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Brianna Hill: A broader view of teaching

Brianna Hill“There are two paths you can take: the 1950s style of teaching and a safe job; or education as a form of social justice.”

Anyone who knows the power of fine teaching understands that it’s more than just sharing knowledge. Fine teaching transforms, blows minds, knocks noggins off kilter, and makes people hungry for a lifetime of learning.

At Transylvania you become that teacher. Your foundation is in a rigorous liberal arts education. You develop knowledge and your teaching chops. 

Just ask Brianna Hill ’14, a Spanish language and literature major and an education minor, who graduated magna cum laude with honors in Spanish.

“At Transylvania you approach education as a profession, as a scholarly pursuit,” she explains. “Through being a scholar yourself, you empower your students.”

Hill just completed student teaching in the Fayette County public schools and at Balboa Academy, a private, international institution near the Panama Canal.

Contrasting the two student-teaching experiences, Hill appreciates what she learned from the culture and traditional approach of the public school experience. Indeed, she found new ways to use her Spanish language skills by being the voice of family members who wanted to be involved in their children’s education but could not speak English.

But she worries about the “lack of creativity and freedom in our system here at home.” 

Hill notes that the “freer environment” of Balboa Academy was “much more my style.” She describes the lively engagement of students, who were often out of their seats collaborating, as “controlled chaos.” But, she is quick to add, “The kids would come back with this awesome work.” She respects the Balboa system that “holds the students accountable.”

Her destiny

Although Hill entered college swearing that she would be anything but a teacher, she’s well on her way to becoming a third-generation teacher. She’d wanted to be different from her family. But in her first year at Transylvania she took an education class and was hooked by the teaching philosophy and the potential to make a difference.

Her grandmother is an expert in the field of reading. Her mother teaches 5th graders at an inner-city school where basic needs trump test scores. She has been an important model for Hill. “My mother realized how important it was to try to empower students. She’d get fifth graders who couldn’t read.”

Hill recounts a story about her mother, early on in her position at the new school, finding out that few in her classroom received presents from Santa. She went out and bought every child a Christmas gift. Hill beams, “I’d rather be remembered by those students as the teacher who bought those gifts than the teacher who raised the test scores.”

Social justice weaves through her ambition. It started with church and family activities, and deepened at Transylvania through her courses, opportunities for community engagement, and study abroad in Spain.

Working with sociology professor Brian Rich and education professor Amelia El-Hindi Trail, Hill said, “I learned about the political and social marginalization of immigrants, particularly immigrant children—the economic impact and the social myths. I learned so much in that class. And it’s stuck with me.”

It inspired her to look intently toward advocacy roles. “Transylvania shows you how you can give people life skills to improve their lives, to rise above through education.” 

Hill’s next move seems a perfect fit. She’s enrolling in the Memphis Teacher Residency program that will train her to teach in urban settings. In May 2015 she’ll graduate with a masters in urban education. In exchange for free tuition, room, and board in her first year, she’ll teach for three years in Title 1 schools  in the Memphis community. “It’s an ESL approach that places me in the community and allows me to be engaged in more than a classroom setting,” she explains.

She’s excited about the program. “They have some of the most brilliant, passionate, and faithful people there. I’m very interested to see how much I’ll grow over the next year—as a person, a teacher, and spiritually.”

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