Kathryn Wetzel - Passion for Teaching Statement

My teaching career began 26 years ago as a means to an end. Unexpectedly, it became a lifelong passion. Having been an engineer for seven years, I resigned my job to take care of my baby girl but took a part-time job teaching to "make ends meet." To my great surprise, teaching took me out of myself and my worries and propelled me into the world of mentoring and focusing on the needs of others. Nothing I had ever done gave me the same sense of satisfaction and pure joy as when the "light bulbs" of understanding started to turn on in my students. I had found my niche.

It was not unusual for me to leave an engineering class to go teach a developmental math class and then move on to trigonometry or calculus. I found all the classes fascinating. Incorporating the methods I learned while pursing my PhD into all my classes, I listen to and watch the students carefully and adapt my presentation "on the fly" to be a better fit. I use toys and commonplace objects, like staplers, to provide visual cues and demonstrate theory. Often, I serve as the presentation visual as I allow students to "tell me where to go" as we graph.

My engineering background and teaching experience provide me with many real-world examples that help students grasp the material and see where they are, indeed, going to "use that." I feel strongly that students should always see a practical use of whatever they are learning. For example, in engineering statics where the students learn about forces in support structures, they build cardboard furniture. I work very hard at keeping the students' interest and keeping them active in the learning process. I am not an "easy" teacher nor do I give "easy" tests. I credit my high retention rates—nearly 82 percent averaged across all my classes during the last three years—to the knowledge I have gained and the energy I expend in the classroom. My classes are always lively and full of fun.

In addition to teaching, I meet with students almost every day for tutoring and advising. I believe that students sense my genuine concern and appreciate how hard I am willing to work to help them. A student I didn't know came to my office and said, "You helped my friend last year and he told me that I should come to you for advice. That you would do whatever it takes." That made my day. Those times, when I can see that I helped a student achieve his goals, are the times that keep me going and inspire me to keep working harder to reach more students and help them attain their dreams, too.

As chair of both the engineering and math departments, I always watch for opportunities to assist students outside of the teacher/student relationship. Another highlight in my role as department chair is the revamping of the developmental math program and the creation of an award-winning math outreach center to provide tutoring and support for the students. Five years after its implementation, the center now provides more than 22,000 hour-long tutoring sessions during the year.

It is my personal belief that a fundamental need of mankind is to make a difference, to know that if you disappeared from the earth tomorrow, you would be missed and you would be remembered by someone you helped. I am passionate about helping students, and yet when I am asked to speak to new teachers, my conclusion is this: "You will never teach your students as much as they can teach you. I will never make as positive a difference in their lives as they have made in mine."