When Former First Lady Laura Bush visited High Point University to serve as its commencement speaker for the 88th graduation ceremony, she took the time to meet with a group of education majors to share her experiences as a teacher and librarian and offer first-hand advice to the soon-to-be educators.
Dr. Mariann Tillery, Dean of the School of Education, says the visit was invaluable to the students, who have already landed jobs in public schools and education facilities across the nation. Bush’s words of wisdom are especially important during a time when future teachers face many challenges in their careers, Tillery says.
“Leadership at all levels is critical, and I believe the challenge is to effectively nurture these skills and dispositions in future educators during an era when the perception is that we spend much of our time ‘following’ rather than leading,” Tillery says. “High Point University’s Teacher Education program not only prides itself on preparing our students for what is expected of them in today’s classrooms, but also to shape their thinking about the evolutionary nature of education.”
Rachel Sniff graduated from HPU on May 5 with an education degree and also had the chance to meet Bush the night before the ceremony. During Bush’s commencement speech, she shared with graduates many defining moments of a career in education. And, like Bush, Sniff has already had many defining moments in the teaching field, even before she received her degree.
As a student teacher at a middle school in nearby Thomasville, N.C., she discussed the topic of discrimination, modern slavery and social activism with her class while concluding a lesson on East Africa. Her students had taken much interest in the Kony 2012 campaign, which hopes to make Ugandan war criminal and International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known in order to have him arrested by December 2012, the time when the campaign expires.
“One day, my class had discussed our role in assisting countries. At one point, I had a student say, ‘I want to help. What can I do?’” Sniff says. “As educators, we all hope that our students will not only develop interests in the content, but most importantly become active in their own learning process, thus making the process personal and experiential.
“Eventually my students not only spoke to their parents about what they were learning, but they went on to talk to other community members and take part in the Kony Campaign through awareness, writing letters and pledging. Talk about rewarding!”
Tillery says that the education process evolves along with society, and teachers like Sniff, who is preparing to travel to Ethiopia this summer to implement literacy programs, must adapt and be constant learners themselves.
“Our school districts are merely a mirror of society in general and sociological variables such as poverty, economic recession and cultural diversity that tend to impact the lives of humans each day and also greatly influence our schools,” she says. “As society evolves, so too do the issues and challenges to public education.”