CETL Podcast - Episode 17: Peggy Wittwer

Tony Pellegrini: Goodmorning goodmorning podcast listeners, Tony Pellegrini here we've got ourselves a guest today! Peg Wittwer from the College of Education. Peg's been a wonderful asset to the teachers and learners on campus. I'm grateful that she's been willing to take a few minutes of our time today to talk with us about the foundations of good classism and some basic fundamental principles that we ought to consider as teachers to be able to engage with and connect with the learners when we serve. Peg, could you take a moment or two and tell us a little about yourself, a little about your background, and then I'll start with some questions, are you comfortable with that?

Peggy Wittwer: You bet!

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much Peg!

Peggy Wittwer: My name is Peggy Wittwer like Tony just introduced me. I've been at SUU for 18 years as a full professor or as a professor in the College of Ed, did several years as adjunct professor and taught elementary school, was an assistant principal, SPED teacher, 6th grade teacher, 4th grade teacher, 2nd grade teacher, that's probably about it. Taught for 31 years.

Tony Pellegrini: That is exciting! You know Peg you've been honored here at SUU and throughout the state regarding the foundations of educational programs that you've seen. What is good teaching and how can good teaching be shared with others? The purpose of this podcast is really to say what great things are going on in teaching at SUU and in learning at SUU, and so I guess that is where I would like to start with just a question regarding, you know, if you could be, you know, the Dean of a college or, not that any of us would want to be, but if you were that case, what are some things, some principle foundational concepts to good instruction that you would encourage teachers to practice and to engage with, to engage with their learners.

Peggy Wittwer: I think first and foremost you need to know your students. You need to know them on a personal level, and I don't mean know who their boyfriend is, but know where they're coming from, know where their interests are, know their personality a little bit so that you can meet their learning style, their learning needs. And by knowing those students, you can gear your curriculum or whatever you need to teach them to meet that specific learning need and help them to be more successful. I would say that's my number one is know your students inside and out.

Tony Pellegrini: That is wonderful. May I follow up with a follow up question to that Peg? What can professors do at the university level, maybe even before class in the first weeks of- we've got a 14 week semester hopefully not too many weeks- but the first week or weeks of class to be able to get to know their learners? What are some things that you've found have been very very effective and efficient in helping you to get to know your learners?

Peggy Wittwer: I, first of all, make a copy of the picture role so I know who's in my class and what their picture looks like, and then that very first day of class I introduce myself and I talk about some of my quirks and my idiosyncrasies, and I ask them to tell me and tell the class, the members of the class, something about them that they don't think anybody knows, something unique about them. And at first they're really shy about it, "Oh, I don't know if I want to tell this." Or, "I don't know if I want to tell this." But once one starts then they bond as a class such as, for example, I had one girl say, "I can touch my nose with my tongue". That's a talent that maybe we'll need to use someday. So we get to know little things about them and while they're discussing these little things, these traits that they have, I get to know them and they get to know each other, which makes a much more collegial effort in the class to learn.

Tony Pellegrini: I think more human as well to realize that we're all human. I can't touch my nose with my tongue but I can make a little cowboy hat out of it, but that's about-

Peggy Wittwer: Oo I'd like to see that!

Tony Pellegrini: Well, I don't know, maybe someday. Are there other principles, you know, beyond knowing your learners, any other, again, issues associated with fundamental teaching practices or activities that you really have found to be helpful and supportive and nurturing of them.

Peggy Wittwer: I love my students to know that I value when they're there. Even if they're the quiet student that sits on the back row I still want them to know that I notice when they're gone and that I value what they bring to the class and sometimes I will even point those out, "Wow, I value the wisdom of the back row, I value the person that raises their and says, "Oh I'm not sure if this is a dumb question", there are no dumb questions." I value those students that bring their personalities and their quirks to class and they ask- and I miss them when they're gone, so I might say well, "I noticed on Wednesday you weren't here, everything ok? Anything I can do to help? Any questions about what you missed?" And they will just automatically say, "You noticed I wasn't in class?", "Yes I noticed." I make that effort. So I do name tags, and they have to pick up the nametag on the table when they walk in. If the nametags are left that means they're absent. So then I try and make that list and follow up with them during the next class. That's really helped me to understand where they're coming from, things going on in their lives, any crisis they may have or if they're an athlete or whatever reason they were absent.

