Consistently give your best, every day. The beauty and angst of teaching is that the stakes are high, each day is a new beginning, and the students need and want you to succeed. They root for you. I remember a day when I was student teaching, I taught a grammar rule wrong. I completely mis-taught a concept. I realized it, admitted it to my students, and did a “do over” the next day. It was embarrassing; it made me vulnerable; and it made me better.
As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Pamela Roggeman, Ed.D.
Pam Roggeman is the College of Education Dean at University of Phoenix. There, she has led the work of preparing thousands of teacher candidates in numerous states to satisfy credentialing requirements. This experience has included working with national organizations helping to advance thought-leadership in the field of education. She has spent over a decade in higher education teacher preparation in both the public and private sector. Before Pam’s second career in teacher preparation, she was an award-winning high school English teacher for 18 years in AZ.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I pretty much had a “love at first sight” experience with teaching when I started teaching high school English at age 22. I have always loved working with teens. I find them old enough to create incredible ideas, still hopeful and optimistic, and just plain interesting people. I grew up in a home where my father was a high school biology teacher and a very successful football coach who later moved into and had a long career as a college football coach, so my entire life has revolved around “school” at some age. For 18 years, I taught almost every level of high school English, teaching honors students and the lower-performing students and just about everyone in between. I embraced my school community, coaching and sponsoring numerous activities and just relishing the sense of community that exists on a high school campus. We moved to accommodate my husband’s job, and I had every intention of returning to a high school classroom, but I “fell into” a position in higher education working with aspiring teachers. I pretty much had a another “love at first sight” moment in teacher preparation, where I have been for the last 16 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first years teaching, when I was still trying to figure out what “type” of teacher I was going to be, I was trying on my “hard-nosed” teacher persona. I had set extremely high standards for the quality of work I wanted from my students, and one day when I was collecting essays, one male student handed me a paper that was wrinkled and had some of the ink running (days before online work). I looked at him and told him this was unacceptable and I would not accept his paper (KILLING me inside). He came into my room later at lunch and said, “Miss Roggeman- I just wanted to apologize for my paper. My family had their electricity turned off last night, so I tried to write my paper outside under the street light, but it started to rain….” I decided right then and there, that the “teacher-persona” I was going to adopt had to include empathy and more of “me.” Great kids look a lot of different ways.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Speaking of empathy, the year 2020 in the University of Phoenix College of Education could be described as the year of empathy. Around March 15, 2020, almost every K-12 school in America closed. Our College of education had just under 400 student teachers and administration candidates in those schools, trying to finish their clinical work to graduate. At that moment, our College set as its North Star to help as many of those students as possible cross the graduation finish line, and we graduated all but a very small percentage of students. We did this by eliciting the creative help from our faculty. We created a large library of alternate and classroom-simulated experiences to help our students meet requirements and graduate.
University of Phoenix also helped to create the Alliance for Virtual Learning. This effort brought together over a dozen experts from across the country who were experts in online learning in the K-12 space, to provide a series of completely free webinars called the Virtual Teaching Academy. Our goal was to help teachers across the country to use the 90 days they had before the school year opened to help teachers across the country learn the entirely new modality of teaching: virtual teaching. We had just under 7000 educators across the United States take advantage of these webinars. While so many K-12 teachers and students are anxious to go back to in-person learning, virtual learning has so many benefits (for students who are out for longer periods of time due to illness, during natural disasters that close schools, for families who travel, etc..) and is here to stay.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
Our American public school system accomplishes exactly what it was designed to do: prepare students for a job opportunity structure that either doesn’t exist anymore or is vastly different from when the American public school system was established. And, I would argue that given that our system is “mismatched” for our society today, our school system does (mostly) a remarkable job. Often when the American public school system is compared to other school systems around the world, the countries that rate “better” than ours support their teachers and their education system FAR better than our education system is supported.
Also- while many in our country condemn our school system, when the scrutiny drills down to their own district, school, teachers, and principals, the majority are satisfied. I know I am satisfied with my children’s school district, their schools, their teachers, and their principals. We, as a society, are quick to condemn the “system” but quick to praise our own local schools.
I find the same to be true (criticism) of many of our American “systems:” such as the healthcare system, the justice system, other governmental systems. I would argue that our society tends to be critical of “systems” rather than those who are doing the work, trying to make things better.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- Teachers are better prepared than ever. Teacher preparation programs are continuously trying to prepare teachers who will understand and address the unique needs of the “whole child,” including special learning needs, social/emotional/physical needs of the child. Districts make professional development for teachers a high priority, knowing that being a professional educator demands that one invest continual efforts in growth until they leave the classroom for good.
- The education profession is beginning to teach lawmakers and policy makers what true, authentic, effective assessment is. The moving away from high-stakes, standardized testing is the direct result of studying the data and learning from that data that what students really need is more formative, individualized feedback about their academic work so that students can all/each get what is necessary to drive achievement.
- Now, more than ever, educators understand what factors positively impact student learning. Never before have teachers been more reflective about their practices, their strategies, and their students in determining what is working and what is not. Educators know that learning needs to have meaning; it needs to be more relevant to students’ lives, and it needs to give students voice and choice in how they are allowed to both learn and demonstrate mastery.
- Teacher ingenuity has never been higher. When I think back to the herculean efforts made by classroom teachers this past year during the COVID Pandemic to make sure that they were reaching their students (both in academics and on the interpersonal level), I am humbled to be associated with this profession. I saw teachers turning their kitchens into science labs, their living rooms into yoga studios, pressuring their districts to get wifi and technology to their students who didn’t have it at their homes. The power of the classroom teacher has never been more impactful or necessary.
