Spotlight: Hannah Lucas
Written by Noah Ringler, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student, Psychology. Noah’s research focuses on mindfulness, moral development and wisdom.
Hannah Lucas has a MA in Psychology (2014) and is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Chaffey College.
“… when they finally get it—it’s everything to me. I can go to bed happy because it feels like we both built something together.”
How were your expectations different from the reality of teaching?
When I started as a part-time faculty member, I didn’t realize the extent to which I would need to adapt to my students’ level. When you’re learning about the idea of teaching, you might think “I’m just going to share all the information about this topic, I’ll be the content expert, and then they will either get it or they won’t. After that, I’ll provide resources and it will sort itself out”. But I felt compelled in the beginning to really figure out where they were and to adapt my material to where they were. It is a very sad experience to feel like your students aren’t with you and don’t understand what you’re teaching, which happened to me a bit in the beginning. Over time, teaching became an interactive, relationship-oriented experience between my students and I.
Then, when I started as a full-time faculty member, the teaching part didn’t change that much, but the position comes with so many other responsibilities that are not directly spoken about. For example, expectations about service and what counts as service, that seemed to differ according to your department. Of course, this is a necessary part of getting tenure at a community college, so it is important to understand. Unfortunately, it isn’t always made clear what service looks like and what counts for that. I had to adjust to the realization that the teaching a minimum of 5 classes per semester is about half the job now, and service is the other half and it took some time trying to figure out what those expectations looked like.
What have you learned about teaching from your students?
Hmm, I’ve learned so many things from them. I have learned that it is important to remember what it is like to not know and to remember what it felt like to have a brand-new textbook about a subject you’ve never learned anything about before. It is so easy to forget that you didn’t know all these things and assume your students are coming into the classroom with more knowledge than they actually are.
I’ve also learned a lot about vulnerability and how vulnerable it feels to ask for help. When I was a student, I always felt like I was expected to know everything and figure it all out on my own. Sometimes, even my top students will hesitate to ask for help. Some of them believe it will make us (teachers) think lesser of them.
From those realizations, I try to front-load my classes with all sorts of resources that may help them and I never assume that they know or understand that those resources are available to them. I also need to be explicit about how we are going to reach our destination so they have hope and aren’t intimidated by the class and the work we do in it.
What are some of your best techniques for inclusive and equitable learning?
I’ve accumulated a lot of techniques over the years so sometimes I feel like I’m not entirely conscious of those techniques now. But one of the things I do is celebrate their identities from the beginning. I want to teach them, and who they really are. To do that, I need to know who they really are. I want them to feel like whomever they are is celebrated in the classroom.
Again, I wouldn’t say I have really set techniques, but if I ever have a chance to celebrate their background, I try to bring that to a place of celebration and value in the classroom. I allow my students to have the floor a lot of the time because I want them to realize that their experiences are educational and helpful to their peers.
What are some changes you would like to see in higher education? Or predictions for how you see higher education changing?
I think higher education needs to balance the ratio of full-time to part faculty members. This isn’t an issue everywhere, but it is in a lot of places where most of the faculty are part-time. That can be good if that’s what the faculty member wants, but it is not always great for students. The students do really well when they have a professor who can consistently offer office hours, give them substantial feedback, or even be there in several years when they need a letter of recommendation. These seemingly small things really do matter and students will have a stronger relationship with faculty when they feel like the professor will be a permanent fixture at the institution. Of course, it’s not great for adjuncts either. I think it would help a lot to shift those ratios.
Also, we need to understand that there will be fewer people participating in higher education so we need to make sure that the way we educate is geared towards both traditional and non-traditional students no matter what the level.
Lastly, one other thing we need to do is to start educating professors and providing them with resources on how to teach. I appreciate that Claremont had some programs geared towards those who wanted to go the teaching route, but I think there should have been a lot more because we often just assume people with content knowledge can communicate that knowledge well, and that is not always the case.
What is some advice you have for other teachers or your younger self?
Find other teachers with experience, and don’t be afraid to ask them for resources and help right away. It isn’t that efficient or helpful to walk in the dark and try to find your way because there are already so many resources that are tried and true that are readily available.
If you can have that strong foundation to begin with, then you can feel a bit better about adding your own flair on top of it. Also, your students will feel more confident in learning the material when there is a solid structure in place.
I would also say don’t be afraid to show students how an assignment is supposed to look. This is something a lot of people resist because they think students should struggle through it and get to it on their own. But sometimes, without a model for how it is supposed to look, they might learn it incorrectly and I think it is more difficult to have them un-do that “incorrect” learning rather than it is to learn how to do something correctly from the start. To this point, I give a lot of examples so they have an idea of what they are supposed to be doing and how to do it.
What do you love most about teaching?
I enjoy so much about it but I would say when the students ‘get it’—that lightbulb moment—it feels kind of magical (I know that sounds cheesy). I don’t know if it is just me or all teachers but each semester, I have students who seem really unmotivated or just don’t seem to enjoy the class at first and it’s a struggle to teach them throughout the term. I do my best to be consistent, supportive, and fair throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, it always seems to me that those are the students who have these lightbulb moments and when they have them, that’s that feeling. It is like I chase that feeling in the classroom. Even though I have brilliant students, whom I have wonderful conversations with throughout the semester, it seems to be the other set of students that-when they finally get it—it’s everything to me. I can go to bed happy because it feels like we both built something together.