A Grinnell professor has recently gotten the praise she deserves. Rate My Professors, an mtvU-operated professor rating site, released its new ranking of the highest-rated professors in the country, and Professor Monessa Cummins, Classics, was ranked third. The ratings were determined by students, and the site has more than 15 million ratings, 1.3 million professors and 7,000 schools.
Cummins first heard the news when Rate My Professor emailed her before the rankings were released.
“They emailed me and asked me to supply a picture, and invited me to join a variety of social media [avenues] so that I could talk about this ranking,” she said. “[My initial reaction was] disbelief. They did not tell me how I was ranked, or how many were in the ranking. They just told me that I made the list.”
However, she was not entirely enamored by the attention.
“I did not send them a picture, I did not join any social media and I heard nothing more of them. I kind of hoped that if I didn’t respond they would drop me from the list,” Cummins said. “I’ve tried not to look [at the rankings], [even though] a lot of students tell me how highly rated I am.”
Cummins believes the benefit of looking at the ranking online would come with a steep price.
“I just don’t want to be distracted,” she said. “Once you start caring about everything that is said about you, it saps your independence. I just don’t want to know. The only thing that matters is how well I teach each day. And I’m afraid [the rankings] will get in the way.”
One reason for Cummins’ teaching success is the importance she places on end-of-semester evaluations.
“I want to know what the students found effective and what they didn’t find effective. I look very carefully into them in order to see where I can improve,” she said.
According to Cummins, one of the best parts of teaching is the experience in the classroom.
“I have been teaching for 30 years, and I still believe that it is a privilege to teach about classical antiquity, and to have it be my job,” she said. “I think that the time I spend in the classroom with students trying to help them see what there is to appreciate in that classical antiquity is a privilege.”
Cummins has demonstrated a profound ability to not only teach students her academic specialty, but also prepare them for life after graduation.
“I hope to challenge them to think imaginatively about the ancient past and to apply what they have learned to the modern world,” she said.
Even though she placed highly in this ranking, Cummins remains modest. “I don’t think I’m anything special … I am fortunate enough to teach at an institution that values teaching highly, [and] there are many different styles of effective teaching and I have learned a lot from my colleagues,” she said. “In my teaching, I’ve benefitted from the help of staff from Burling, ITS and the AV Center, the Writing Lab and Academic Support. Time and again these people have made me look better than I am—and I’m grateful!”