Westmont Magazine Teaching Students to Teach
Jeanette Lowe Hsieh ’64 thought she was a wonderful teacher when she began her career in a Deerfield, Ill., elementary school. “My students were so motivated — they all wanted to learn,” she recalls.
Then she went to work in an inner-city school in nearby Elgin. “That’s where I really learned to teach,” she says. “The children in Deerfield were succeeding in spite of me. But the students in Elgin needed more.”
On the first day of class, one sixth-grade boy couldn’t write his address correctly or give his birth date. His reading skills were well below the beginning level, and he was vegetating.
“I wondered what I could do to get him interested in school,” Jeannette explains. “Then I found out he had a passion for trains, so I asked someone to start reading him the history of trains. He happened to be a good artist, and he started using art to tell about trains. Slowly he built on little successes, and eventually he began reading about cars himself.
“Success breeds success,” she points out. “My goal as a teacher is to find in my students those areas where they are gifted and help them build on their gifts.”
That’s a lesson she learned from Rosemary Springer, who was dean of women when Jeanette attended Westmont. “She helped me to begin to see what gifts I had,” Jeanette relates. “I didn’t even know I had those gifts. She was a nurturer and a mentor.”
Recognizing that students in Elgin needed excellent teachers and convinced that Christians could make a difference in public schools, Jeanette left the classroom and began a long career in Christian higher education. She spent 17 years as chair of education at Judson College in Elgin before moving to Wheaton College where she developed the master’s program and became chair of the education department. Three years ago she became senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college of arts and sciences and graduate school at Trinity International University in Deerfield.
“I believe in Christian higher education,” she states. “I can see how it influenced me and how my calling to teach is connected with my faith. Christian schools can truly help people develop a holistic Christian worldview and give them the intellectual and spiritual courage to be an articulate voice in the marketplace.”
Jeanette has dedicated her life to preparing Christian teachers to be excellent in their disciplines. “I want them to understand their role as Christians in the public arena and not withdraw from the culture and the world.”
The master’s in teaching program she started at Wheaton illustrates her philosophy. Designed for college graduates who want to teach in secondary schools but don’t have certification, it emphasizes both pedagogy and advanced studies in their field. Students spend a year teaching and begin action research based on their experience. They identify a problem in their classroom and begin looking for solutions. This project takes the place of a thesis and provides a nugget for what may become an article in a scholarly journal.
According to Jeanette, “Our goal was to prepare graduates who would be excellent teachers and also contribute to scholarly publications in their disciplines.”
Although she was happy at Wheaton, she responded when Trinity was searching for a new dean. “I liked the potential of a Christian university,” she explains. “I also appreciate TIU’s commitment to serve diverse populations.” Currently, Trinity Graduate School offers master’s programs in faith and culture, bioethics, and counseling psychology.
“We have to do a better job in Christian higher education, or we are going to be marginalized,” she adds. “That challenge intrigues me. I see the next century as the battle for the minds of Christian students. They are tinged with relativistic and post-modern ways of thinking even though their hearts are committed to Jesus Christ. I want to help them think as Christians and coherently connect their faith and thinking.
“The goal is a holistic view of the world and an end to separating faith and thinking. That’s what we’re all about.”