We feature some of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education’s (TPTE) newest faculty, staff, graduate students and alumni who tell us about their impressions of studying and working in TPTE.
Where did you live prior to coming to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)?
I was born in Ohio. I was there until I was a teenager, and then we moved to Florida. I was there for most of my life. I was at a university in Utah for six years before I moved here.
What brought you to UTK?
It was just a perfect time to move here. I can be closer to my family. My daughter is in a neighboring state, and my mother is also in a nearby state, so they are right around Tennessee. When we lived out west, Utah was really far, so traveling was a bit more difficult. Finally, we have three younger grandchildren, and we felt like it was the time to be closer to family.
What is your role in TPTE?
I was hired as an American sign language (ASL) education coordinator for the graduate program. It hasn’t yet been established, but we’re planning to do that in the fall of 2019. It’s a new program that we’re setting up. We now have a deaf education program and an interpreting program, so this will be the third program. That’s one of the reasons why I was hired.
Right now, I am teaching various courses. I’m teaching ASL as a second language and deaf education courses, and there are some interpreting classes that I might be teaching. I’m also planning the graduate program. We’re waiting for accreditation for that to make it work. Hopefully we’ll be launching it in the fall. That’s our goal.
What led to you a career in your field?
I worked at the local post office for fourteen years. A good friend of mine was a professor at a community college and had a family emergency. He contacted me to substitute for him, so I taught during the afternoon and worked nights at the post office. I fell in love with teaching. It just changed my life. So I decided that I wanted to teach at the college level. I left the Post Office completely, and went back to college for twelve years straight. I got my bachelor’s degree, and then my master’s degree and finally my doctorate of education in 2014. I’ve been teaching at the university level for over ten years now.
What are some of ideas or resources that have influenced your teaching?
Technology. I’ve taught hybrid class models and online classes over the last five years, and those were really a different type of teaching. I’m also influenced by the ASL Teachers Association at the national level. They have conferences, and that is one of the best places to provide tools and information. It’s a great place to network, and where I can bring in new ideas to the classroom.
What are your research interests?
My dissertation focused on deaf adult literacy. It was called translanguaging. I was observing a deaf person’s signing skills and reading an English text, and then translating that to ASL. I’ve been looking at that to ask how they learn how to do that. Did they start that as a child? Did they figure it out own their own? Most deaf adults figure that out later. So that’s one thing I’m fascinated about and why I’m interested in deaf education and teaching young adults. Not teaching specific words, but teaching the language, their signs, and how to manipulate the language, and how do we look at an English sentence and change that to an ASL sentence.
Translanguaging is really how students interact with each other and younger children. It’s about watching the teacher teach, then watching the students figure it out, explaining it to each other in their own words and going back to connect it to what the teacher had been teaching. Some people might be resistant to the idea, saying that it’s “bilingual” or “dual language,” but translanguaging started about ten years ago in England and other countries, not only in America. It’s starting to spread, and it’s pretty interesting.
The framework is Jim Cumming’s Threshold Hypothesis. Students learn their first language in their home language, then they learn a second language with less difficulty because they already have a strong foundation with their first language, and it’s easier to learn a second language after that. It’s the same idea with deaf people. If they already have a good foundation in ASL, and they start as a child, then they can grow up to learn English more easily, like myself. Some deaf children don’t get appropriate instruction toward language development, so later on they struggle with their language. And then trying to learn a second language is even harder. So, I’m really fascinated with that.
What has been your favorite part about being a UT faculty member so far?
Well, it’s orange everywhere! That was my first impression…just “Wow!” TPTE people are wonderful. Meeting everybody has been really wonderful. And I really love this program. There are a lot of discussions and visions that have been going on before I got here, and I’m having to keep up and learn the new system. Also, my vision is similar to UT’s vision. I want to help students be academically successful. That’s my motivation.
“By the numbers”
50: Just recently, I finally touched all fifty states with my wife. The last state we visited was Hawaii. The best part was that we cruised around to all of the islands on a boat, and touched all of these different places.
07/07/07: The day we got married.
700: I’m a cyclist and I bicycled 700 miles from Virginia Beach to Chattanooga in ten days.
Where did you live prior to coming to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)?
I grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan. After college, I taught high school biology in Shelby, North Carolina. I had the opportunity to move back to Michigan, where I attended Michigan State University and lived in Lansing with my wife, Katie.
What led you to a career in your field?
