The Power of a Teacher08/14/2015
In a mock interview for an advanced public speaking college class, a student was asked this question: “If you were a type of sushi, what would you be?” The interviewee thought for a moment, acted as if she was responding to her future employer and answered, “I’m classic like the California roll, with just a touch of spicy sauce because I can bring that something extra to this job, making me the ideal candidate.”
The class was taught by Dr. Monika Alston-Miller at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. And it illustrates the way a great teacher connects to her students. That was three years ago, and yet the student still thinks about that class, and that moment. Why? Because it challenged her. Because it made her think.
For those familiar with Dr. Monika Alston-Miller — or Dr. A, as she’s commonly known on campus — it’s no big surprise that she recently became the first professor to be awarded UCA’s two most prestigious awards in the same academic year. During the 62nd Annual Service Awards Ceremony, Dr. A received both the Teaching Excellence Award and the Public Service Award. Dr. A always brings “that something extra” to her classroom and to her community.
At times, the greatest challenge we face is finding common ground with people who have perspectives that are very different from our own. Dr. A’s students recall not only learning new information, but learning a new way to look at the world around them. Many classes taught by Dr. A explore topics such as African American Studies and Hip Hop Rhetoric.
In her classes, Dr. A challenges her students to ask tough questions, develop their own opinions and interact with others who have a different perspective. Like so many great teachers, Dr. A is a role model for her students with a humble desire to give back and become part of something bigger than herself.
As a recipient of the Public Service Award, Dr. A is more than an exceptional teacher. She is an active proponent of public health, mainly, women’s health. Dr. A has worked hard within the community to promote awareness of prenatal and infant health issues, and advocates for reducing infant mortality rates in Arkansas.
Upon receiving her two awards, Dr. A said, “I feel fortunate to be here. I get to work every day with dedicated teachers and talented students, and I live in a community with diverse opportunities for me to use my gifts and my expertise to give back to others.”
We can all take something from that statement. Teachers are in a unique position to directly influence future generations of scholars, workers, parents, leaders and public servants. They provide students with creative ways to see the world in a new light and perhaps with an enhanced perspective of acceptance, optimism, and the desire to become part of something greater than yourself.
As the new school year begins, I hope students across Arkansas find their own Dr. A as they learn to become the best versions of themselves. Work hard, pay attention and be prepared for those unconventional questions.