Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here.
Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Emma Mecham. She is a past professor of mine at Utah State University that I grew to love while taking her course. Her dedication to student relationships and really shining light to pre-service teachers of what they are in for in becoming an educator stood out to me. I could go on and on at how great an influence she was to me, but maybe that should be saved for a different blog post! Here is what Emma has for us today.
What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long?
“I’m currently a teacher educator, working with undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. I’ve been at USU for just over a decade now and really cherish my opportunity to work with future and current teachers and administrators. I certainly learn as much from them as they can from me. I’ve previously worked in elementary schools with younger, but no less valuable mentors, from Utah to India to Peru. My favorite grade to teach was third grade – it’s that sweet spot where kids don’t yet know I’m not cool but also have an increasingly complex curriculum. However, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with preschoolers and kindergartners (and some extraordinary early childhood educators) in the past ten years, and their intellectual and social curiosity delights me. “
If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?
“There are so many wonderful children’s books, I couldn’t possibly choose just one – and it is, of course, dependent on age and reading ability. One of the really exciting changes I’ve seen during my career is the creativity in early reader books – Mo Willems comes to mind, but so do Sandra Boynton and Jon Klassen. The wit and artistry of those beginning reading books are wonderful.”
How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?
“Education has changed a great deal during my career thus far, with the effects of federal programs like NCLB, RTT, and ESSA and the growth of the school choice movement. There was a time during the most exacting years of NCLB when I wondered if I was doing my students a disservice by encouraging them to be teachers – teacher morale was very low, with good reason. However, there are a lot of really hopeful things happening in schools right now, and the graduate students I work with are leading fantastic innovations and finding ways to stretch the systems they work in to allow for greater excellence.”
Who influenced you most to choose a career education?
“I suppose my interest in becoming a teacher was influenced by a whole group of wonderful educators, but probably foremost my mother. My mother taught (and continues to teach as a volunteer, well into her retirement) English Language Learners of all ages. Her love of her students and her passion for solving problems of equity in her community were daily lessons of the joys and value of teaching to me. I was also influenced by wonderful teachers in my own education – men and women who treated their students with respect and admiration, who got us outside into wild spaces and cultural spaces we hadn’t previously explored, who were curious and optimistic, and singularly individual. A few of those folks to come to mind straight away – Kaye Rheese, Dorthy Dobson, John Bedingfield, Nan Wharton, and Blake Pickett – remarkable teachers, all of them.”
What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with other teachers?
“I learn so much from my colleagues. Collaboration keeps me humble, excited, learning new methods and ways of seeing and practicing. And I find that is true not just among my University faculty colleagues, but with my elementary and secondary colleagues, parents, and community partners. There are a lot of people who know things I don’t and who are generous in their willingness to share.”
How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it?
“One of my objectives as a teacher is to be sure that I am doing less talking than my students are. I try to provide as many opportunities for students to discuss ideas and demonstrate their understanding in groups as much as possible. Additionally, I give students choice in assessments and learning opportunities.”
What advice do you have for pre-service teachers?
“Choosing to be a teacher is choosing a complex, difficult job. It is immensely rewarding, but you should prepare yourself for some exhausting days and a steep learning curve. It is also one of the most profound ways to make the world better. It’s not that I’m trying to scare pre-service teachers away, but I do want them to have clarity about the choice they are making before they commit to it. The high rate of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years is very costly and I believe we could improve that if pre-service teachers understood the profession better before they invested four years of college.”
How do you create valuable student relationships and why is it important to do as an educator?
“Many years ago when he was in graduate school, my older brother was given some wise advice by a mentor, that he passed on to me: “You can become a lawyer, but you’ll spend the rest of your life with tired middle-aged people. Or you can become a college professor and send the rest of your life with excited young adults.” And not only do I get to spend my days being taught and energized by young people, but the students I have are also passionate, nurturing, and committed to good. They are really easy to like and I think they can tell how much I do.”
I hope Emma was able to have at least the tiniest of influence on your life through this interview because she truly is a person I wish everyone had the opportunity to meet and build a relationship with. Thank you for taking the time to read a little slice of her knowledge!