While I was teaching in Shelby, I learned about how important good teaching is to students, especially to students with fewer opportunities than I was fortunate to have. As I was working on a master’s degree in education, I became interested in how the “context” was characterized in educational technology research. I thought it was not given very much attention, which meant that there was a chance to do research on how context affected how teachers and students used technology. I applied to and began my doctoral program at Michigan State University and started out doing research on context and teachers’ Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK. During my assistantship, I started to work on a science education research project focused on engaging students in scientific and engineering practices. I kept my interest in the importance of context by using a research method, the experience sampling method (ESM), to study how learners engaged in scientific and engineering practices in a fine-grained way and how teachers supported this work. I was especially interested in how working with data as part of engaging in scientific and engineering practices can be empowering to learners. Collectively, these experiences led me to my research and teaching in STEM education.
What are some of ideas or resources that have influenced your teaching?
Pam Grossman and colleagues’ ideas about approximating the practices of teaching influenced how I plan for opportunities for future and in-service teachers to get started and to try out new kinds of teaching. Opportunities to try new teaching practices is especially important in the context of recent science education reform efforts, which call for new kinds of student learning that can be challenging – but also very rewarding – to enact and support.
Tell us about your role in TPTE.
I am an assistant professor of STEM education, with an emphasis on science education. I am interested in the role of educational technologies in STEM and science education.
What has been your favorite part about being a UT faculty member so far?
I like being a part of a department made up of scholars with so many areas of expertise. As I mentioned earlier in terms of what led me to a career in my field, I think of myself as a STEM education person. I value the chance to work with and learn from my new colleagues with expertise in STEM subject areas as well as those who work in areas that have a lot to say about how widespread opportunities for learners to be able to engage in STEM really are, such as my colleagues in English as a second language and urban / multicultural education.
“By the numbers”
5,110.8: I have been a bike commuter for the past three and a half years.That’s how many miles I have biked since I started tracking my rides using the Strava app! I’m interested in how learners work with data in science, and I am also interested in data.
Where did you grow up, and what was that experience like?
I am from Sparta, Greece. From history this is known to be the valley of the warriors and has a great history. I grew up in a country where every stone that you’ll turn has historical importance. Generally in the culture, there is a sense of pride in everything you do or plan to do and a determination to do it well. You are proud of what you achieve. That was part of my consciousness along with that history growing up.
Was there something in that upbringing that inspired you to teach, or toward education in general?
In our family, we are educators, so I think that was one of the reasons. I wasn’t planning to become an educator, but I liked being one, and I enjoyed working with adults and children. I always enjoyed learning with and from others. Working as a teacher and an administrator in my country and later as a teacher and a literacy coach in the United States, I saw the challenges of teaching, especially working on the administrator’s’ side. I understood more about policy and its demands, not just about evidence-based practices and effective instruction.
What led you to higher education?
I worked as a teacher in the United States in addition to my work in Greece, and I felt a need to share knowledge and create knowledge that was making a difference. I’m devoted 100% to making a difference in a child’s life and in a teacher’s experience. If I manage to do this, then my role in life has been fulfilled. I want to create opportunities for every child to succeed in higher education. Education is not just getting a degree. It’s not an achievement point. It’s not a privilege. All children should have the right to educate themselves, to see the world in a different way. I want children to have choices in their adult life.
As an assistant professor in literacy education, you already have an extensive background in research. What factors have led to your robust research agenda?
Perhaps it is because I had the ability to work early on from my bachelor’s degree with people who were strong researchers, and I developed knowledge of quantitative research. In my master’s program, I worked with Charles “Skip” MacArthur from the University of Delaware. I fell in love with the process of asking questions in writing research. The reading and writing connections interested me, and the way that the two are not as separate as they are found in the curriculum. I saw that writing is not really a literacy task – it is a critical thinking task that is applicable across the curriculum. So it is not a box within English / language arts time; it should be across the day so that students have multiple opportunities to write for different audiences and for different purposes.
In 2015, I worked as a post-doctoral project manager to write a grant proposal that focused on the development of a curriculum for a community college writing course. I co-wrote the curriculum and the grant was awarded in 2016. The goal now is to scale up to see how the curriculum we developed works across different environments, different states, and different community colleges. We are on our third year of that.
When I was in the post-doctoral position, I authored a book on genre-based strategy instruction for grades 3-5 with Skip MacArthur and David Coker. In schools, where they applied this approach and where they gave students opportunities to write across the curriculum, the growth was tremendous. People began to ask, “How can we make this project bigger?” That’s what led us to writing a grant to develop a professional development model for genre-based strategy instruction. In the meantime, we were motivated by schools and districts that applied the 3-5 program to address K-2 learners. So, since 2015, we have been developing the curriculum for K-2. We have the research to say that these work, and now we have a publication and book coming up for grades K-2 in addition to grades 3-5.
