Chico State’s Amazing Educators
Education alums, students, and professors engage and inspire students across the North State and beyond
Photos by Beiron Andersson
When the Chico Normal School graduated its first students in 1891, all were trained to be teachers. And according to an official history of the campus, A Precious Sense of Place, their responsibilities were pretty straightforward: a “thorough grounding” in the subjects they plan to teach, a “course of study upon the science and art of education,” and “practice teaching in a training school.”
All of that is still required of students preparing to teach, but being a teacher nowadays often also means more than getting children to the next grade level. It means integrating the latest high-tech equipment into teaching, accommodating students’ learning styles and special needs, and knowing how to work in both urban and rural environments, with students from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
It also means caring. In spades. This aspect of teaching has always been present, but with increasingly limited resources and much larger class sizes, it has become more challenging for many teachers, new and experienced. At Chico State, future teachers are taught “to meet the needs of a diverse society through innovation, collaboration, and service,” in the words of School of Education director Deborah Summers.
A nationally accredited NCATE institution and a member of the National Network for Educational Renewal, Chico State’s teacher preparation programs train teachers to effectively respond to the needs of their students while working as agents of educational innovation. The following stories illustrate the challenges and triumphs of our education program and our graduates.
Improving Rural Teacher Preparation
The third-grader in Wendy Crist’s class had never spoken in school. “She was very shy, sweet, and we developed a rapport quickly using hand signals,” says Crist (Credential, ’96), a teacher at Helen M. Wilcox Elementary in South Oroville.
The girl did speak to friends and family outside of class. Her selective muteness had been the pattern for the past three years, but this year would be different. She would have not one, but two teachers to work with her: Crist and Camillea Antoine (BA, Liberal Studies and Linguistics; minors in Special Education and English, ’09), who was assigned to Crist’s class through Chico State’s new Rural Teacher Residency program.
The co-teachers (in photo, Antoine is at left) worked together to break through the communication barrier with the girl. “Because there were two of us, one of us could teach the other students, and the other would read to her and talk with her,” says Antoine. “We tried to not assume that she’s not going to speak; we gave her chances throughout the day. She started responding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a head shake or a nod.”
Then, one day in December, “I asked her to read to me,” says Crist. “Very, very slowly she began to read, and then, as if by magic, she started talking about her dogs, the chickens that laid eggs around her house, and much more!”
Then it was Antoine’s turn. “It took me six weeks,” she says. “Every day I would try to get her to read something. Finally, it was Jolly Ranchers that did the trick. I talked about Jolly Ranchers for 15 minutes: ‘You know, the grape one’s pretty good, but you might like the green one because it’s kinda sour, and you like sour stuff. I’d really like to give you one, but I can’t until I get the name right.’ And finally she said ‘apple,’ that she wanted the apple one. I tried not to jump for joy! After that, it was like a floodgate opened.”
The girl was one of the beneficiaries of the 18-month Rural Teacher Residency graduate program designed to meet the staffing needs of rural schools. Part of the five-year, $7.3 million project Co-STARS (Collaboration for Student and Teacher Achievement in Rural Schools), it is one of only 28 funded nationwide by the federal Teacher Quality Partnership Grant.
Through the program, Antoine and eight other Chico State resident teachers gained valuable classroom experience in Northern California schools while earning a general education credential and engaging in research leading to a master’s project.
Both Crist and Antoine speak fondly of their time as co-teachers. “The relationship between Camillea and myself became very strong,” says Crist. “Reflective conversations were frequent and unplanned. Having each other to bounce ideas off of, to use as a reality check, and to support each other became the strongest bond for both of us. The co-teaching model gave me assurance that children didn’t slip through any cracks, and our classroom became a family.”
Antoine says the months of intensive work with the girl taught her the importance of building trust and maintaining relationships with students. She says that previously she thought she’d teach in urban areas, but she’s now interested in teaching in rural schools. “I can also see that I like small classes,” she says. “I really like interacting with students in small groups or even individually, so that I can really meet their needs.”
—Marion Harmon, Public Affairs and Publications
Creating a Connection to the World
When Chapman Elementary teacher Kathy Naas passes out paintbrushes in class or points out a wildflower in the schoolyard, there’s a good chance she has a service project in mind for her Chico fourth-graders. Since graduating from Chico State 31 years ago, Naas has continuously looked for ways her students can learn by doing something that benefits others as well as themselves.
“In our world, there is a lot of disconnect,” says Naas (BA, Liberal Studies, ’81; Credential, ’82). “Service learning creates a connection to the world they live in, a connection to each other, a connection to themselves.”
When a second-grader at Rosedale Elementary School in Chico was killed in a car accident a few years ago, Naas’s students made tiles as expressions of their grief and created a memorial garden at the school. Naas met the deceased student’s grandparents, who lived part of the year in Lo de Marcos, Mexico, and was inspired to travel to the small village’s school to lead learning and literacy programs. She has been going to the school ever since, sometimes bringing Chico State students and staff to help in projects there.
