Student of the Month
Ole Miss School of Education
A professional ballerina turned elementary education major, Rachel Hewer took a unique path to the field of education and is doing unique things in the classroom, as well.
Although the Olive Branch native was a professional dancer before pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the UM DeSoto Center, she always had a passion and love for children that she discovered while teaching dance. Among her unique contributions to the classroom, Hewer hosted a Living History event for her students at her student teaching site in Southaven in April, allowing her students to dress up like historic characters and act out history.
We recently sat down with Hewer to talk about her experiences with the SOE at the DeSoto Center.
Where are you from and what are you studying?
I’m from Olive Branch, Mississippi, and I’m in the elementary education program at the DeSoto Center.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue education?
When I graduated high school, I joined Ballet Memphis as a professional ballet dancer. While I was dancing professionally, I started teaching ballet at night and that’s when I realized how much I loved kids. So I really enjoyed teaching children of all different ages while I was dancing professionally. When I had the opportunity to go back to college because I was going to stop dancing and retire, I decided to pursue my degree in elementary education.
What did you learn as a dancer that will help you as an educator?
The most valuable thing I learned as a dancer was how to work as a team and work ethic. I learned how to create an environment where people are doing their best all the time. Through my experience as a professional ballet dancer, I learned how important it is to know that everybody works together to make a production. So in the classroom, everybody has to be collaborating together in order for it to be successful.
Tell me about the living history event that you are hosting at your Southaven teaching site.
The event has students choose a person to research and then they get to “become” that person at a Living History museum and tell people about their life. Our field trip is to the Civil Rights Museum, so we geared them to become somebody who was a Civil Rights activist, or someone who was involved with women’s rights. One of our students is researching Helen Keller, so that relates to disability rights. I’m really excited and the kids are excited about it too, it’s been a really interesting experience.
What do you like most about the elementary education program?
I really love the field experience, but what I also really enjoy about this program is my ability to have personal relationships with my professors. At the DeSoto campus, the classes are smaller and I can always approach one of my professors for help or advice. Our professors make themselves available to us and mentor us, as well as our clinical instructors.
What is your philosophy toward education?
I want to provide an equal opportunity for all students to learn. If I was to have a school mantra it would be, “We learn to serve the world in need,” because I think that so many times we forget that really, a community is about service. So I want to provide every student an equal opportunity, and I want my students to know that the reason they’re getting educated is to give back to the world.
What is your dream job?
I think my dream job would be to one day, be in a two-teacher classroom where both of us have a certification in special education and can work as a team to give support to a full classroom of students. I also have a dream of taking students through three grades and keeping students for a longer period of time. I got to experience that through teaching ballet. So, I would love to be in a program where I have a group of kids for several grades and can see how things build and see them grow through that transition. That would be my dream job.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years, I see myself planted in a school where I’m also involved in the community. I want to be a teacher who goes to the soccer games, who helps tutor after school and who understands what the community is. I definitely see myself planted in a school and involved in the community.
What are your hobbies outside of the classroom?
I like traveling, I think it broadens your world to go to different places and observe different cultures. I also like to read.
Do you have any words of advice for students pursuing education?
Ask questions. Ask, “Why are we doing this a certain way?” This is especially important now when education is going to be changing over the next five years, and we’ve seen it change so much in the past 10 years. As educators, we really need to evaluate why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why are we setting the classroom up the way we are? Why are we providing support? Why are we teaching this pedagogy? When I stepped inside an elementary school after it changed so much since I was kid, I had to ask a lot of those “why” questions, and I think the people who ask “why” are the people who make the big changes for us to make it better.
By Liz McCormick
SOE Junior Lake Weston isn’t your typical college student—the Jackson native spends her weekends riding horses and fox hunting throughout Mississippi and Alabama as part of multiple competitive hunting clubs. But come Monday, Weston finds a balance between classes, babysitting and taking care of her horse Jolly (a.k.a. Good Golly Miss. Jolly) full-time. The March student of the month is currently majoring in elementary education and recently sat down with us to talk about her Ole Miss experience.
When did you decide to be an educator?
I always thought I wanted to be a doctor — I even went to a medical forum in Boston — but then once I started college I realized the medical field was not for me. Right off the bat, I didn’t wanted to be a teacher, but then I started working for the Mother’s Day Out program. Once I became “Miss. Lake” and had a classroom and had my own students, I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I changed my major. I love it so far, and it comes pretty natural for me because I’m always babysitting and around children all the time.
What is your dream job?
I want to teach kindergarten, first grade or even preschool.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully teaching kindergarten or potentially in graduate school, but I haven’t quite thought about where I’d like to move yet.
What do you like most about being a student at the SOE?
All of the teachers are so nice and so understanding. They really work with us and strive for us to be the best teachers that we can be. It is especially nice to have small classes and all the teachers taking a special interest in each student. The SOE is a community, most of my classes have all of the same students in them, so I’ve really been able to form friendships. Also, I’ve never had a bad teacher.
What is your favorite class?
Probably EDRD 355 (Early Literacy Instruction) because that’s when we first went into the classroom. I had Katie Naron and she was awesome. This class was really the first time we got to be in the classroom and observe. I had a first grade class, which I loved. We got to write our first lesson plan and read to the classroom, so that was a great experience.
What are your hobbies/interests?
