Distinctive teaching

Brandeis University has recognized Derron “J.R.” Wallace ’07 with the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Excellence in Teaching—an award given annually to tenure-track faculty who combine superlative scholarship with inspired teaching.

“Professor Wallace is easily one of the most passionate, rigorous and knowledgeable professors at Brandeis,” according to the nomination form. “He expects his students to be as engaged as he is, and that’s quite easy when you have a professor like him. He creates a class culture where everyone shows up to class prepared and ready with critical questions.”

An assistant professor of education and sociology, Wallace joined the Brandeis faculty in the fall of 2015. He specializes in cross-national studies of inequalities and identities in urban schools and neighborhoods.

“Over the past two years, teaching has been the primary means through which I have sought to animate social justice values in public life,” Wallace said. “I have invested considerable intellectual stock in developing learning environments that are at once creative, collaborative and critical.”

In Wallace’s course “Critical Perspectives in Urban Education,” for example, he incorporates critical media literacy as part of the course, due in large part to what course alumni have shared with him about the evolution of digital activism. Students are required to create, edit and make public video essays detailing the elements of inequality that shaped their secondary schooling.

“The assignment is rather challenging, requiring students to learn new video-editing software; conduct archival and statistical research on their high schools and local communities; sketch and script each scene; and submit three drafts of their videos for peer review,” he said.

In all of his courses, the professor focuses on ensuring that his students acquire skills to become critical thinkers and leaders.

He assigns précis—brief summaries of the main points and ideas in writing or speech—to enable students to develop these critical skills. Wallace said he developed an “enduring appreciation” for précis thanks to Wheaton’s Sociology Department.

“By assigning précis regularly, I ensure that students come to class focused and prepared,” he said. “I am most pleased that a number of alumni have informed me that writing précis for my classes has prepared them for the intensity of graduate school and work in the fields of law, public policy and the biological sciences.”

With the award, Wallace will receive funding to further develop his scholarship and teaching.

“It is an honor to be the latest recipient of [this award], joining the ranks of award-winning instructors in the Sociology and Education departments at Brandeis. I endeavor to continue the tradition of teaching excellence evident in both departments.”