Tony Pellegrini: That power of knowing people by name and you know, that simple management technique of "we're gonna try name cards" you know little folders or whatever on our desks so that I can call you by name, you can call me by name. How powerful that names are just in understanding who we are and where we come from.

Peggy Wittwer: Very valuable at all ages. It's much better than saying, "Boy in the blue shirt in the back row"

Tony Pellegrini: Amen, amen. Talk to us for a moment or two about the courses you teach, you've been here 18 years, certainly, hopefully, I'm knocking on wood here, that you've had the opportunity to move into courses that you really love, that you're passionate about. Talk to us about those courses and what makes them- what makes you so passionate about them.

Peggy Wittwer: Well, I came from Public Ed, and I was kind of recruited. I've been teaching as an adjunct professor at night teaching elementary by day, college by night. It was some long days but I enjoyed that a lot, and as I was kind of recruited to apply for the job they told me they wanted a practitioner, someone that had been in the grind, someone that had boots on the ground and so I decided that that was going to be my goal, was to come to the university level, the higher ed level and give my expertise of boots on the ground. This is what happens in elementary school, this is for real. I had this kid back. So that they would know that I came with some background knowledge of what is really happening and where they were headed. And as I started to do that I taught Special Ed classes, I taught all the classes in education, both secondary and elementary, and SPED, and I eventually ended up in the elementary block, which is the capstone courses for the Elementary Ed majors, where I teach management, science and math. I chose management because I wanted it to be real. I wanted these students to know that they're working with real students. When they go out in practicum they will see kids, there will be kids that can touch their nose with their tongue and there will be kids that don't talk, that don't want to be in school, there will be kids that haven't had breakfast. I want them to understand that they're not so different than what goes on in a college classroom. And as I watch these students that come into Elementary Ed develop their passion for teaching, it's just an inspirational thing, I learn as much as they learn in managing a classroom and managing all the aspects of that it takes to help students learn. So I teach the capstone courses. I also get to do a lot of professional development with in-service teachers in the field, which helps me hone my skills. I love STEM classes because it's integrated curriculum, we don't solve problems in silos anymore, we solve problems using integrated curriculum across all different areas of expertise and so I teach these STEM classes. We're trying to teach elementary kids that the world around them is made up of problems and challenges that they need to solve and that's where I come from with the STEM classes that, here's a critical thinking skill, let's not give up, let's persevere, let's know the world around us and make it better.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much. One of the things that I thought about issues was sharing that passion for learning, and your lifelong learning desire. You had mentioned maybe not this last question but previously you work with learners to know your individual learners, once you kind of get that knowledge of where they're coming from, how do you help your learner's with their various learning styles, to be able to discover their own passions, what are some of the things you do? Is that a fair question?

Peggy Wittwer: Yes, very fair question. In fact, I was thinking about this question, someone else asked me something similar, and I looked at my class and said- one of my students asked that- and I said, "Fair is not equal." The assignments that I make, they're fair assignments, and they will help you learn to be a better teacher. But they don't always have to be equal. I need to know my students and know where they're coming from, know their strengths, know their weaknesses, help them to build on their weaknesses and make them strengths, but I also need to be able to adjust my assignments to meet their individual learning needs and maybe their interests to some point, so that they can get the idea that all learners are different learners, and whatever level we need them at, we want to see growth. We don't necessarily want everybody to pass the test, we want to see a student grow from 20% to 50%. That's wonderful growth. And so I try to do that with my students by giving an assignment and saying, "Okay, here's the parameters." Sometimes it frustrates them because they want to know, "Two pages, double-spaced, small font." I want to say to them, "How would you take this, what would you approach this, what do you need to do to make your teaching stronger?" And so fair is not equal in assignments. In life, we need to meet the needs of all different types of learners.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much Peg. I have to be honest with you, you know, you make this sound awfully simple, awfully straightforward-

Peggy Wittwer: Piece of cake!

Tony Pellegrini: Certainly, certainly you've had a hurdle or two that you've had to personally face. How do you overcome a hurdle that may come before you? A hurdle of becoming a great teacher. What are some things that you've had to overcome?

