The Coast voted Roberta Barker best university professor in Halifax. (Photo: Bianca Müller)

Encore! Dal theatre prof is still the best in Halifax

Voted by The Coast, Roberta Barker takes the cake for her fourth consecutive year.


Dalhousie University theatre professor Roberta Barker has been voted best professor in Halifax for the fourth year in a row.

The award was part of the The Coast's "The Best of 2011" awards which were announced Nov. 3. Barker was up against King's acting director and assistant professor in FYP Daniel Brandes and Dalhousie assistant professor of psychology, Helene Deacon.

Barker says she is both humble and astonished by her fourth win. "I really, really didn't think I was going to be voted again this year," she said during an interview at her office on Monday.

"I was very proud the first year that I was voted and it was wonderful. Then I was very surprised the second year, and the last two years I've been like, 'Okay, this year I'm definitely not going to be it,' because there's so many great professors," Barker said.

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Barker lecturing in her gender and theatre class. (Photo: Bianca Müller)

Barker, 37, is now in her tenth year of teaching at Dalhousie University. She is currently the chair of the theatre department where she teaches two courses--one about play analysis for directing and another about gender and theatre.  

Barker started teaching theatre because she wanted to be either an opera singer or an English teacher. For her, theatre was the field that fused those two worlds together.

The popular theatre professor attributes her win to the current students and alumni of the theatre department. She says everyone is well connected and engaged in the community.

What sets her apart

Barker strengthens her relationships with students, in and out of the classroom. She says the classroom is a safe place to say anything. She doesn't place judgment on students' ideas - instead she injects them into the class discussion. Barker makes classes more exciting and engaging by using visuals, clips of film, and professional actors who the students then direct.

She says she makes herself available outside of class time for students to ask about future career paths, and to vent their problems about current courses or productions. Barker also makes time to see her students' shows and give constructive feedback.

"We have incredibly enthusiastic students, and genuinely, this is where I feel really guilty about getting this award so many times--because it's really coming from the kinds of students who are very easy to teach," Barker said.

Respect and admiration from her students

Students agree Barker's classes are both challenging and rewarding. The topics are fresh and well-researched. According to her students, the pens don't stop writing -- nor does the laughter during her gender and theatre class.

Charlotte Steuter-Martin, a third-year student at the University of King's College, says Barker deserves the recognition even though she doesn't like the attention.

"She's humble, endearing and funny," Steuter-Martin said on Monday. "She can't take a compliment and is embarrassed about this whole scenario. But it needs to keep coming to her because she needs to be rewarded for all the work she's done."

Annie Flaherty says it's hard to think of a reason why Barker wouldn't be voted best prof.

"The dedication that she shows towards every one of her students, in terms of learning their names, and the comments she writes on our papers, is phenomenal," Flaherty said.

"It's very hard to find a teacher out there that's as dedicated and remarkable as Roberta Barker."

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