This is the third in our Take Five series on outstanding VCCS faculty members. Our objective is to shine a light on those who are innovating while educating and in the process, taking classroom instruction and student engagement to a whole new level.
1. Please tell us about your educational background and why you decided on a career as an English instructor.
When I began my undergraduate career, I was actually a pre-med major, but after a biology course in animal dissection, I decided that my passion for helping others would better suit me in a different profession. So, I took up writing studies, which has always been an interest of mine and I received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Religious studies. I began my teaching career thereafter teaching underprivileged and neglected elementary age students in a private school setting. This was a very difficult yet important role having a tremendous impact on my teaching philosophy. From there, I taught English in a middle school special education setting, then moving onto teaching high school English while completing my Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.
A few years later, I received certifications to be an Educational Therapist and Diagnostician and I would spend afternoons and evenings at the local library helping students identify their learning needs in order to overcome barriers to become successful in school. Through this experience, I was fortunate in working with some college-aged students and students wanting to go to college, but in need of more preparation. I truly enjoyed watching these students find their strengths in learning and proving their success in the college setting. I really felt I could reach more students by teaching what I love, so I took a chance and applied to be an adjunct at Germanna in 2013. During my time as an adjunct, I taught developmental English and received a post-graduate certificate in English literature as well as online teaching certifications. My teaching pedagogy and passion really began to evolve and two years later I moved into the Associate Instructor position and finally became a full-time English instructor in 2018. My experiences teaching at the community college drive my passion, research, and love of teaching. Currently, I am a PhD student of Writing and Rhetoric.
2. What sort of challenges have you faced teaching in a virtual environment and what sort of strategies have you used to overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges, I think, with teaching in a virtual environment is maintaining student engagement, motivation, and ensuring there are no inequities within their learning environment. Although, I have been teaching virtually for many years, I am always searching for innovative and new ways to connect with my students to keep them engaged and progressing forward. I feel it can sometimes be more challenging for students to find motivation learning in a virtual environment either due to their personal responsibilities, lack of resources, or simply feeling disconnected, so human connection is vital.
I work hard ensuring that my students feel connected through various interactive tools, messages, collaboration, and learning activities. I find that building a supportive and positive rapport with students helps to motivate them while breaking down barriers of disconnect. Sometimes reaching out to a struggling student and listening to them is all they need. Other times it may be identifying specific resources to help them. Truly, the best strategy is supporting students which will inevitably motivate and empower them to learn.
3. What has proven to be the most effective strategy or tactic for you to engage your students in a meaningful and productive way (traditional and virtual environments)?
Collaboration in any learning environment is one of the most effective ways to engage students. I feel an essential component of my job as an English instructor is to learn who my students are, what they know, and how best they learn. From there, my goal is to meet their academic needs while also developing their self-efficacy. Collaborating in both a traditional and virtual environment allows students to receive a variety of influence from more advanced learners and also provides them an opportunity to be altruistic with less advanced learners with the common goal of reaching course competencies. Collaboration can be tricky while teaching online, so staying on top of technology innovations and collaboration with colleagues is vital.
Collaboration proves not only to be effective in the learning environment, but also outside the traditional and virtual classroom by showing students what a sense of community can accomplish and teaching them how to be a contributing member of a community. In a collaborative learning environment, I am not just lecturing at the front of the room or incessantly talking on a Zoom session, I am actively engaged in supporting my students in a collective manner. I learn just as much as they do.
4. How do you measure success in the classroom? What sort of metrics do you use?
Academic success to me has never been defined as a grade or GPA. “The Story of Philosophy” (1926) by Will Durant, chronicled the work of great philosophers and captured an Aristotelian sentiment by making the statement “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Therefore, metrics of success in the classroom or online, to me are measured in the “whole” of what my students do, it is their habits. I understand my students may score low on an assignment or two, instead of allowing those low metrics to be the sum of their learning, I aim to facilitate growth through practice of forming new writing habits. Likewise, students who constantly score high marks, I encourage them to think or respond differently on the next assignment, challenging their habits of learning to expand.
5. Please tell us about your interests and hobbies and how they might serve you as a college professor.
Of course, I enjoy writing and reading in my spare time. I challenge myself to write in various genres, pushing the envelope of my comfort zone. I find these experiences influential in my writing pedagogies, because they allow me to identify how writings like personal narratives, for instance, can prove beneficial to a student’s writing development. So, I will incorporate various writing activities into my teaching curriculum to expand upon my student’s writing experience. The same is true for reading.
I was a dancer and runner growing up and now practice yoga and cross-training. The self-discipline and grit that comes from exercise helps remind me to keep my mind in the present moment. The practice of mindfulness serves many areas of my life, including my own praxis in teaching. Exercise shows me that little by little, progress will come and to never give up, thus serving me well as a professor and learner. I aim to teach my students the same principles through their practice and application of writing studies.
Lastly, I have many interests covering a broad range of areas such as poetry, camping, cooking, theater, meditating, and music. I love to learn new things and challenge my intellect. I find that sharing my interests with my students helps us to relate to one another and often can lead to enthralling and funny conversations.