Peggy Wittwer: I think self-reflection, which is really hard for most of us to do. Sometimes we're very critical of ourselves, especially when we're alone and analyzing something. Sometimes we're critical of others and we'd like to blame someone for things going wrong, but I have found in my own life that I have to say, "Okay, why did this go awry?" or, "Why was there this hurdle? Why couldn't I achieve what I wanted to achieve? Is it something I'm doing? Is there an outside source? How can I change what I have done to make it better to come around the hurdle or over the top of the hurdle and see if I can move on and make things better for everyone?" Self-reflection is key.

Tony Pellegrini: What I really like about that- your response- is that you have really identified that you are in control of Peg Wittwer. Others are not in control of Peg Wittwer. You determine what you can do and what you will do. And from my perspective- I've known you for a few years- those are based on your values. I don't want to make you embarrassed in any way, but would you share some of the values associated with teaching? I think you've addressed maybe some of them already but I did want our listeners to go away with, "Oh my goodness, these are some concepts or principles that I really need to reflect on." If we go back to the last question and value. Any values that you have personally that you like to keep core?

Peggy Wittwer: I like to treat everyone with respect. Even the hardest student in my class that likes to agitate- you always have an agitator- and even that person I have found that if I can get to know them and value that agitation for what it is, without getting angry, then I can develop a relationship. And so my goal is to develop these relationships with each of my students. And sometimes that's not easy. Sometimes they don't want a relationship with you. But, we do have a relationship and then I see them every day or at least four times a week and I see them in some tough situations. I want them to know that I'm not there to judge them, I'm there to help them reflect and improve their teaching, and I want them to also know that I value them as a person. I think that's my key, is valuing people around me and what they contribute.

Tony Pellegrini: I honestly love that, it goes back to you know what I mentioned previously, that that is absolutely something that you're in control of. Others don't control you on that. You're the one who makes those determinations in your life. What am I going to demonstrate my value to you,- or value to me, excuse me. Just one last strange question for you I have to ask at least one weird question. Please, take a deep breath and think about it for a second, but would you please tell us something that's true about Peg, that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Peggy Wittwer: My way or no way? Oh I do, um, at times take on way too many tasks. And I think that I am Wonder Woman Wittwer and so I take on more than I can truly handle and I think that that that creates an insecurity in me when I can't do things perfectly, and so I will teach classes and I will run a new professional development and then I will go home and try to be the grandma and the wife and sometimes it's not perfect. And I think that I'm really harsh on myself when I don't do things- everything- well, at a hundred percent.

Tony Pellegrini: Can I kind of relate that to a very- hopefully you'll feel comfortable with this- but to me, you seem a lot like Leonardo da Vinci. Let me tell you why just real briefly. What a great talent, but he was often criticized for doing too much. For taking on too many projects. For not finishing some projects, and I'm not saying you don't finish projects please don't-

Peggy Wittwer: Well there are-

Tony Pellegrini: No, no, but he was passionate about so many different things, and he wanted to give himself to so many different things. As you were, you know, outlining that perspective of your personality I thought, "Oh my goodness, it's a 21st century Leonardo da Vinci!"

Peggy Wittwer: I like it!

Tony Pellegrini: So that's totally positive I think that is a great example. Peg, any last minute words of advice or wisdom for our listeners, whether they're students or teachers, about maybe how to succeed here at SUU?

Peggy Wittwer: I will tell you that teaching is probably the greatest job in the world. I've done lots of things, lots of different occupations, and teaching, I've always come back to teaching, because I love the diversity of learners, and if we will just be open to listening, be willing to be a little disturbed by others thoughts once in a while, I think that we can learn so much, and be so much more accepting of others, and also give back to what we value. And so I would just say, be open, enjoy what you do, if you love what you do it will show in your teaching and your students will catch your passion. So, enjoy what you do and love the people you do it with.

Tony Pellegrini: Peg thank you so very much. I appreciate you and for my listeners, please, if you have an opportunity, stop in on Peg's class. Watch some of what she's doing, and I think you'll be tickled and impressed and learn a thing or two. We're all lifelong learners and we can learn and should learn from one another. Peg, again, thank you.

Peggy Wittwer: I welcome them anytime!

Tony Pellegrini: Appreciate you, you have a great day okay?

Peggy Wittwer: Thank you!

Tony Pellegrini: Bye bye now


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