Teaching Effectiveness

In their evaluations of my classes, students regularly comment on my commitment to student success, my detailed feedback on student writing, the diversity of assigned course texts, and the quality of  class discussions. Students’ feedback reflects that they appreciate the opportunity to hone their ideas and to gain analytical thinking and writing skills through class discussions, activities, and assignments. Frequently, they observe that the skills they’ve gained in my classes will continue to shape their writing, critical thinking, and communication in other classes and in their lives after they’ve left the university.

Below are some of the comments students have made about my literature, composition, and gender and women’s studies courses in end-of-semester evaluations and nomination letters for University of Illinois teaching awards.

Read more about my teaching awards here.

On Overall Quality:

“Ms. O’Brien is an excellent professor, and her knowledge and passion about all the works amazes me. I can tell she earnestly loves teaching this class and wants us all to achieve.” – student evaluation for Beginnings of Modern Poetry
“Ms. O’Brien genuinely cares about her students and is very passionate about what she teaches. It is refreshing to have a teacher be so enthusiastic about the coursework.… Ms. O’Brien wants each student to succeed and she will do anything to help!” – student evaluation for Modernist Literature and Culture
“This is the best class I have taken at this University. I was interested by the topic alone but really signed up when I learned Valerie was teaching it.” – student evaluation for Fairy Tales and Gender Formation
“The first day she really made Rhet seem essential. I’ve never wanted to actually take a class as seriously as I took this one.” – student evaluation for Writing and Research
“Valerie’s classes were entertaining, thought-out, and they left my peers and me thinking of the larger implications of our texts on the world around us. Before her class, I had never taken the time or felt the need to actively think about the influence of my academic texts on my life or the lives of those around me, but after that year, I find myself considering the ways in which my classes and studies can be put in conversation with the daily (less academic) routines of my life. Valerie not only encouraged an understanding of the texts within the literary canon, but she pushed us to apply what we were learning and studying to the world around us.” – student nomination for teaching award | Modernist Literature and Culture, Fairy Tales and Gender Formation
On Class Discussion:
“As a somewhat shy person, I never felt afraid to express my opinions and insights. I knew that I could trust her to treat me as an intellectual equal; she always showed the utmost respect for all of her students. When we’d reach difficult subjects that some had difficulty grasping, she was incredibly understanding. She would make sure that she described every concept in a way that every student, no matter their experience with this type of literature, could understand.” – student nomination for teaching award | Science Fiction
“Valerie constantly involved as many students as possible. She successfully encouraged us to talk not only with her but also with each other.” – student nomination for teaching award | Introduction to Fiction, Modernist Literature and Culture
“She developed a space for open conversation between her students and herself.… The classroom was a space for free discussion, a place for her students and her to learn together.” – student nomination for teaching award | Modernist Literature and Culture, Fairy Tales and Gender Formation
“Great at facilitating conversation… Great discussion based class, helped with understanding texts.” – student evaluation for Modernist Literature and Culture
“Valerie would sometimes connect our discussions over an assigned reading to current events that were taking place around us—this allowed many students who didn’t understand the reading to participate in the discussion and to also think more critically about how the text could be interpreted or related to the time(s) in which they were written. This encouraged deeper discussions about some of the underlying themes of a given text, the historical or political implications behind them, and how they might relate to our present day. Most importantly, this made our discussions accessible to everyone, which was ultimately the biggest issue for a number of students… Valerie demonstrated a rare diligence towards making our discussions relatable so that nobody would feel intimidated or excluded.” – student nomination for teaching award | Survey of British Literature 1798-Present
“She does more than acknowledge a student’s opinion; she expands upon it, creating several prosperous conversations at once within a single class period, ending with a convergence on a new and fascinating take on something you may have thought you had fully understood before said class period. Thus, her teaching brought me to understand new and complicated texts, but also gave me new ways to approach art I had already loved so that I could understand them even better.  As a college senior with an English minor, I have yet to meet a professor with such an enriching class structure.” – student nomination for teaching award | Modernist Literature and Culture, Fairy Tales and Gender Formation
On Diversity of Curriculum:
“Coming from someone who had never before taken a class that dealt with LGBTQ subject matter, Valerie’s lessons gave me tools to interact with those different from myself in a respectful and meaningful way. I have been out of college for six months now and the conversations that we had in class have still proved themselves relevant to my everyday life. I believe that her class or one like it should be a requirement for all undergraduates.” – student nomination for teaching award | Fairy Tales and Gender Formation
“Valerie O’Brien drove home that science fiction is about the liminal space, pushing boundaries, and challenging yourself and others to view the world differently than what you’re used to… Valerie really opened my eyes that sci-fi can be queer, it can be non-white, and in fact should embrace this othering of standard human perception with open arms, mechanical or otherwise. She did this through not only the reading she would assign but through the discussions she would lead.” – student nomination for teaching award | Science Fiction
“I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and found reading such diverse poetry meaningful and enlightening. I was also happy to have improved my skills in analyzing poetry and writing in general.” – student evaluation for Beginnings of Modern Poetry

On Writing Instruction:

“Meeting with the instructor outside of class was very beneficial, as well as her feedback about my assignments.” – student evaluation for Writing and Research
“The in-class exercises … were incredibly useful to my writing.” – student evaluation for Writing and Research
“Valerie … invests her time and effort into her students. It was clear from the beginning that she not only wanted to teach us, but wanted to help us become better writers, and wanted us to be excited about writing. This enthusiasm was further portrayed as we met one on one for conferences to discuss paper revisions. Valerie always provided constructive criticism but was able to positively direct me toward my next steps in the writing process.” – student nomination for teaching award | Introduction to Fiction