Our February Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. Lauren Eutsler, Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration. Dr. Eutsler brings her diverse background and life experiences to her teaching and research in innovative ways, engaging technology and creative thinking in her work.
“…her efforts to integrate technology in classrooms is decidedly a way to bring STEM/STEAM to a field dominated by women. She is mindful of her efforts to help the women in her classroom know that technology and science are not outside the realm of their potential or their students’.” – Dr. Tran Templeton, colleague of Dr. Eutsler
How long have you been teaching?
I have been a teacher for 13 years, 6 as an elementary and middle-grades teacher, and 7 in higher education.
What classes have you taught/do you teach at UNT?
I’ve taught 5 different courses since joining UNT as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2016. Courses include Foundations of Education, Literacy Development, Content Area Literacies (online and face-to-face), and a doctoral seminar on Literacy Research Methods.
How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?
I actively work to develop my teaching skills in several ways. The first approach requires me to embrace vulnerability, because I ask my students for their honest and critical opinions throughout the semester. I also connect and collaborate with other teachers within my social networks (e.g., Facebook groups, Twitter, text messages with past K-6 teacher colleagues). For every course I teach, I maintain a list of reflective notes where I document ideas to improve or change assignments based on students’ needs and the changing landscape of today’s diverse classrooms; I share this document in UNT’s OneDrive with others who teach my courses and invite their collaboration. Last, I maintain a Teaching Portfolio at http://laureneutsler.com where I critically reflect on my teaching philosophy, document innovative teaching methods, and synthesize my peer and student evaluations with my own teaching pedagogies and professional development activities.
Did you ever take formal classes or trainings on teaching in graduate school? What about later on in your teaching?
I participated in UNT’s Teaching Excellence Seminar in 2016 and have attended teacher education conferences since 2010, but I have a different background than most teacher educators. Finishing my bachelor’s in 3 years, I completed about one-third of my undergraduate degree in teacher education, another third studying kinesiology, with a conferred degree in Business Management. While an undergraduate, I worked as a realtor to short sale residential properties and assisted a few partners with flipping approximately 140 homes in the Phoenix area. This experience was thrilling, but I knew I still wanted to be a teacher. Shortly after graduating, I completed my master’s in Elementary Education, while I was a 6th grade teacher. Six years later I left the elementary classroom to focus my efforts full-time on my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Florida. These diverse educational, field, and scholarly experiences enable me to make learning practical and relevant to my students.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced teaching, and how did you overcome them?
After teaching in Phoenix, AZ for only 3 years, I was making $33,500 with a master’s, working 10-12 hour days (teaching, facilitating after-school clubs, theatre, coaching sports), and was burnt out and wanted to quit. I had a difficult time understanding how these feelings were possible because I truly loved going to work every day. My husband was also feeling drained by his job. At the end of my 3rd year in teaching, we sold everything we owned and moved to Guanajuato, Mexico. We purposefully sought an experience that would teach us more than any textbook could about language and culture. We made some lifelong friends and learned to speak some Spanish, but more importantly, we grounded our thinking. Nothing matters more than people, and I left with a renewed effort to understand and motivate others to find their best selves. We moved to Florida to trek forward with this new perspective.
Being an effective educator requires knowledge of pedagogy, careful planning, and reflection. I am challenged daily by my teaching at UNT because I am constantly asking myself: how I can make learning responsive to my students? What makes this type of thinking even more challenging is that I also ask: what is happening in today’s classrooms that I need to know to prepare the next generation of teachers? Before getting my Ph.D., I am embarrassed to admit that I often found myself bored. Now that I’ve learned about inquiry, having an inquiry stance fuels my research and teaching.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
My goal is to guide and facilitate hands-on learning to help stretch and broaden student thinking through the use of inquiry-based learning. I believe the role of the teacher is a facilitator who is intended to guide and inspire the learner. I tell descriptive stories based on my own teaching and learning experiences. I don’t see myself as a messenger who delivers course content; rather, I engage students in hands-on, collaborative learning experiences. To illustrate, instead of telling my students about a strategy to teach elementary children to learn new vocabulary, my students engage in a “Vocabulary on the Move” game that requires asking peers to describe their unknown word, attached to their forehead, using a variety of context clues. In another example, I also challenge my students to overcome problem-based learning scenarios. For example, during the iPad workshops, students are given a case study of a future classroom scenario and they design a lesson using the most appropriate learning apps.
What resources do you find most helpful to your teaching practice?
I have supported my UNT teaching with UNT teaching resources from the Teaching Excellence Handbook and The Portal to Texas History, maintained by UNT libraries. Coming from an educational background, I refer to many foundational books on teaching to help support my pedagogical approach, such as John Dewey’s Experience and Education, Jerome Bruner’s The Culture of Education, and Ways with Words by Shirley Brice Heath. I also like to stay current by reading books written by teachers, such as It Won’t Be Easy by Tom Rademacher. I believe that reading about and studying teaching, situated within the broader context of the education system, helps improve my teaching practice.