I took first and second semester Russian I with Alla Aleksandrovna Smyslova, along with the Russian Grammar Lecture required for all first year students of Russian. I can honestly say that I'd be hard pressed to think of a more effective and caring instructor, of any subject. As the year went on, I increasingly considered myself extremely lucky to be in Prof. Smyslova's section of the course, and I think students in some other sections probably wished they were in her section, too (everyone was able to experience her teaching at least once a week, in the grammar lecture). She has a command of both Russian (her native tongue) AND English that made her unusually capable of handling even complex grammatical questions. And - you know when you can tell that an instructor really CARES that her students learn something? I got that feeling from Alla Smyslova. There were a few times during the semester when I had to miss class, and Alla gave me as much time as I needed with her in and out of office hours to make sure I understood the material I had missed. I sometimes went to her office hours with one or two other students, and I could actually see one student in particular growing in confidence over the course of the year because of the commitment she gave to making sure he learned the material - I mean, I can only imagine that the confidence he gained from Alla also helped him in the rest of courses, and that's a pretty awesome effect for one teacher to have. Russian is NOT an easy class, but if you want to learn, Alla will not only make it bearable but fun - you WILL learn Russian, and, most importantly, you'll feel like your teacher actually cares.
Brittany's really cool. She's energetic and funny and really cares about making sure you understand the material. Since she is a non native speaker she is particularly good at explaining the stuff in ways you understand and helps you think about things from a non native speaker point of view. She also knows a great amount even about etymology of words and whatnot, along with interesting observations about Russian culture through American eyes. I really enjoyed this semester!
Michael is a great teacher, a very nice guy who only tries to help you. Before every exam there is a review session where he essentially completely prepares you for everything you need to know for the exam. I have never felt unprepared in the class or like I was not learning. Definetly one of my best experiences at Columbia. Just because you are prepared though, do not think the class is easy. First semester russian is a lot of work. There is a good two hours of homework every day. A lot of people dropped the class simply because the could not keep up with all the work. This is not a fault of the proffessor rather it is simply innate to the class. Other than that I highly recommend this proffessor, he's a great guy.
I absolutely loved this class! First of all, Alla manages to be both warm, kind, and encouraging, as well as quick, sharp, and no-nonsense. Alla will give you 110% as long as she knows that you're giving her everything you have in return. I never left a class feeling like I wasted my time, on the contrary, I felt like I walked away from class having learned something new every time (which is no easy feat when you have her every day). And trust me, if you're in her class you will learn Russian whether you're ready for it or not. Alla likes as much in-class participation as possible and that means lots of practice for listening to and speaking Russian on a daily basis. She has no problem posing a question to the class and then suddenly pointing to you with a smile and an expectation of the answer in grammatically correct Russian. I'd say about 25%-50% of class time was spent with pure grammatical instruction, going over homework, questions, and the like, with the rest of it being devoted to pairing up and being forced into practicing our spoken Russian, with Alla bustling around, eavesdropping on our conversations and swooping in to offer the correct case or aspect. As the other reviewers have said she's always extremely prepared when she comes to class, with handouts, charts, pictures, anything to get us engaged and learning. She's also very approachable and willing to meet you whenever you need her for whatever reason. So far I think she's the only non-TA to even teach Russian I and I also think my year might have been her first year doing it, so if you're wavering definitely go with Alla, you won't be disappointed! (Also I think she was able to make some arrangements to have more than the cap of 15 students in her class last year, so I'm sure if you sit in on a class and talk to her she'd do her best to help you get in.)
I found Olga to be very nice. Although sometimes, she would say some things in Russian and expect a first year class to understand what she was saying. It also frustrated her sometimes to review cases that we were supposed to already know. Still, all in all, I think she is dedicated to helping students improve and learn Russian. She also speaks Ukrainian, and spent some time in Kiev and lived in Russia before coming to Columbia, so her understanding of Eastern European culture and customs is very legit. Participation is also a very big portion of your grade, but she calls on everyone so that shouldn't be a big concern unless you don't know the answer. For first year Russian, it is a bit difficult sometimes when she gets so into speaking Russian that she forgets to speak in Enlish for the words we don't know, but for second year, this is actually quite helpful. She is also very nice about lettin you make up assignments. Unless you mind having to guess what she says in Russian sometimes, I would definitely recommend her class.
First-year Russian is a horror show, with an absolutely tremendous workload, but having a TA as relaxed and skillful as Masha made it much easier to handle. She knows both English and Russian (her first language) front-to-back unlike some language TA's. She's also available to help whenever you need it and when you do come in for office hours they are generally extremely helpful. She genuinely wants everyone to succeed and she makes the classroom feel much less tense with her offbeat humor and chilled-out vibe. If she has any shortcomings, they are that she is occasionally disorganized and somewhat easily distractable, but they really are very minor issues. Highly, highly recommended.
Masha is such an amazing TA! As a native speaker, she'll amaze you with both her mastery of English and her ability to communicate clearly in Russian. I've been accustomed to native speakers of foreign languages rattling off improperly in their languages, using common native mistakes. This is not the case with Masha- she's sure to speak flawless Russian. Even if she can't always explain why something is the way it is, she can give the raw information needed for more in-depth analysis. This is ideal for any budding Russian major, but her lack of ability to explain things clearly and properly could be a hindrance for someone not accustomed to grammatical complexity. If you're willing to work, however, and come with a great attitude, Masha has a personality that will light up every hour that you spend with her. Definitely a recommendable instructor for First-Year Russian.
Tench is a rare & delightful man who genuinely cares about his students. He is absolutely hilarious &, despite the amount of hours you spend in class, the time will fly by. Like the best language teachers, he is a touch eccentric & really commits himself to being out there, grabbing your attention & engaging the class. He is particularly strong in preparing students for oral discussion, and by the end of the semester I felt so much more comfortable speaking Russian. He's an interesting guy with great stories that he is more than willing to share. I really can't speak highly enough of this man, if you have a chance, TAKE HIS CLASSES (whether film or Russian!)
Tench is an excellent professor. He makes the class lively and really wants his students to do well. He explains the material in the textbook in a more interesting way and has the right balance of exercises about grammar and vocabulary, dialogues between students and other kinds of activities. You will learn a lot from him! Honestly he is a nice man who knows how to teach and you can tell prepares for each class. As to the class itself, all the different Russian I sections have appointed test dates and at times they come in clumps with only a week between them. That makes for an intense class, and you have to do your homework, and there is homework for everyday. But, the good news about having tests regularly is that it makes it difficult to fall behind. You have to keep up, which also means less stress for the final. Take this class! You will learn a lot!