I’m also continuing the development of the curriculum for middle schools. This semester, I have two middle schools that are going through the process of design research. Data will be collected from English / language arts, science, and social studies. They’ll all receive the same type of instruction and the same type of resources, but the differentiation will be on the application of the writing genres depending on the discipline. This is a new development for me, so maybe I’ll find some things that don’t work. That is the beauty of design-based research! You think things will work one way, and then you find out they don’t. And in this process teachers are collaborators! I find this a needed step prior to experimental studies in interventions.
“By the Numbers”
26.2: I have run two marathons in Greece. One of those was a marathon around Sparta. I was teaching during that time, and I had told the parents and students that all of us would go together, and we would represent our school. They came and we all ran. We registered by age, and I didn’t know that you win by age. At the very end, we celebrated together because I always built community and try to connect with community. The next day, I received a call that I needed to go to the office to pick up my medal. And I thought ,“For what?” I went and found out that I had won for my age group!
4: I have walked to the top of the Monemvasia Castle seven times, and I will try to do so for as many as I can.
I have walked to the top of the Mystras castle (top of second gate from the first gate) more than ten times, and I will continue for as long as I can.
Although Heather Davis is a new support staff member of TPTE, she is not new to to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)! Heather earned her undergraduate degree in political science and economics at UTK. In 2015, she returned to work in the Smart Communities Initiative before transitioning to an administrative specialist position in TPTE. During her time away from Tennessee, Heather was a communications manager and public affairs lead for NHS Health Scotland. This work led her to pursue her PhD in human geography and health inequalities at UT through an official co-chairship with the health inequalities board of Scotland.
Heather’s position in TPTE capitalizes on her educational background and work experience in communications. Her master’s degree in contemporary communications from the University of Notre Dame of Maryland and her vast experience with the national health service in Scotland have provided her with an extensive background for promoting the highlights and events of TPTE faculty, staff, and students through newsletters, social media, and other venues.
When asked about the aspects about TPTE that she likes the most, Heather quickly identified two: the people and the focus on education. “There is such a high level of collegiality here,” she remarked. “Everyone is so supportive of one another.” A second aspect was the focus on education. With an office just across the hall from BEC 428, a frequently-used classroom, Heather described how she often hears conversations and lectures during instruction. “I love hearing about how faculty are teaching teachers about working with young people,” she noted.
Three fun facts about Heather:
- She has dual citizenship with the US and the UK
- She is a first-generation college student
- Her PhD committee includes both UT faculty members and public health representatives from Scotland
Current Graduate Students
What made you decide to join the Theory and Practice in Teacher Education (TPTE) doctoral program, specializing in social science education?
I am finally living a dream of mine that I have had for as long as I can remember! It’s always been my ambition to earn a doctorate; however, I originally never really knew what I wanted that doctorate to be in. Coming from a political science background, I have always had a passion for promoting youth political and civic engagement. As I progressed through my undergraduate career, I came to realize that the genesis of producing well-rounded, politically knowledgeable and active citizens is truly found in the classroom where passionate educators are willing to “push the envelope” and try alternative practices to make the content as relevant as possible. In a nutshell, this is how I wound up in the education research world. Being in the master’s program prior to this sparked a love for the content, the pedagogy and what the education research is striving to do in general for both students and educators. Earning my PhD, I believe, will give me the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the profession and prepare me to conduct my own purposeful research to contribute to a field that is constantly in flux!
What has it been like to be a new doctoral student?
It’s been a new overwhelming feeling, but in a good way. I feel like everything I do is purposeful and meaningful. I feel like everything, every class that I’m in is focused on preparing me to be excellent at whatever I decide to end up researching. And then mixing that with my unique assistantship at the McClung Museum, where I’m depended upon to use my previous education experiences to produce quality lessons and curriculum on a regular basis, I truly feel like a professional. I realize I’m still a student, but when I have conversations with professors, the conversations feel more like we’re collaborating together to try to solve the greater issues that are out there in the education world through my assignments. I feel like everything is strangely coalescing to pave the way for me to delve deeper into my own research interests in the future. It was surprising.
What has been the most exciting thing you’ve learned so far?
