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Emily Edwards

Teaching despite the odds

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Emily Edwards loved school so much as a kid she assigned her siblings homework and took roll. While many discouraged her from pursuing her dream, Edwards persevered.

Now, as a high school teacher at Thomas Edison Preparatory High school in Tulsa, Okla., Edwards fosters students’ passion for making a difference in their school and communities as a leadership teacher. She has one message for her students: follow your dreams. Oklahoma State University faculty, alumni and donors are equipping dreams like hers through the Educating Forward initiative to fund scholarships for future teachers.

“I remember being a high school senior myself, and when I told my family I wanted to major in education, they were concerned about my income and ability to support myself,” Edwards said. “I really had to stand firm in the fact this is the most fulfilling career to me.”

Edwards says her family is now proud of all she has accomplished. Since graduating from OSU with a bachelor’s in social studies secondary education in 2015, she has taught middle and high school English in Broken Arrow before returning to her alma mater, Edison High School.

“It feels like I’m home,” Edwards said. “It has been incredible to be a part of the same traditions I loved as a student. Now, as a teacher my students are encouraged by how much I love the school.”

Edwards recalls how close she was to not pursuing what she feels is her calling to teach. However, even as her family was initially wary of her teaching ambitions, Edwards felt welcomed into the OSU Cowboy Family as soon as she stepped foot in Stillwater.

“I chose OSU because I just felt so at home on the campus,” Edwards said. “All of my professors were really passionate about education, and they cared so much about helping us become good educators.”

From answering questions about job applications to sharing their personal phone numbers while Edwards student taught, Edwards says she felt supported throughout her OSU education journey. Of special importance to her was her professor’s classroom experience.

“Every professor I had taught upwards of 15 to 20 years before they became professors,” Edwards said. “There's nothing in the world that can prepare you to be a teacher other than actually being in the classroom, so having them be able to share their knowledge and actual classroom experience was invaluable.”

One professor’s classroom experience, Dr. Shanedra Nowell, OSU associate professor of secondary education, has been especially meaningful. 

“Dr. Nowell actually taught my high school history class before she moved to OSU, where she was one of my teaching methods professors,” Edwards said. “I remember her teaching history in a way that wasn’t boring, and I think when it was time to pick the concentration within my secondary education major, it was social studies in large part because of her.”

Nowell especially discussed challenges surrounding understanding racial diversity. She shared example lessons on the Tulsa Race Massacre with her OSU teaching methods students to prepare them to foster difficult conversations one day in classrooms of their own. Those lessons have prepared Edwards to succeed. 

“Last year when I was teaching English, I remembered how important it is to talk about racial issues and social issues,” Edwards said. “I designed a literature circle for students to select groups based on which of six books on racial and social justice they were interested.”

Edwards hopes her story will encourage future conversations around the viability of teaching as a profession, especially when financial burdens cast doubt in prospective teachers’ minds.

“People considering the teaching profession need to know they will be able to support (themselves) on a teacher’s salary,” said Edwards, who recently purchased a house on her own. “It’s a myth you’re going to be destitute.”

To support future teachers like Edwards, Oklahoma State University faculty, alumni and donors have launched the Educating Forward initiative to provide scholarships for OSU education students. Dr. Shelbie Witte, OSU professor of English education and adolescent literacy, sees the initiative as an opportunity to honor the difference teachers make every day.

Donors, no matter their donation amount, are encouraged to give in honor of a teacher who had a major impact on their lives. Educating Forward organizers hope to encourage more students like Edwards, who have been especially inspired by a teacher in their own lives, to pursue the teaching profession. They also want to bring proper recognition to the importance of teachers in Oklahomans’ lives.

“You can ask any person in any field, ‘Tell me about a teacher who made an impact on your life,’ and everyone can tell a story,” Witte said. “This is a way for us to help teacher candidates and connect with alumni. It's also a way to help steer the narrative about teachers in the state towards those positive relationships and memories that people have about teachers.

For students like Edwards, that support can make all the difference in fulfilling their teaching dreams.

“Some people have no idea what they want to do with their lives,” Edwards said. “I guess I was kind of lucky to always know this is what I wanted to do. Going to work every day and helping students fall in love with learning is what makes me feel happy.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Brittany Bowman | 405-744-9347 | brittany.bowman@okstate.edu

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