Emily Wender attended Rice University where she majored in Religious Studies. It was there that she learned how to read and write like a scholar. By the time she finished the program, Wender said, “I was sure I wanted to be a teacher.”
Her first job involved teaching inner-city middle school kids in Boston how to write. She loved her work so she returned to college to earn her Masters certification in Elementary Education. Teaching elementary school children made her realize that she
wanted to specialize in teaching English, so she enrolled in an English doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh. She obtained her ESL certification to teach English classes and taught at a public school and then later at a community college.
Wender’s students nominated her for English Professor of the Year award in 2014 and again in 2015. Wender says winning the award was especially rewarding and affirming because she was a new instructor at IUP.
A main tenet of Wender’s teaching style is modeling and doing. She said, “Particularly when students get to higher education, it’s assumed that they don’t need to see things done anymore, that they just need the information on how to do something. I don’t
agree with that.” Wender incorporates demonstration into her teaching. “Trying to show a lot of how you do things, particularly in terms of literacy, is really important to me. I’m always asking myself, What else can I show? What else can I make explicit?”
she said. She also tries to make students aware of their own individual practices in reading and writing.
For two years Wender taught at a school that focused on project-based learning, and she says the experience really influenced her teaching style. Although you will not find the term in her syllabi, all of her classes contain “a pretty heavy dose” of project-based
learning. For example, students in her English Composition 202 course are required to have at least one source of primary research such as an interview in their final paper. Wender devotes much time and attention to this segment of the course. Through
analysis, students discern whether their primary data confirms or contrasts their secondary research sources.
Her course objectives map to professional support that IUP has in place. Her students are learning to be teachers of English, but they are also learning to become better readers and writers. Wender said, “IUP has many programs that prepare students to
do things in the real world. I like the pre-professional component to them and also the academic component. We all are always working on our own literacy. IUP is a place that really straddles that. We want our students to have a foot in the real world,
but we also want our students to enjoy their experiences as a scholar while in college.”
Wender finds that just being in class interacting with students is very rewarding. She enjoys hearing their views and seeing the connections they make through learning. She said, “When you get those glimpses of real ownership over work, they are so meaningful.”
For example, one student e-mailed Wender to say that primary data from his interview contradicted his secondary source, and he wanted to conduct another interview. Wender explained, “For a student to say that they want to do more work for a course
is awesome! That doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, it’s great! Seeing moments of ownership over learning; that is the most rewarding, by far. And I think the trick is, how do you get students to own their own learning? That is a really
hard question to answer. It’s what every teacher wants. I’m always looking for ways to answer that question!”
Written by: Lisa McCann
Edited by: Marie T. Webb