Dr. Patricia Edwards is a professor of education at Michigan State University. She accepted her role as a teacher at a young age, and, now, teaches college students who go on to teach. In October, I was given the opportunity to speak with Edwards to discuss her experience as a professor and the future of educators.
Read Dr. Edwards’ thoughts on teachers choosing school districts here.
CB: How did you choose your career?
PE: “It’s a cute little story. When I was growing up, I thought I could teach everybody in the neighborhood. And then I got in trouble because I corrected my Sunday school teacher, and I learned very quickly that I needed to teach children and not adults.
“My daddy owned a barber shop in our backyard. After I got in trouble, I would teach the boys. I taught them what I learned. I even created a little permission slip and I told them their mama had to sign it. I even kept little progress reports. My daddy had me a little board, so I could write, and I had a captive little audience. I was the youngest uncertified teacher in the state of Georgia. You know how you just kind of come into your own? That was my first little stab at teaching.”
CB: What challenges do up-and-coming teachers face after graduation?
PE: “One thing about a lot of teachers in Michigan is they want to go back to their small little town, and they’re not going to get a job. It’s going to be hard to get a job in a place where all the people look like you. One of the challenges is learning how to talk across race and class lines. You never know where life is going to take you, and you never know what spaces you might end up in. You might be a good teacher in one community and a horrible teacher in another community because you don’t understand the culture capital.”
CB: What are some of the most important lessons you teach your students?
PE: “The first thing I want them to know is their content. I want them to be the best teacher they can be. I need them to know their subject matter. Second, I want them to have empathy and understanding for the groups of children they are teaching and realize that not all children come from the same background.
“They need to understand how to look at things from multiple perspectives. The third is, for the rest of their professional career, to continue learning. I don’t care how much you know. There’s always something you need to learn because, every year, you have between 20 and 30 students coming into your classroom and you need to be learning and you need to be enthusiastic about your class.”
CB: Do you find teaching future teachers rewarding?
PE: “To be honest with you, at Michigan State, I teach a wide range – including undergrad, grad and master. I enjoy seeing people be able to teach and learn. I enjoy teaching college students, engaging with them and helping them. I think it takes a certain kind of person to teach at certain levels but, being here, you’re developing them into becoming a teacher.”
CB: What advice would you give to high school students interested in an education major?
PE: “I would tell them it’s not about how much money you make. You can be so busy making a living that you’re not making a life. Teaching provides you the opportunity to make a difference because you’re touching the lives of children. I would say, you know, every profession has challenges and problems, but teaching is rewarding. Go in with the mindset that you can make a difference in the lives of students that you teach every day.”