“Clearly we have to talk about techniques and strategies. They’re important elements of education. But it’s also about grappling with the big issues, like ‘What is knowledge? How is knowledge constructed? How is knowledge connected to historical, political, and economic contexts?’”
When asked why she chose to teach at Transylvania, Jennifer McCloud’s answer is simple. “My heart is with the liberal arts,” she explains.
McCloud’s own education is broad, and she likes approaching life’s big questions from a variety of perspectives. She also seeks connections between what some might see as disparate academic disciplines.
“I’m very interdisciplinary. My undergraduate degrees were in sociology, Spanish, and philosophy. My master’s degree was an interdisciplinary area studies focusing on Latin America, and I had graduate level work in Spanish, geography, and history.”
At Transylvania McCloud found an education program whose faculty embraces that same philosophy. The courses are unusually integrated, and the emphasis is not solely on technique—although, of course, that is important, too, for a program preparing students for a future in front of a classroom.
McCloud also sees value in the type of cross-cultural study she pursued, which is another area of emphasis for students at Transylvania. Nearly 70 percent of Transylvania students study abroad, as McCloud did as an undergraduate, when she was able to do a mini-practicum in an elementary school in Barcelona. In the spring of 2014, three Transylvania students will have a similar experience in Panama.
“That’s just invaluable, to be able to see how other cultures think about education. It’s beneficial for our students to have that experience.”
While pursuing her doctorate, McCloud’s concentration was in English as a second language and multicultural education. During this time, she worked as a curriculum coordinator for a family literacy program that served immigrant families.
As students in a typical U.S. classroom become more and more diverse, multicultural awareness will be a critical skill for successful teachers. Understanding how to work with students of such varied backgrounds, with varying language abilities—and how to treat them all equitably—will be a growing challenge.
“A lot of my work focused on Paulo Freire, an educational theorist from Brazil. His work fits into the idea of knowledge and how it’s really about consciousness of the world and consciousness of issues of inequality.”
In the end, though, teaching for McCloud is all about the relationships she builds with her students.
“I’m always learning from them. There may be a text I’ve read many, many times. But then I have a discussion with students who help me see it in a different way. They may bring something to the context that I’ve never considered before. So, really, teaching is about personal growth.”