At the start of every semester, David Steinberg tells his classes more or less the same thing.
Most of you, he’ll say, are going to look back on this class and find that you learned really valuable skills. You formed great memories, you use what you learned on a daily basis.
“And you won’t remember me,” he says. “I’m a facilitator.”
Steinberg, director of the University of Miami’s debate team, received the 2013 Robert and Christine Staub Faculty Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Effective Teaching at the University of Miami School of Communication. The award recognizes effectiveness in teaching, advising, mentoring and service roles in and outside the classroom.
Steinberg joined the university in 1990 and has been the school’s debate director for 23 years. He’s also an expert in political debates, rhetoric, speeches and political campaigns.
His approach to teaching is the opposite of intrusive. “They learn by what they do, not by what I say,” he said. “(The students) conduct their own learning environment. I do not call the plays from the sideline. I empower the debaters and assistant coaches to design their strategies.”
Steinberg said over the years, he’s noticed the best students don’t always make the best grades.
“A lot of students find it frustrating, but each individual student has to find their own way,” he said. “I won’t impose myself on them.”
Regardless, he’s set high expectations for his students and his debate team.
“I expect them to be prepared. They have the responsibility and freedom to approach debate in their own way, as long as standards are being met,” he said.
As passionate as he is about debate, it’s clear that Steinberg cares about the relationships he’s built and maintained over the years. On an average year, he and the team travel as many as 15 times together for debate tournaments.
“They are my family,” he said. As for his two children and wife — they’re also part of the team. “My boys travel with me, and my wife is a mom to the debate team.”
For Steinberg, teaching isn’t work; it’s pleasure. His father valued the profession and instilled that in him at a young age. “I really love teaching,” he said. “I certainly learn way more from my debaters than they do from me.”
Winning the excellence in teaching award has been humbling and satisfying, he said. His name will be displayed permanently in the school of communication’s reception lobby. He’ll also receive $2,500.
“It means a lot to me because my parents would honor and respect it,” Steinberg said.
The bookshelves in his office are stacked with books covering politics, debate and critical thinking. Debate makes you better in every aspect of your professional and academic career, Steinberg said. “You’re less likely to have a knee-jerk reaction to a political policy.”
He finds his students are more capable of making “good decisions,” are more open-minded and form well-informed opinions.
“Influential people across the country come out of debate,” he said. “Debate puts people in a world where they’re often defending what they do. They have to really love it. It creates a perspective that has real value to the people who do it.”