In my free time I’m either babysitting or riding horses. I also have a dog named Bentley that I adopted from the shelter here in Oxford that I love to spend time with. If you ask my friends, my Snapchat story is always my dog, my horse or children. During the season, I travel a lot for fox hunts in Mississippi, Alabama and sometimes Tennessee.
What is it like balancing school and riding?
I own my horse so I have to go to the barn to feed her and turn her out during the day. It’s hard and I definitely have to make my schedule around feeding her and riding her, and then I also have my dog so I can’t be gone all day. I have to set alarms to remind me of everything.
Do you think your love of riding is something that you will share with your future students?
Absolutely. The classroom I’m in right now has a cowboy theme, so there’s little boots everywhere which is fun. In the future, I would love to be able to host a riding club for my students, and take them out to the barn to teach them how to groom and about responsibility. Also, riding can be very therapeutic for special needs children; I was able to have that experience with a camp that I worked for. I would love to be able to do something to incorporate my students or teach them about horses.
By Liz McCormick
Student of the Month Erica Avent, is a full-time, sixth-grade teacher at Oxford Intermediate School, an adjunct professor with the SOE and a doctoral candidate in elementary education. Avent’s passion for education and mentoring others recently led her to be invited to appear as a keynote speaker for ASCD’s 2017 Conference on Teaching Excellence.
In January, the educator, wife and mother of two took some time to sit down with us to discuss her aspirations and experiences at the SOE.
What brought you to Ole Miss?
I came up from Forrest, Mississippi, and as soon as we turned onto campus, I fell in love. I had never been to Ole Miss, never came up for a game or anything my entire life. I just fell in love with the campus. Then when I started walking around talking to people and I had orientation, I said, “Dad, I want to go here.”
Did you always want to be a teacher?
I started out wanting to be a doctor, I wanted to help people. I volunteered my whole time at Ole Miss with Leap Frog and the Boys & Girls Club, and my turning point came when a student who I worked with became pregnant—she was 14. I realized then that being a doctor wasn’t the only way that I could help somebody, that maybe if I had been her teacher I could’ve helped her. By my junior year, I was doing great but I was just miserable in biology. Every day I looked forward to being able to go to Leap Frog and the Boys & Girls Club, and work with those kids and inspire them. I would tell them, “I’m in college and yes, I came from a small town and my parents are divorced.” While mentoring those kids, I realized I would love to do this every day. So I took that leap, I transferred my major and I never regretted it.
What she enjoys most about her profession
I enjoy the students. I love working with students and trying to discover that one trigger for them. I love getting a student who has hated school until they get to me in the sixth grade, and they say, “This is the best year I’ve ever had.” I love turning learning back on for them. A lot of kids tune learning out, and I love being able to turn the sound back on for them.
Her educational philosophy
My philosophy on education is that, as a teacher, I am Home Depot. I’m a tool provider. No matter what the job, or what you’re trying to do, I’m going to help you get to that point. Sometimes I need to be a sledgehammer to knock down the walls that you’ve built up, and sometimes I need to be a screwdriver to screw in those concepts. Sometimes I just need to be that voice of security to know that you’re protected when you come here.
What is your dream job?
I would love to continue doing something along the lines of professional development. Before I worked in Oxford, I worked in other schools, and one thing I find in districts across the state and across the country, is that teachers are leaving the profession. They feel like we’re turning out so many programs every year that we have to do and we’re not providing them with the tools that they need to be effective teachers. I would love to be working in professional development or mentoring within a district, especially new teachers because I really do feel that you can inspire and encourage an ‘okay’ teacher to become a great teacher.
What’s something you really enjoy about your doctoral program?
I love the collaboration with other teachers, I have so enjoyed that. We meet and have classes with teachers who are pursuing special education, counseling, higher education and secondary and elementary education, and we’re all in the class together and we’ve all been in the classroom. So the think tank of ideas that we all have is special, and to give us a problem and see us think through it together has been so rewarding.
On being an adjunct professor and full time teacher
I love it, I’m actually teaching again this semester. Becoming an adjunct and going from sixth-graders to college students is totally different, but it’s rewarding because I love that I’m sharing my passion of education with students who want to go into education. With sixth-graders, I share my passion for science, and I try to inspire and motivate them to see the wonders of science. I feel like I do the same thing with my college students—I try to inspire them because this is one of the most rewarding professions. I have enjoyed sharing my passion with college students.
What are your hobbies?
I’m an HGTV junkie—I love restoring and those kinds of projects, and I love to scrapbook. I’m also an avid reader, and it’s very interesting because I like to read about education. In my down time I’m always reading books about education.
Advice for students pursuing education?
The message I try to share with every student teacher that crosses my door, every teacher I come in contact with, is that you have to first believe in yourself before your kids will believe in you. You have to give them something to believe in.
By Liz McCormick
A Batesville native, Michele Prince is a full-time teacher and part-time graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership. Her passion for students and dedication to learning exemplifies what it means to be an educational leader. With a recent crisis management experience under her belt, Prince has proven herself to be a an effective leader in and outside of the classroom. We recently sat down with Prince to talk about her aspirations and reflect on her time at the SOE.
Crisis management experience
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SOE Student of the Month James Strickland is a doctoral student working toward a Ph.D. in counselor education with a certification in play therapy. When the Brandon, Mississippi, native is not busy writing his dissertation, he’s working with clients at the UM Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment. Strickland recently took some time to sit down with us to discuss his current and past experiences at UM. [Read More…]