Closer to home, Naas assigned her students three years ago the difficult task of researching and reflecting upon the impact of cancer in their community. Each student made a small banner that was hung outside Enloe Medical Center’s cancer center in Chico. “Patients and families would see them in the courtyard—it was very meaningful for them,” says Trudy Duisenberg, Enloe’s community outreach coordinator. “They would say, ‘All these people were thinking about me.’ ” Naas’s students also made some of the more than 25,000 origami cranes created to raise awareness and funds for the Enloe Regional Cancer Center in 2005.
This spring, Naas had her students sampling water from Chico Creek, visiting the Butte Humane Society, and learning about recycling as part of a federally funded community service project. “This project is about applying knowledge to real problems, and proposing solutions,” says Chico State education professor Terri Davis, director of the federal grant. “Service learning is reframing how we approach academic content.”
These community-based experiences go far beyond field trips to the park or “please visit” letters to the governor, as valuable as those may be. Before Naas’s fourth-graders go to the creek, they are already thinking about water quality and scarcity issues, how to present information to the community about it, what could be done to help, and why the creek might play an important role in their lives.
Naas has the talents and temperament that have led countless students to call her “my favorite teacher”: fine arts training to help with pastels and finger paints; fluency in Spanish and a love of other languages and cultures; patience and compassion working with underprivileged children in a low-income neighborhood; an easy manner that belies her mastery of teaching. On a recent morning in her classroom, Naas casually picked up her guitar and led the students in song in an effortless transition from one activity to another.
If one thing is her passion, though, it is how students learn through service. “They make a difference in the community, and they get to know their own value,” she says. “It’s the heart and soul of what we do as educators.”
Naas asks her students to reflect on each completed service project. She loves to read what they write, to watch them discover that even a child can make a difference. As Naas describes it, “You open a door that says, ‘I matter. I contribute to the world.’ ”
—Joe Wills, Public Affairs and Publications
Accessing Virtual Worlds in Education
Chico State education professor Cris Guenter remembers when “hi-tech” meant using carbon paper with student–teacher evaluation forms so she wouldn’t have to hand-write a second copy for the student. That was 1987.
By 2005, she was using a laptop and writable PDFs.
Now Guenter keeps all her forms on an iPad that she can easily carry to her evaluations. And she can use her laptop to access her Second Life virtual world, where she has teaching and presentation materials and where she regularly meets with educators from around the world to discuss teacher preparation strategies and share resources, at virtually no cost to the University. And with an app for her iPhone, she can make quick additions to her virtual world when her real world takes her out of the office.
“The ability for faculty and students to connect on a global level exceeds anything I could have imagined when I started here at Chico,” she says. “Technology offers so many tools that make efficient use of time, and using time more efficiently helps teachers devote more time to quality instruction.”
Guenter used Second Life to give her students a 3-D tour of the Sistine Chapel, where they could “fly” up to the ceiling for a close-up view of the detail of Michelangelo’s technique. That experience couldn’t be duplicated even with a field trip to Rome.
“I see great potential for future teachers in the virtual world of technology, especially for professional development and networking,” says Guenter. “But teachers know the technology is coming to their students and soon to their classrooms, so I want to prepare them for those changes.”
Elementary teachers see that many of their students are using virtual worlds at home, with sites such as Club Penguin and Whyville, and they want to learn how to harness that interest in the technology to help their students learn.
One of Guenter’s student teachers used Second Life to give his third-graders a virtual 3-D tour of NASA. And a secondary teacher led his class through an exploration of Edward Hopper’s 3-D painting Nighthawks via a virtual world.
Guenter’s colleague, Steven Koch, is using inexpensive webcams and the free teleconferencing software Skype to conduct teacher-intern observations for special education teachers in rural areas. Chico State’s service area is the size of Ohio, and the teacher-interns he supervises teach in communities as far away as Arbuckle, 75 miles southwest of Chico, and Alturas, 205 miles northeast. Using this technology last fall saved Koch and his colleagues 12 trips, dozens of hours in travel time, and more than $400 in travel expenses.
“This flexibility gives us more freedom to observe the ragged edges of the teaching and to address those issues that the intern and I are concerned with,” he explains. “Immediacy is the one thing we know that positively changes teachers’ behavior.”
But the main advantage is in the quality of the feedback he can give interns. “Saving time on travel allows me to spend more time observing them in the classroom and more time to discuss the observations,” explains Koch. “It just improves the quality of the supervision.”
—Casey Huff, Public Affairs and Publications
Setting the Stage for Success
On a spring day in the small town of Arbuckle, Matthew Clough’s students were getting nervous. They had written and produced an anti-bullying program—and were about to present it to more than 100 elementary and middle school students, teachers, and parents.
It takes guts for most people to get on stage and sing. But for the students in Clough’s 6th- to 12th-grade special education classroom, the stakes were even higher. These students have mild-to-moderate disabilities that include emotional disturbances, intellectual disabilities, seizure disorders, and autism. Just getting through the school day can be difficult for them.
