Teacher uses bond as instructional tool
Jan Koenen has been there. She knows what it’s like to feel inadequate for college life, to feel out of place and have doubts.
It’s the experience that Koenen, a former waitress turned instructor who began college at 35 years old, brings to her English classes at Lake Tahoe Community College.
“Once I thought that I can make it through college I absolutely adored being a college student … I thought college students were different than me,” she said.
Koenen’s students include immigrants, those who speak it as a second language and students who are the first in their family to attend college. One class bridges English learners to mainstream English courses.
“When they get to my class they often don’t feel that they’re prepared for college or they’re part of college,” she said. “Nobody is encouraging them to get a master’s or Ph.D.”
Her work was recognized earlier this month by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. Koenen was one of four recipients of the Regina Stanback-Stroud Diversity Award. Each of the 109 California community colleges were invited to nominate one faculty member.
Lori Gaskin, LTCC’s vice president of academic affairs and student services, encouraged Koenen’s nomination.
“She’s a champion for nontraditional students and in addition to a champion, she’s a role model for them,” Gaskin said.
Koenen, who said she missed plenty of classes while in high school, didn’t return to student life until she was 35. She started at community college and ended with a master’s degree in fine arts and writing eight years later.
Assignments are tailored to her students. Books such as “The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child,” a non-fiction work about an impoverished and illiterate Latino child who ends up as a college professor, are part of the course work. One short argumentative essay centered on how the education system could fail students.
“When you see yourself reflected in course material it gives you a sense of who you are as a student,” Koenen said.
Jessica Rice, who discovered she had dyslexia in high school, was surprised with her teacher’s involvement and easy accessibility.
“She’s really willing to work with those who need it,” Rice said.
“She basically puts herself in a student’s perspective which I really like,” student Urasha Patel said.
Koenen is fair but stern. In the beginning of a critical reading and writing course, she chastised those who did not read the homework, saying they did not hold up their end of the deal.
“They don’t have to think small. They can dream big and education is a way for them to realize their grandest ideas, their biggest goals,” Koenen said.
– E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com.
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