- Now, more than ever, the education profession has recognized how important Career and Technical Education (CTE) is to our students as future members and contributors to society. The growth of CTE programs- both in schools and as specialized campuses- is preparing students to earn certifications, participate in job-site internships, and most importantly- dabble in professions that they may choose to pursue. This movement has been vital in demonstrating to students that there are far more options than higher education, military, or minimum wage jobs after high school.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
- Educators need to be “at the table” with policy-makers. This is the only way that the country can begin to “systemically” address issues in schools. Just because a policy-maker has been to school, doesn’t mean he/she knows the local and current issues that educators are facing. For example, any practicing teacher can tell you the increased value of having fewer students in a class. The teacher could relate specifically how much more individual attention that student would get, how much more quickly the teacher could provide feedback on a student’s school work, or how much more of a connection each student would have to the class community, resulting in more well-adjusted “people” schools would create.
- Demand higher standards and higher compensation for educators. Demanding higher standards without adjusting compensation is driving promising (and willing!) potential educators away. I can’t begin to recount the vast number of bright, energetic, dedicated folks I’ve met who have confessed how much they wanted to become teachers, but they couldn’t financially support themselves or their families on what teachers are paid. It is no secret that teachers are driven by the incredible intrinsic rewards that the profession provides, but other important professions are not asked to operate merely on intrinsic reward like we ask teachers.
- Provide districts the tools and resources they need to effectively educate our kids. Even more than compensation, teachers report “poor working conditions” as the reason they choose to leave the profession. Districts and leaders need to provide the resources teachers need to do their jobs. The Pandemic highlighted the inequities that schools across the nation endure (limited technology, no professional development to grow as a professional, homes without wifi, etc..). Schools, districts, leaders, and teachers are all out of creativity as to how to bridge the gap that the lack of resources leaves.
- Allow teachers to lead without leaving the classroom. This item builds on number three. Historically, teachers only had one choice when they wanted to give more to their schools: become an administrator. However, great teachers rarely want to leave the classroom. If schools had more resources to fund part-time leadership duties, teachers could take on leadership responsibilities while still being connected to their students.
- Finally, value the education profession. This is something we can ALL do. At times we give mere “lip service” to how important we think our schools and educators are. I would invite us to research policy and our policy-makers to make sure they know how much we value our schools and educators and then encourage them to act and vote accordingly. Also, I invite ALL parents to begin to think of our children’s educators as partners and reach out to see what we can do to better support them and to elevate what it means to be an educator in our society.
Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.
- ALL students can and want to learn. Regardless of the outward behavior of a student, all students are proud of themselves when they achieve and find learning interesting. This is why making a connection with all students is so important. I remember one time I had a student whom I didn’t think was listening, let alone learning during a unit where we were reading Hamlet. I thought this until I overheard a conversation where he was giving a pep talk to a friend who was complaining about a situation, when the student who I thought was ignoring our lessons, said, “Dude, it is thinking that makes it so…”. This is a line where Hamlet is telling another character that one’s outlook depends on how one chooses to read a situation. Here is a teenager, quoting Shakespeare to cheer his friend up… that is a student who, despite his best efforts, was drawn into the learning. Brilliant!
- Great kids look a lot of different ways. The joy of teaching high school is the many different ways kids exist on campus. Some are athletes, some are artists, some are comedians, some are natural psychologists, some are incredibly deep, and some are a mystery. But each is worth knowing, and each is lovely and wonderful, most of the time. I will never forget a senior I had one year, who walked into my class messy, with greasy long hair, loud, arguing, and in my face. By the end of the year, he became one of the most important students in my career. Throughout the year, I learned that this 17-year-old had been through addiction, abandonment, and low expectations his whole life, but had the strength and the miraculous inspiration to dig himself out of that path and turn his life around. By the time HE WAS 17!
- Consistently give your best, every day. The beauty and angst of teaching is that the stakes are high, each day is a new beginning, and the students need and want you to succeed. They root for you. I remember a day when I was student teaching, I taught a grammar rule wrong. I completely mis-taught a concept. I realized it, admitted it to my students, and did a “do over” the next day. It was embarrassing; it made me vulnerable; and it made me better.
- Ask for help and learn from others. Always. Teachers make the best thieves. We learn early on that we are encouraged to steal from our colleagues. Teachers need to never lose the desire to soak in the success of our colleagues. None of us has the answer, but together we have a chance to get it right. My English department colleagues were the most generous and supportive people with whom I have ever worked. They rooted for me and helped me feel “ok” with letting Pam be Pam in the classroom because that is the only way to find the desire to go the distance in education.
- Leave egos at the door. The only way to improve consistently is to reflect honestly. Our students deserve us admitting our mistakes. Becoming a reflective practitioner in ANY walk of life is an invaluable skill. Some of the best professional development I ever had was carpooling with my department head. The drives to and from work were filled with brainstorming, venting, creating, and advising. This never would’ve happened if my department head had not set the example of admitting faults, that she wasn’t perfect. Again- the stakes are too high to not do whatever it takes to improve.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
As briefly mentioned above, we need to upscale our expectations for and our appreciation of educators. We can look to other countries, to which we are often compared, to learn how they respect, compensate, and demand highly qualifications from who gets the “privilege” to teach. We should be having the best of the best fighting for the privilege to teach.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life quote: Always do what you are afraid to do- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Education favorite quote: Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world- Nelson Mandela
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
- Oprah Winfrey (please don’t laugh)- her life goal is to help people grow to their highest potential, and that is at the heart of the magic that happens in a classroom.
- Joe Rogan (now, really don’t laugh)- I am an avid and devoted listener to his podcast because he has folks whom he agrees with, whom he wants to learn from, whom he disagrees with- all with the goal of LISTENING and LEARNING. This is another aspect of the magic that happens in a classroom when teachers and students listen and learn from each other.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Pam Roggeman
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!