“Many of my students have social deficits,” says Clough (BA, Liberal Studies, ’05; Credential, ’06), who played guitar during the presentation. “So we are consistently looking for ways we can participate in the community and even globally.”
The performance was a musical about “Chris, the Kid Cruncher,” a bully who is reformed through friendship. It began as a response to news reports about the effects of bullying in schools. Clough led his students through journal writing and research about different types of bullying and the harm it causes.
The students wrote the play and the songs with Clough. They designed props and invitations and practiced their lines as a team. They invited the community and students from local schools to three shows in the high school theatre, handling all the technical details of a stage production.
“My students were very excited to teach younger students about bullying in a fun way,” says Clough. “The service learning project improved their self-esteem in ways I had never even imagined possible. They loved the feeling of having so much to offer others.”
The program went off without a hitch, which was no surprise to Clough. “Building healthy relationships with my students and providing an environment that allows them to feel safe and secure is crucial,” he says. “When you build that trust, you have amazing outcomes.”
Clough is a uniquely gifted teacher, says Professor Laurel Hill-Ward, who supervised Clough in his field placements while he was a Chico State student. “Matt exemplifies service learning and continually refines his skills,” she says. “He also always managed to include his talents in music in the classroom.”
Clough’s devotion to service is also evident outside the classroom. Weekends find him belting out tunes like “Ants in Your Pants” at local performances or writing and recording original children’s songs. All profits from his music go to teachers planning special events and field trips or to charities like Chico State’s Ability First Sports Camp for children with disabilities (see www.matthewclough.com).
Clough’s approach to education exemplifies what future teachers learn at Chico State, Hill-Ward says: They find creative ways to respond to the needs of each child. They find ways to teach academic content through service to others. They have a strong belief that all children can learn.
In Clough’s classroom, effective teaching requires some flexibility and a lot of creativity. “The students’ abilities range so much, so I have to rely on a lot of the strategies I learned in the program at Chico State: technologies for teaching, visual prompts, different types of strategies so you can reach a wider range of students,” he says of the Special Education Program, one of the University’s Centers for Excellence. “The service learning course facilitated by [education professor] Terri Davis taught me to encourage community participation and integrate it into the core curriculum.”
But perhaps most important is that his students have a good time, says Clough. “When the students are happy and learning, I have a blast.”
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications
Transforming a Middle-School Science Class
I t is a Wednesday morning, and the seventh-grade life science class at Bidwell Junior High School is studying the half-lives of radioactive elements. The teacher, Annie Adamian, is giving instructions for the lab exercise of the day: creating a model of radioactive decay. She requests that group leaders retrieve lab folders and pick up materials for the experiment. Several students quickly retrieve folders from the back of the room, pass them out, and are back at their seats within moments.
In small groups, students count out kernels of corn and talk about directions they’ve been given for three different models: shake the tray of kernels, record the number facing one direction, chart those numbers. They are simulating the breakdown of radioactive isotopes in an element. And they are fully engaged.
The air of friendliness and ease is significantly different from my expectations of a typical seventh-grade class. The students are focused on learning. There is no disrespect or lack of attention. What is the secret here?
Adamian (BS, Geosciences, option in Science Education, ’00; Credential, ’01; MA, Education, option in Curriculum and Instruction, ’10) began teaching in the fall of 2001 and taught for several years before she decided to pursue a master’s degree. Despite increased pressure on teachers to produce higher test scores, there was little discussion about creating equitable schools and empowering students and teachers, says Adamian. She found herself burdened with the public’s negative perception of teachers and public schooling, and she felt devalued as an educator.
Adamian returned to Chico State in 2008 and embarked on a year of research. During her exploration, she came to believe that “schools could be transformed into places that people look to for freedom, hope, personal empowerment, and care, as opposed to a place to blame.”
She began to implement democratic practices in her classroom while continuing to teach the California Science Content Standards. She added the topic of diversity to the science curriculum, introduced the idea of “learning communities” and collaboration, added journaling to encourage students to reflect on what they were learning, and increased choice where appropriate. During the year of research, she and her team teacher, Michael Riley, guided students in producing a science newspaper that included articles on diversity, race, and genetics for the entire student body and staff to read.
Adamian documented the end results in her thesis, “Creating and Sustaining a Democratic Classroom in the Presence of Market Ideology.” Students in her classroom gained an increased appreciation of individual differences, learned to work in groups, and attained standards-based science concepts at a high level.
Chico State education professor Ann Schulte was impressed with Adamian’s work and encouraged her to pursue a doctorate so that she could inspire new teachers. Schulte believes that Adamian’s ability to forge a link between outside forces shaping education and her seventh-grade students is responsible for the impact she has had on both her students and colleagues. “Her work is a model for all teachers who wish to empower students within a system that does little to promote that power,” says Schulte.
Adamian is excited about graduate school and preparing herself to engage with new teachers in learning how to help students get the education they deserve. “This whole experience has given me renewed passion and purpose,” says Adamian, “and the hope that education will one day work for us and not against us.”
—Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications