“She is so lively and makes the material fun,” said a former English 302 student.
“She will inspire you to really learn the material,” added a student in English 301.
These are just a few of the consistently glowing reviews students have posted on ratemyprofessor.com—the highest-trafficked college professor ratings site in the United States—about Evelyn McClave, professor of English and linguistics and the coordinator of the Linguistics/TESL program at California State University, Northridge.
Her history of highly complimentary feedback on the website is what helped McClave recently secure a spot in The Princeton Review’s first comprehensive guidebook to America’s top undergraduate professors, “The Best 300 Professors,” released in April by Random House/Princeton Review.
Using extensive survey data to compile an initial list of 1,000 candidates, The Princeton Review partnered with ratemyprofessor.com to help find professors who have made a lasting impact on the lives of their students. Editors combined additional input from students and school administrators with data from The Princeton Review’s surveys of professors under consideration to make final selections.
“I’m grateful to my students who have said nice things about me,” McClave said. “I love them for that. I love them period, but I’m surrounded by great teachers. I see them. I know them. I know their level of dedication.”
She humbly likens the accolade to a “Greatest Mom in the World” award.
“It’s why Hallmark can make 15,000 Mother’s Day cards—because everyone thinks they have the greatest mom in the world,” she laughed. “I’m grateful to be on the list, but I’m very aware that this is arbitrary and that there are fabulous professors all over. How can you pick the best 300? It’s like picking the best 300 mothers. It’s impossible.”
Her history of glowing student-offered reviews on ratemyprofessor.com also led to a ranking of 13 on the website’s 2010-2011 list of top 25 professors at universities across the United States.
McClave insists she’s just doing her job.
“I think teaching is a privilege,” she said. “I tell my students that teaching is a sacred profession. It really is a privilege to teach people … to be able to go out and convey knowledge. And it’s not just one way. I think all the good teachers know that there’s knowledge coming back the other way. Students are asking questions, pointing out fallacies in hypotheses and finding data that doesn’t support current theories. They don’t always recognize that. You as the professor may be the one who says, ‘Hey wait a minute, you have something there.’
“It’s about being able to nurture, and model, and convey confidence and say, ‘You can do it.’ It’s giving them a feeling that they can walk on water or move mountains if they want to.”
McClave, who has a bachelor’s in English from St. Bonaventure University in New York; a master’s in Germanic languages and literature from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and a Ph.D. in linguistics from Georgetown University, began her teaching career as a teaching assistant while studying at the University of Michigan.
Her love of languages expanded to American Sign Language in 1981 when, although she did not know the language at the time, she was hired to teach German to deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
“They stuck us in the woods in West Virginia for a week, and we were forbidden to talk,” McClave recalled. “That was our introduction, and then we came back for a whole summer of intensive language work—eight hours a day—in American Sign Language.”
While at Gallaudet, she became interested in studying the manual movements made by hearing non-signers. She became part of what was, at the time, a small group of linguists, psychologists and anthropologists studying spontaneous gesture. Her research has focused on gesture in the context of speech and what the movements reveal about cognitive processes.
“There’s really nothing about linguistics that doesn’t fascinate me,” said McClave.
McClave joined the CSUN community in 1992 and is as complimentary of the students as they are of her.
“We have an incredibly dedicated faculty and staff, and fantastic students,” she said. “They’re working, raising families, supporting parents; they’re remarkable here. They have such boundless energy. It’s amazing. It’s a privilege to teach, and it’s a privilege to teach at CSUN because of the students.”