Dr. Myra Pennell knows education. She worked for 22 years in Caldwell County Schools, both as a history teacher and as an administrator.
That experience is informing her current job, which is assisting in the History, Social Studies Education (BS) degree program at Appalachian, her alma mater.
“There’s nothing more important on this planet than educating teachers well,” she said. “I want my students to feel it is in their power to become the kind of teacher that made them want to become a teacher.”
“Power” is the operative word. Pennell said that teaching can be “very scary” for novices. They’re not only trying to achieve “alpha status” among teenagers who can run them over; they’re also mastering the nuts and bolts of a profession she likened to “trying to learn to fly a helicopter and bake a cake at the same time.”
Specific things can be done for beginning teachers to achieve power in the classroom, and Pennell’s research is full of them. One is to disabuse beginning teachers of the notion that excellent teaching is a natural gift.
Another, which is particularly effective with underachieving students, entails coming up with an assignment at which students can be successful. Often, beginning teachers are so wrapped up in mastering content that they don’t stop to consider the kind of work a student needs to be doing.
“Success is a drug,” Pennell said. “If you can set up an assignment so that they can be successful at it, then they will begin to change their minds about what they believe they can do.”