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One trait that is common among our graduates is that they are risk-takers. They are not necessarily trying to do things the safe way that everybody else does them. They are not afraid to have their own ideas and then to try them out and to share them.’

Dr. Teresa Harris

Why do JMU graduates make such good teachers?

We see juniors who are thinking, “Oh, I could try this and see if it works?” And then we also see graduate students who actually understand why what they do matters and why it works because of that sense of experimentation and willingness to look at problems from many different perspectives. When one of our students walks out of our programs, he is ready to assume his rightful place in a school as a classroom teacher. Many of them move into their schools that first year as real leaders. It’s amazing. They bring with them fresh ideas that they know how to implement even though they are novices, and they exhibit a poise and a confidence. And when things don’t work out, they know how to re-think them and re-visit the problems another day. We have some who are incredibly tenacious. We have students who are in very challenging urban situations and while they may not have had an urban, inner-city experience with us, between their own chutzpah and perhaps some of the things that they learned from us and with us, they are adapting and sticking it out and exacting real change in their students’ lives.

Teresa Harris enthusiastically instructs future teachers 

What makes this education program special?

I think that it starts with the faculty. Regardless of which department we’re talking about within the College of Education, it’s a faculty that’s genuinely committed to students who want to become educators. We try to be incredibly responsive to the strengths that they bring in as well as the interests that they have, and we try to design our programs in ways that can response to these various factors. The program that I started with in 1990 looks very different today because we change with the times. It’s more than just the mandates that come from state government and the accrediting bodies. We make lots of changes because we are in tune with the times. We are aware of what’s going on the public schools and we have a vision for what we think is really going to help learners learn, and that means learners in the schools as well as learners who are preparing to be teachers. So we’re constantly growing and evolving ourselves.

The College of Education at JMU

Are there other pieces to the teacher training strategy?

I think another piece of it has to do with the commitment to have our students regularly in the schools as part of their program. We don’t save that until the end. We start it early, and we maintain it. And we’re committed to doing as much supervision as our teaching loads will allow, so we’re in the schools often. And we do a lot of service with and for the respective school divisions locally, statewide and internationally, so we’re really in touch with what’s going on. I think all of this puts us clearly in front of other programs that may take only an academic approach to preparing teachers.

Is there a secret to this approach?

Our faculty are people who have made a commitment to this profession and have made a commitment to JMU and to these students here. Our students are taught by people who know what they are doing, who are constantly working to understand what they are doing, and why it works, and how it works. We tell our students to try new ideas out. We ask our students, “What are the other ways that you could do the same thing?” What we know is that you don’t always teach people who look like you and sound like you and think like you. So it’s always about pushing the boundaries.

So you really focus on developing different teaching styles?

One of the real concerns in education PK through adulthood is that we spend a big chunk of the day learning how to read and write and we spend a big chunk of the day doing math, and then we fit in the arts and science and social studies kind of around those others. Our faculty try to help students understand that that approach only reaches part of the learners, and they will really shine, but the question is how can teachers reach these other learners? So when we design our courses at JMU, we look at the multitude of different approaches that speak to the many ways learners can think about information and come to know it as reality.

Next profile

Dr. Teresa Harris

Highlights: Elementary and Early Childhood Education professor; believes that a great strength of the JMU teacher ed program involves getting students immersed in real PK-12 classrooms early in their academic careers; says that the JMU education faculty is supremely committed to producing great teachers.

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