The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Education instructor takes skills to administration

By Marley Malenfant/feature editor

Part four in a five-part series on winners of the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching, an annual recognition of professors who impress and inspire their students. 

Altheria Gaston knew she couldn’t live in Livingston, Ala., forever. People from Livingston didn’t go to college, and she didn’t want to be a statistic.

After seven years of teaching English and education at TCC, Gaston earned the Chancellor’s Award for a job she said she’d never considered in college.

While attending Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Gaston’s planned major was medical research. She said she didn’t have much knowledge of degrees or careers, just that medical research seemed interesting. Gaston said she struggled when she took her upper-level science and math courses. A conversation with her English professor put her on the right path.

“She told me that I was a good writer and that I should consider getting a degree in English,” said Gaston, now business and behavioral science dean on South Campus. “I had always enjoyed writing, but I expressed to her that I didn’t know what I could do with a degree in English but teach, and I absolutely didn’t want to teach. The next day, she brought me a sheet of paper with the heading ‘100 things you can do with a degree in English.’”

After earning her bachelor’s, Gaston returned to Livingston to find a job. With limited opportunities in Alabama, Gaston then looked for opportunities in Texas. 

“Livingston has one weekly newspaper with a staff of three, and there were no other opportunities to be a writer,” she said. “I decided to go to graduate school and get my teaching certification since my options were so limited.”

When Gaston moved to Texas, her first teaching job was at a middle school. After teaching middle school students for six years, Gaston said she came to TCC for a new challenge.

Gaston said no matter what level she taught, the level of satisfaction was the same.

“The most rewarding part of teaching is helping others grow and develop,” she said. “Specifically, the most rewarding part of teaching English is witnessing students grasp the meaning of a term like hyperbole and noticing when a hyperbole is used by someone in class. Can you imagine a seventh grader telling a classmate, ‘That was hyperbolic’?”

Gaston rarely lectured in the classroom. Instead, her students had group discussions, cooperative learning and group projects. She said students liked the interactivity.

“My style demands them to challenge themselves, but I also engage them,” she said. “They enjoy it. But they know it’s not an easy-A class. They know they have to work for it.”

South student Dewona McDaniels, who took Gaston’s Introduction to Teaching class, said Gaston serves a role model.

“She didn’t baby us because we’re going to be teachers one day,” she said. “She’s very tough, but I’m thankful for it.”

Camila Stockton, who took two of Gaston’s classes, said she’s down-to-earth.

“We were able to be treated as peers to her,” she said. “She’s not authoritative like most professors. She brought in topics that were controversial [during lectures]. It was great because we could agree to disagree.”

Gaston stressed to her students that even if they don’t become teachers, knowing how to write and communicate well is required at most jobs.

Gaston said her new position requires the same skills she preaches to her students.

“Almost any profession you can think of requires solid writing skills, people who use words clearly and effectively,” she said. “Being a dean is much more difficult. Teaching was easy. It was natural for me. The administrative stuff is new for me.”

Taking a position in administration never crossed Gaston’s mind. She said the position presented itself.

No longer teaching was hard for Gaston, but she said she wanted a new thrill.

“I wanted to leave teaching before teaching left me,” she said. “I was afraid of becoming one of those teachers who hates her job, who hates students and who is no longer thrilled by the teaching and learning process.

“I still teach, just not in the classroom. More importantly, I’m still learning. It is so important for teachers to realize that they, too, should always be learners.”

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