Dale Steiner: Outstanding Teacher for 1997-98

Dale Steiner, History (photo Jeff Teeter)
Dale Steiner, History, has been selected as the 1997-98 Outstanding Teacher of the Year. A faculty member at CSU, Chico since 1974, Steiner has served as chair of his department, the coordinator of American Studies, credential adviser, and he is currently the director of the North State History-Social Science Project for K-12 teachers. Steiner was cited as an Outstanding Academic Adviser in 1996 by the National Academic Advising Association, and he was part of the first contingent of Master Teachers from 1995-97.

During an interview this summer, Steiner expressed a genuine humility about being selected as the Outstanding Teacher, "I know a lot of really good, outstanding teachers. I've stolen from them right and left, and in a lot of ways, they have helped make me what I am as a teacher." His work as a Master Teacher and in the History-Social Science Project has made exchange and collaboration with other teachers an integral part of his professional development.

Steiner's colleague Brooke Moore, Philosophy, and fellow Master Teacher, said of Steiner in a letter to the Faculty Recognition and Support Committee, "Steiner has dedicated his career to teaching. For him, university service and professional development have had teaching as their primary focus. No doubt this could be said of others; but...Steiner also has been a facilitator. He has reached students by assisting others to teach to their own maximum effectiveness."

Steiner said of himself that he was not always so interested in the processes of learning and teaching. For the first many years of his teaching career, he relied primarily on lecture and was skeptical of the talk of "teaching process," which seemed like a fad. When his daughter entered kindergarten six years ago, Steiner said of himself, "I had to rethink myself as a teacher. I found myself looking at learning in a way I had never looked at it before. I started volunteering in her classroom and observing collaborative learning in first and second graders."

When asked about his philosophy of teaching, Steiner, like a true historian, quoted Lincoln who, according to Steiner, fended off inquiries about his post-war plans for reconstructing the South with "My policy is to have no policy." As he discussed his "no philosophy," something sounding very much like a philosophy emerged: "There are certain basic concepts that inform what I try to do in the classroom: experience is a powerful teacher; students learn from each other; knowledge is acquired—and expressed—in a variety of ways."

"Would you like to see a picture of my father?" Steiner asked as we talked of his research on immigrants and his textbook: Of Thee We Sing: Immigrants and American History. He opened the book to a 1937 photograph taken in Vienna of a very young, handsome, and confident Franz Steiner.

Franz Steiner, Dale's father, was just beginning his law practice and was newly engaged to Moira Auner, the daughter of a cultural attaché at the Rumanian embassy in Vienna, when Nazism began breaking through what had seemed a secure Austria. Of Thee We Sing relates Franz Steiner's struggle as an immigrant in America, not only with his own economic survival but also with literally saving the lives of family members and his fiancee still in Austria.

It is only one of a dozen stories which interweave the human struggle and the national history in a way that makes Of Thee We Sing a text that is both historically sound and immensely interesting. Rooted so closely in the immigrant experience, one could assume that Dale Steiner came directly to his area of academic expertise. Not so, Steiner related. It was not until the early 1980s, nearly ten years after Steiner came to Chico that then chair of the History Department, Don Lillibridge, asked him to develop courses looking at immigrant populations as part of a general department push to develop diverse courses relevant to the times.

At first Steiner, resisted. As an adolescent and young student, he had tried to be as "American" as he could be, which meant, in many ways, ignoring his immediate heritage. But he soon realized that Lillibridge's request was actually a demand. And, as many of Lillibridge's other requests, it proved to set him on a track which was both professionally successful and personally rewarding. Steiner immediately explored the rich resources closest to him: the stories of his father, mother, extended family, and their friends.

His beginning explorations turned into extensive research and, eventually, resulted in Of Thee We Sing. In addition, he has published Historical Journals: A Handbook for Writers and Reviewers, and a test manual that accompanies a widely used U.S. history text and assists teachers in assessing student learning. In addition to his teaching, advising, and book writing, Steiner has published numerous book reviews, his most recent being From the Worker's State to the Welfare State: Jews from the Former Soviet Union in California by Steven J. Gold. He regularly presents papers at professional conferences, most recently with Brooke Moore at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching, "They're Not Cheating, They're Learning!"


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