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Unconventional Lessons

Written by Bryan Roth '07

Stephen Mosher instructs his students in his class Sport: Philosophical Perspectives.

He jumps on tables and chairs. He moves like a cheetah on caffeine. He makes fun of students. And he yells--a lot.

He's also widely considered one of the best professors Ithaca College has to offer. When you talk with Stephen Mosher, you can tell something is different. Maybe it’s his body language and his unforgettable outbursts, or maybe it’s the fact that for nearly 20 years this sports studies professor has changed the lives of hundreds of students with one principle: respect.

“We’re all human beings and I don’t see any other reason to hang out with 30 strangers if we’re not willing to acknowledge that we have a shared common experience. In order to get through the next day’s business or the business at hand we need to talk to each other,” he says. “I don’t talk at students.”

For those taking classes like Sport in Film and Literature; Sport, Politics, and Colonialism; or the “secret class” known as Sport: Philosophical Perspectives, Professor Mosher is nothing short of an experience. From the moment he enters a classroom, students are caught up in the entertaining and humorous hurricane that inevitably consumes the day’s lesson. No matter how many people are in the class, Mosher has the ability to make any discussion feel like a one-on-one conversation, engaging everyone.

But just as quickly as he can grab everyone’s attention, Mosher brings himself and his students to a level playing field where nothing is taboo and any topic is fair game. Want to make fun of jocks? No problem. Having some trouble dealing with other professors? Feel free to discuss that, too. What about talking about your personal life? If you don’t, he will.

“He comes out guns blazing, saying whatever—and I mean whatever—is on his mind,” said Dave Portney ’09, who’s taking his first class with Mosher this semester, History of Sport.

Even for seasoned veterans of Professor Mosher, this freewheeling approach means it’s pretty difficult to get bored. His vast expertise in looking beyond what is seen and heard in sport and society gives his students plenty of different ways to learn.

“He doesn’t want you to have a straight direction,” said Carolyn Ambrose ’07, who’s taken classes with Mosher in six of her eight semesters at Ithaca. “The first class was hard, and it wasn’t that he was hard, but it forced me and everyone else in the class to do things and write about things we’ve never really thought about before.”

When students discuss Mosher—and even when he talks about himself—the most common way to describe his classes are “outside of the box.” Whether acting or thinking outside of the normal realm of classroom behavior and politics, Mosher constantly strives to make his students step out of their own comfort zones in an effort to find out what they believe in and why.

For Mosher, this process is created through storytelling, something he uses in each of his classes. Through fables, myths, or his own creative stories, he encourages students to associate what they hear with what they’re learning in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the material and the relationship between student and teacher.

“The barrier between the authority figure and the student is ripped to shreds. In a very real sense I become part of the community of learners and they become part of the community of teachers,” says Professor Mosher. “Within a very short period of time in most classes, students buy into this culture of respect and storytelling, and we have respect for each other.”

Outrageous behavior aside, Mosher’s candidness and forthright approach are what seem to separate him from other professors on the Ithaca College campus. More than anything, he’s concerned with how well his students understand his courses and participate in them.

“I definitely struggled because he makes you think outside the box, and that was really hard for me to do because when you’re in high school [teachers] don’t want you to do that,” says Ambrose.

From “special” to “unique” to “controlled mayhem,” there are plenty of ways to describe a Mosher class. But it’s really one of those things you have to see, hear, cringe, and in the end, understand for yourself.



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