Dr Alyssa Emery (in red) with her fellow education professors. With only one year under her belt she has already made her mark in the department. (photo/Cheryl Simon)

Our entire outlook and opinions we have on educators are determined by the teachers we’ve had throughout our lives. If you had a teacher that yelled at the class whenever someone made a sound, you probably think that that is a proper discipline technique for a teacher. A teacher who assigned you hundreds of worksheets would probably make you think that that’s the best way to learn. These are all philosophies of education I had due to preconceived ideas left behind from teachers I’ve had in the past. This changed entirely when I met assistant professor of ONU’s education department, Dr Alyssa Emery.

My first two years in the education department were somewhat scary and unsure for me. I was not sure of exactly what I believed in in terms of being a teacher and pedagogy. All of the professors I had were great, but I did not feel incredibly attached to any of them. My junior year, I walked into the first day of class to see a professor I did not recognize. I did not know then that that professor would shape me as an educator in a short year.

The professor in front of me was Dr Alyssa Emery. She told us who she was and we introduced ourselves. As time went on we began to learn more about her: that she went to high school in Germany, became a special education teacher, and eventually went to grad school to study educational psychology, specifically student motivation. I found this absolutely fascinating, and something about the way she taught really made me want to hear what she had to say.

I remember some of the first days days in our class when she spoke about some of her philosophies. Even after 14 years of being a student I had never seen a teacher think the way she thought. She spoke about homework passes and how we should not give them to students because we’re giving them the message that homework is something undesirable and that is a good thing to skip. She spoke about competition and how we should not use it in the classroom because we need to think from the perspective of the child who is scared of competition or embarrassed to fail. And one of my favorite things: that teachers need to present material that is relevant, interesting and engaging.

“I try to make sure that what we’re doing is always something that you can see as useful”, she said. “I want material to be relevant, useful and interesting, but also equip students with what they need to explore more on their own later on.”

I will admit that at first a few of us thought she was crazy. These homework passes and competition were thing we all grew up with in the classroom, how could they be wrong or damaging? But then we started to see it in practice as we got out in the field, and it worked. Not only did it work, but it was benefiting the students much better than practices we held on to from our own schooling experiences. This was when we started to come around.

“She does not give work unless it has a specific purpose in aiding student understanding”, my classmate Madison Shultz said. “She runs her classroom so that understanding material is more important than points.”

I began to see who I wanted to be as a teacher forming in front of me because of this one person that I had not even known for a semester.

Not even a year in and I watched her take the education department by storm and bring incredible benefits to it. None of us liked the department’s lesson plan templates. We were told, “don’t expect them to be changed by the time you graduate”. Emery saw where they could be improved and worked with education professor Dr Kevin Cordi to change them to be much more cohesive and focused on teaching toward assessment. There was also all of a sudden talk of our department adding special education as a major. Her background in special education allowed her to open up many new doors for the department and teach us much more about inclusion. I can only imagine how much that will help me in the future.

Spring rolled around and a professor in the department, who also happened to be my advisor, announced that she was leaving ONU. Emery was assigned as my new advisor and I was immediately thrilled, but all I could really think about was that this professor is like a superhero for taking on all these new advisees. It really made me respect her more as a person.

Summer came and went and I was struck with the biggest tragedy I’d ever experienced. A major death left me crippled with grief and almost positive that I was not going to continue my schooling experience. I had to explain this to Emery when she emailed me before the school year started to touch base with me. She immediately started to help me come up with a plan to help me through the semester which included visits to see her whenever I needed. This was when I started seeing not just as a professor, but also as an ally. This was someone who was on my side and genuinely wanted me to succeed.  

I began to equate this with how she taught and how she taught us to teach. It was not to cram material into students’ heads to memorize, it was not to make them feel like the best of the best or the worst of the worst, and it was not solely for the sake of getting them to pass just to move on to the next grade. It was to help better them as people and give them skills and opportunities that would benefit them in every aspect of their lives. It was to genuinely help them.

I did not have any mandatory classes that I needed to take from Emery this semester, but I took her optional classroom management course not only because I knew she could help me really improve my classroom management, but because I wanted to stay connected with her and take her up on the help she offered me. I will fully admit that I have come to her office and cried on multiple occasions. I can tell that she meant what she said about helping me because she does not just sit there and listen to me cry, she helps me weigh out my options and think about what I need to do next. She could very well just give lectures in class and never go beyond that, but instead she goes above and beyond, sometimes even out of her way, to make me feel like she values me as a person and wants to me to push through this.

My hope is that one day, a student thinks of me as a teacher the way that I think of her.

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