I am coming to find more about where I stand on particular issues and who I am as a future researcher. It’s becoming more and more evident, the more I dig into research, I find that I align with certain principles, certain paradigms which is giving me more explanation of who I am. It’s starting to makes sense. I’ve always had these feelings and thoughts about approaching issues or research, and now it’s been particularly interesting to discover where the root of these instincts and feelings are coming from. I’m also excited that I’m able to see things in a whole new perspective when it comes to research. I feel like I originally (before starting the program) had a more narrow view of things, but now, the more I read the literature, and engage in dialogue with professors and colleagues, I’m more open to new experiences and taking a more in-depth look at issues, while being aware of my own personal biases!
What are your goals after you finish your doctorate? What do you hope / expect your degree will allow you to do that you couldn’t do otherwise?
I would really love to work at an research one (R1) institution and conduct my own research studies and really just make a difference in teacher education, particularly social studies teacher education and professional development. A new research interest of mine lately has been teacher professional development. I love writing and researching alternative / best practices of teaching social studies. I am extremely passionate about providing teachers with the most efficient, effective, pedagogical practices to make social studies content engaging and fun for students and educators.
What is your role at McClung Museum?
Essentially, I am an assistant to the curator of education. I assist her and part of what I do is help to develop curriculum and lesson plans that directly or indirectly link content at museum to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in social studies science and art. So, it’s not just the social studies realm. That’s the biggest part that I work on. We also work on programming and creating professional development workshops for teachers in the community and surrounding counties to come out and learn how to better facilitate object-based learning, which is extremely beneficial. I’m able to offer insights on that. I never really used true object-based learning where I brought in materials, but I did a lot of station activities, gallery walks and such, so I’m able to help out a lot there. I also do a heavy amount of research for upcoming galleries and existing galleries. We’re constantly trying to learn new information just so we can give the most up to date and holistic information to the people that come to visit.
What have you learned in this role?
I’ve learned that museums are really “hopping” places, which I think might be surprising to the general public and educators. Museums are very fast-paced working environments in that we are constantly researching and learning new information about permanent exhibits, as well as temporary exhibits. There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, from event programming, curriculum creation, tours, academic / professional events, public relations, not to mention, (the most important part) housing and maintaining the historical artifacts. The list is endless. I have learned that the McClung, in particular, is a great academic resource, especially for P-12 educators. Moreover, I have learned that there can be political issues particularly when it comes to housing artifacts. For example, in our Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery, we have a few artifacts on display that might be taken down due to tribal claim. This is extremely interesting because the tribe believes that the artifacts should be returned to their original location of excavation. Museum staff believe they are preserving the objects in a safe environment where they can be honored and maintained.
You stay very busy with classes and your work at the McClung, but what do you like to do outside of work and school?
I am an avid runner! I also love to swim and hike in the Smokies. I also love to play the piano and sing. I am also very involved with Destination Imagination.
What was your major / program?
My doctoral studies were in Theory and Practice in Teacher Education (TPTE) teacher education with a specialization in social science education.
What was your favorite / most impactful class?
Although all of my courses had some impact on me in terms of content, teaching style, and dialogue, the most influential courses were my methodology courses. Introduction to Qualitative Research and Advance Qualitative Research were both challenging. In these classes, I constantly had to think critically, defend my opinions, and continuously write. I feel like I learned how to write well in these courses with Lauren Moret, assistant professor in educational psychology. I also discovered that I am a qualitative researcher, and I have earned a Qualitative Research in Education Graduate Certificate.
What most interested you in your program / research?
When I entered the doctoral program, I had no intention of working in a university setting where research would be a significant part of my responsibilities. Through this program, I learned so much about myself professionally. It opened my eyes to the fact that I like to research. I like to write. Each course helped to build my confidence as a novice researcher in the field.
What piece of advice would you give to a new student entering the teacher education program?
It is difficult to share just a few pieces of advice because I learned so much in this experience, but I would advise: 1) Say “yes.” Take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with professors and to serve on committees. 2) Once you have determined a topic that interests you, try to make all of your writing assignments about that topic. I focused on race in social studies education, and by the time, I came to write my literature review, I pretty much had the research completed. 3) Create a system to keep track of every article you read. I used an Excel spreadsheet for different topics. For each article I read about the specified topic, I listed the American Psychological Association (APA) citation, summary of the article, quotes I used from the article, and any connections I made to my work.
Earning a doctoral degree is a transformative experience. You will begin to view the world differently and more deeply understand your worldview.
Living the change they seek: social studies teacher educators who incorporate race into the curriculum
I am now an assistant professor of elementary education at Auburn University!