When Kathleen Dalton began looking at graduate programs, she found a friend in Sam Houston State University professor of education Joyce McCauley.
“Dr. McCauley took considerable time to describe the program in detail. Her passion and enthusiasm were contagious,” Dalton said. “In just a matter of minutes, I knew I had to be a part of whatever she was teaching. I knew that learning with her would be an incredible experience.”
That belief was reinforced by her experience withMcCauley in the classroom as she entered SHSU’s master’s program in reading, a program that is entirely online except for a six-hour, on-campus practicum.
“Initially, I had some trepidation about taking classes online rather than face-to-face. But there was no reason for worry,” Dalton said. “Her classes were so intimate that we quickly formed a strong community of learners, so rich that our critical thinking and writing skills grew immensely and so well crafted that all expectations were clear and the learning authentic.
“Even online, she was able to model how learning happens best,” Dalton said. “It was the reason why my classmates and I had such trouble letting go at the conclusion of her courses; we just didn’t want the learning to end.”
McCauley’s ability to practice what she teaches that has earned her recognition as this year’s “Excellence in Teaching” award recipient.
She wasselected from among 270 other nominated full-time faculty members, who accumulated more than 600 nominations this year from students, faculty members and alumni. Finalists for the annual award included Bobby Lane, professor of horticulture and crop sciences; Nancy Baker, assistant professor of history; Paul Child, professor of English; and Mark Frank, professor of economics.
“Serving on this committee makes you feel good about your colleagues. I enjoyed listening to my colleagues in different departments and colleges teach their students with such passion and dedication,” said SHSU’s “Excellence in Teaching” committee chair Bala Maniam. “I seem to be learning something new from each one of them, which makes serving on this committee so much more fun and interesting. It is really nice to see what works with your colleagues and at the same time this exercise reinforces mypassion for teaching.”
As a teacher offuture teachers, McCauley considers her approach as that of a “model,” a philosophy she has honed over a 43-year teaching career that began as an elementary teacher in Guam.
“My classroom atmosphere is deeply influenced by how my students feel about me. If I expect my students to treat me with respect, treat each other with respect, and demonstrate their professionalism, then I must do the same,” McCauley said. “You will never see any public shaming in my classroom, no sarcasm, no rudeness. Criticism and correction are certainly given, but handled in a way that the students know I’m for them, I support them; I want them to be successful.
“In addition, if I want students to teach with passion, I must do the same,” she said. “The students always say that the courses they take from me are some of the most difficult they’ve ever had, but, as my IDEA scores show, they love it.”
And indeed they do. McCauley’s passion, herdedication to students by meeting with them on the weekends, and the strictness of her classrooms were among the most commented areas lauded by student nominators.
“I have never had a professor such as Dr. McCauley. She used so many tools that were very helpful throughout the semester,” one student said. “I learned theories I couldn't learn previously and there was no need to memorize these. She teaches with strategies that make you want to learn more. The best part was when it came to use those theories in my classroom. I was transformed in this class from inside out.
“Dr. McCauley taught me that by reading a book to a child I can do more than I can imagine. She made me feel like a teacher every time I went to class. She made me feel I can transform lives,” the student continued. “Because of her, I now have a better perspective on teaching. She is an ‘excellent’ teacher.”
Most importantly for budding teachers, McCauley believes embracing the Chinese Proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” is especially beneficial, but also is applicable to teachers in all disciplines.
In addition to a classroom environment that encourages the establishment of a “community of learners” by having students rotate and interact with different colleagues each class period, she prescribes a heavy course load filled with tasks that are applicable to students’ future careers.
“Each semester I ask students this question: ‘What assignments have you done this semester that seem to have been a waste of time or have little application to your future job?” McCauley said. “Although the load is extremely heavy (just ask my students), their responses have always been, ‘None. Keep all the assignments.’ They never seem to wonder, ‘What’s the bother?’ Yes, it’s a lot of work, but as long as assignments are authentic and meaningful, the students embrace the challenge.
“I do tell and I do show; lectures and demonstrations are certainly part of my teaching,” she said. “But without my students’ involvement, their buy-in, their engagement in learning, there is little hope that the knowledge, skills, and dispositions I teach and demonstrate will stay with them beyond their one semester in my class.”
This, too, is reinforced by her students.
“Dr. McCauley works around the clock to create authentic, meaningful lessons for her students. In addition, she goes the extra mile by meeting up with students during the evenings andweekends to make sure they understand the assignment they are to complete; not so that they just get a grade on the assignment, but rather, they truly learn the concept behind the assignment,” another student nominator said. “She is very reflective; constantly refining assignments so they are better. Never complains; always happy; always willing to assist previous students in anyway she can.”