eagle River branch of UAA, is actually not so typical at all. The climate is unique and laid back, creating an environment that students thoroughly enjoy.
“You can just see the atmosphere in here. I adore it,” Crawford said.
Students of all ages and majors show up as early as an hour before the start time, munching on snacks from popcorn to salads. He greets them warmly by name, and they make themselves at home, healthily debating with Crawford about the class, current events and even their personal lives.
“Being relatable to your students is so important. That’s a reason I come here so early, I like to talk to them… there’s this interaction that goes on, and long before the class even starts, it’s happening,” Crawford said.
Many of them have enrolled in multiple classes of his, and keep coming back for more.
A review on ratemyprofessors states, “I took his 211 course to fulfill my science GER and am now taking GEO 111 just because.”
Of the over 1,000 rated professors for the university on ratemyprofessors.com, a well-known website where students of the university review their teachers, Crawford has received the highest overall rating for the school. With 54 reviews, all of 5.0, Crawford has double the ratings of the next highest professor, and is still a perfect score.
As the average rating at UAA is 3.81, Crawford rises well above the rest. Reviews are consistent in mentioning his passion, kindness, energy and knowledge of teaching. Many categorize Ron as one of, if not the best professor they had while at UAA, and one even commented: “He had me contemplating changing majors.”
Crawford was educated at the University of California, Los Angeles, and hired by Eugene Short in 1972, when UAA was titled Alaska Community College. He grew fond of teaching in Alaska, and is now one of the professors who has been teaching at UAA the longest.
“There was just a feel to the school… We were building something. There were no rules to fall back on because we were creating a school,” Crawford said.
From community college teacher to associate professor to full professor, to current professor emeritus, Crawford has now been teaching at the university for 45 years. Even after his retirement, he still continues at the Eagle River campus at a part-time position due to his passion for teaching.
“It never gets old,” Crawford said.
Coy Hill, a senior justice major in Crawford’s film history class, says his favorite thing about him is his animation.
“I’ve had teachers a third of his age that just seemed half dead while they were up there on the podium… This class is keeping him young, and it shows,” Hill said.
In his years as a professor, Crawford has held the position of chair of the History and Geography Department for 13 years, ran the campus film program, campus cinema and as one of the first to teach geography, helped get it to count as GER.
Originally hired for Western Civilization, Crawford now teaches three classes, Geography 111, Opportunity for Learning Enrichment (OLE), and History 244 (film history). Despite all he has done, what Crawford is the most proud of is creating his film history class.
“I don’t have a degree in film, but there is a real love and background in it,” Crawford said.
When he was a child, his dad owned a movie theater, where he developed his love of historical epic and volcano films, inspiring his decision to teach geography and film.
“My film class is my love and joy… and I started doing it just as sort of a lark, you know, let’s do something different. It caught on and I’ve been doing it ever since. Over the years, I built a sort of ID on it, it just became me,” Crawford said.
The class covers units that Crawford hand-picks, including Disney, western, sci-fi and Hitchcock.
According to Crawford, the secret to good teaching is what Walt Disney, one of his role models, calls “edutainment.” This combination of entertainment and education is what keeps learning interesting.
One of his most memorable professors in college possessed this trait.
“He didn’t talk to us from a podium, he entertained. But we learned,” Crawford said. “I like the teachers that will get up and share something of themselves. You feel they’re genuine people. They’re human beings and they relate to you.”
“[The OLE class is] so much fun because it’s totally stimulating. I’m constantly learning and I love it. Everybody who has taken classes with him loves him, and he loves us,” Candy Stanley, a student in Crawford’s course, said.
Because of this personal level he believed was necessary to achieve success in teaching, Crawford noted that he “never wanted to call myself professor. I’m a teacher.” He felt the term was too formal and impersonal.
Another aspect of good teaching that Crawford mentions is the intent behind it.
“Why are we here? We’re here for the students. I think you’ve got to teach a good class. It’s the job that they pay the tuition for, and in turn, you’ve got to run a good class. That’s on you.”
As one review states, “Don’t hesitate to take this class. It was entertaining and amazingly he was able to keep my interest for all four hours! I am not kidding when I report that he is so far my top teacher of my three years UAA history.”
Even though Crawford thinks his reasoning for teaching may seem silly, it’s very sincere.
“This may sound corny, but teaching is fun… It keeps me going. I love teaching,” Crawford said.
Crawford’s ideas of good teaching are relevant in his own style. His passion is evident to his students and colleagues alike, and his hands-on and interactiveness result in highly satisfied students.
“I get a lot of repeats. They form this sort of family… everybody has a place,” Crawford said.
A review says, “his excitement for his class is nice to see among professors who usually lack interest in their teachings.”
Another states that “Professor Crawford has an amazing talent for getting and keeping a classroom engaged. His love of the subject creates an excitement for learning. He has an extreme wealth of knowledge that comes only with experience.”
Crawford’s status as the top rated professor at UAA is no mistake. His passion for his subjects and his students create a classroom environment that is energetic, entertaining and inviting. He represents UAA in a positive way, and leaves an impact on his students for years to come.