In the Spotlight: FLL Alumna Ashley Edwards – “Grad School taught me just HOW important continuous learning and challenging yourself is”

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FLL Alumni Ashley Edwards

Ashley Edwards is a native North Carolinian and FLL alumna currently working as Spanish teacher at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, NC.

Ashley graduated from NC State in 2006 as a Foreign Languages and Literatures Major. She also completed a Concentration in Teaching Education and an ESL certification. She came back to NC State in 2009 to complete her MA in Spanish degree.

Ashley agreed to an email interview with Samuel Sotillo last November in which she talks about the journey that took her from being a student at Wakefield High in Raleigh, NC, to her current position as a highly-qualified Spanish teacher at the same school.

Samuel Sotillo: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go in HS?

Ashley Edwards: I was born and raised in Wake Forest, NC. I am an only child. I went to high school where I now work (Wakefield High School).

SS: Can you tell us a little bit about the intellectual or personal trajectory that brought you to teaching?

AE: As a child, I used to line up my stuffed animals and teach them. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. I always looked up to my teachers and respected them very much.

SS: I understand you completed your undergraduate degree at NC State as a double-major. In addition to your FLL major, what other major did you complete? What advice do you have for current students who may be thinking about double-majoring/minoring in FLL? What is the most challenging? What is the most rewarding?

AE: My major was in FLL but I earned an ESL certification (I guess like a minor). I advise undergraduate students to take advantage of the time they have to learn as much as possible and take as many classes as possible! They will never be an undergraduate again! So, definitely take the opportunity to get that extra major or minor. Although I have not taught ESL, what I learned in the methods courses has helped me tremendously in working with English Language Learners in my Spanish classes. Also, just knowing that I could, if I wanted to, switch subject areas, is comforting. To have that extra certification in my back pocket is reassuring. There were not really any challenges other than finding the time to fit in the extra credit hours needed and that just takes organization starting as soon as you decide to take on something new.

SS: What community engagement opportunities or trip abroad related to your FLL major have most influenced your professional vision and practice? Was your involvement with any of these community activities or Study Abroad opportunities based on a faculty/staff recommendation or course requirement?

AE: In the summer of 2004, during my undergraduate studies, I studied abroad in Perú with Kay and Leo Villa-Garcia. I completed two courses during that summer, climbed to Machu Picchu, connected with a Peruvian family, made tons of friends and expanded my Spanish proficiency to a new level. After coming back from Perú, I was in love with everything Spanish! I have also taken students to Spain over the summer with a program called “A Different Spain” where the students study at an international high school called “Colegio Delibes”.

SS: You participated in our Concentration in Teacher Education program. How did you become interested in our CTE program? What do you think makes our program unique?

AE: Since I was not a Teaching Fellow and began my university studies in the First Year College Program, I was unsure about what I wanted to teach. Hence not entering into the college of Education yet. Once I decided on Spanish, the Concentration was the only option for Spanish Majors.

SS: You also completed Grad School here in our department. What skills that you learned as a FLL Grad Student do you think are most critical to your success as a teacher?

AE: Although I obviously was aware that lifetime learning is important making the decision to go to Grad School taught me just HOW important continuous learning and challenging yourself is. I worked full time while in Grad School and I would not go back and do it any other way. I was able to use the research I was reading about in my courses and immediately implement strategies and models into my classroom. I learned about past and emerging teaching methods that I could test out on my students!

SS: You may know that due to recent changes at the State level teachers will not longer be eligible to get economic incentives for completing a post-baccalaureate degree. After having completed your MA in Spanish Language and Literature, do you think that despite the lack of economic incentives a MA in FLL is still worth the money? Based on your own experience, what benefits a MA in FLL could offer current or future teachers in their professional careers?

AE: Honestly, the money was a great incentive for me to go back but if I had to do it again knowing the lack of economic incentive, I would still do it. I learned invaluable information going back to school and I completely encourage anyone to go back and do it if they have the time and money. There are many benefits to a MA in FLL! After years of teaching, we forget why we do what we do and we just do it. Going back to school reminds you of the theories behind the madness and why what we do works!

SS: Let’s talk a little bit more about you, what do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching?

AE: There are so many challenges to teaching but many of them can be turned into positives depending on your perception of the situation. My most challenging moments have been connecting with students who simply do not care. No matter how many times you attempt to reach them, connect with them, talk to them etc, they just won’t let down their guard. And, without this relationship, their learning suffers.

SS: Thinking about your students, in what major ways do you want most to influence their lives?

AE: I want to most influence them on their view of the world and cultures as a whole. I want them to realize that they can make a difference by learning another language by being able to understand and communicate with people inside and outside of their community.

SS: What was the most challenging aspect of your FLL experience as both an undergrad and a grad student? What was the most rewarding?

AE: The most challenging part of Undergrad School was my French 101 class that I took after my student teaching experience for credit only just to remind myself of what it was like to be a new language learner. It was a nightmare! I learned a lot about great and horrible teaching strategies and I am able to empathize with my students because of what I experienced as a student in a first year FL class. At the same time, this was probably one of the more rewarding experiences. Another rewarding experience was being an International Student Ambassador. I met many new students from Venezuela, South Africa, China etc. to whom I was able to show the campus and teach about the university

SS: Anything you are reading right now?

AE: I read WRAL news daily. I am attempting to re-read Hunger Games: Catching Fire for the second time before I go see the movie! I love any books by Nick Hornby.

SS: What are some of your most memorable moments as a teacher?

AE: Any time I have worked with students outside of the classroom (clubs, volunteer work, studying abroad), I am amazed in their abilities to be leaders and survive in tough situations. I am the sponsor for Key Club which focuses on helping children around the world and doing volunteer work to help in our surrounding communities. I had the pleasure to work with a student named Olivia that served as president for Key Club a couple of years back. She truly exemplified the characteristics of a leader and I was very proud of her accomplishments! Also, any time a student comes back to visit and tells me, “I’m majoring/minoring in Spanish and it’s because I learned so much in your class. You really pushed me and I know now why you did!”

SS: Anything else we should know about you?

AE: I’m getting married in JUNE!!! I have 2 dogs that I love very much…but I have not been able to teach them how to fetch (epic teacher fail!)

SS: What do you look forward to most?

AE: I look forward to taking students to Spain again very soon. Watching students navigate their way through tough situations in a foreign language and, in turn, grow so much, is simply amazing!

SS: Do you have any advice for our students and recent alumni who are on the job market? What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in K-12 Education?

AE: Get into a classroom as soon as possible! Volunteer to help in any way you can to be sure that teaching is your passion because if it is not, you will be sadly disappointed in the reality of the hard work coming your way!

Posted by Samuel Sotillo (Lecturer/Webmaster).