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The Teacher Maker

Linda Fitzharris, education professor

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Linda Fitzharris still remembers Mark.

It was her first year teaching, and Mark, a second grader, was having trouble reading. To Fitzharris' frustration, nothing she did seemed to make much of a difference. She skateboarded with him. She consulted the school psychologist. She was desperate to find a way to help him improve his literacy. Sadly, Fitzharris says, she had limited success.

That was 40 years ago. Nevertheless, the education professor still laments her inability to break through.

Kids have a way of staying with you, Fitzharris says.

The experience with Mark spurred Fitzharris to earn a master's degree in reading. After that, she worked for more than 25 years in public schools across the country, including some in Charleston, where she encountered lots of Marks. Beyond teaching, she also served as an administrator before deciding, in 1994, to become an education professor at the College.

"It just seemed like it was time to give to the future teachers, to share my experience," Fitzharris says. "Theres a lot of diversity in my background, which is what I can offer the College and students who choose who go to the school of education."

Fitzharris teaches students seeking to become early childhood, elementary and middle school educators. Her students are seriously dedicated to becoming good teachers, and classes are often bursting with energy. Professors are hands-on and responsive to student needs.

Each year, about 150 of these students graduate from the College's School of Education, Health and Human Performance. Fitzharris says that most education majors are serious about becoming good teachers, and that classes are often bursting with energy.

Students have a great deal of mentoring by professors, says Fitzharris. "We don't have graduate students in our class."

Fitzharris says the most rewarding part of her job is seeing students apply lessons from their textbooks and coursework in Charleston schools as they practice teaching classes on their own. Because of this experience and careful mentoring, she says, the College has a great track record when it comes to graduating first-rate teachers – about 150 every year.

And, of course, training excellent teachers is critical because when kids don't learn, its a year wasted, and according to some experts, it takes two years of good teaching to make up for one bad year. Potential teachers, she says, need to realize they will have control of students for 180 days each school year, and some of those students will have difficulties like her beloved Mark. "That's an incredible responsibility." she says.