Meet The Teachers: Cherise Collins

Meet The Teachers: Cherise Collins

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I wanted to share all about another person in our cohort, so I could really show the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the students at Columbia. Last year, I featured Todd, a father in his mid-30’s with a background in sculpture who commutes to school from Indiana. Last week, I featured Rachel, who became interested in teaching because of her passion for social justice. This week, I chose to feature Cherise Collins. Cherise has been an absolute inspiration to me over the past year. As I very awkwardly told my husband when first describing her, “She is my first Math friend!” Cherise is sharp as a whip, friendly, and extremely passionate about teaching. She has definitely had a hand in helping me improve my own teaching practice at Columbia, and she never hesitates to extend that same hand to everyone in the cohort. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that if you asked anyone in the program who was most universally loved by the Elementary Ed and Art Ed students, the answer would most definitely be Cherise.

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What led you to teaching?

My family has always had high expectations of me. I was the good child, the one who was always successful in school, who would one day become a prominent doctor. And for as long as I can remember, I had planned on doing exactly that. I’ve loved working with children my entire life, but teaching was a gift that I didn’t think I had. Going away for college is really what changed things for me. I attended Davidson College, a small liberal arts school in North Carolina just outside of Charlotte. There I met professors such as Dr. Eve Veliz and Dr. Robert Whitton whose constant offerings of great encouragement and support enabled me to step outside my familial circle and comfort zone and make time for some internal reflection, which ultimately helped me decide for myself what would be best for me. I was able to gain some personal clarity, and I realized how strong my desire to educate children was.

What attracted you to Columbia’s program?

I had applied to two other programs before I learned that Columbia even had an elementary education masters program. Honestly, the small cohort lured me in, but it was ultimately the idea of an art-integrated program that won me over. When I finally decided that I wanted to teach, I knew I would teach Math. The prospect of learning how to make Math, a subject that is often taught through rules, procedures and one sided strategies, not just fun but more meaningful through the use of the arts fascinated me.

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Is there a lesson plan you’ve created at Columbia of which you’re particularly proud?

The project I am most proud of is actually the Hunger Games lesson I created with you, Danielle. This lesson emphasizes concepts like teamwork, construction of identity, and cross-cultural unity using the book The Hunger Games as a starting point. In this lesson, students first complete a chart identifying the cultural skills that are distinctive of a specific character’s cultural upbringing and environment. Then, students create a pictorial language artwork that depicts skills they’ve developed from being a citizen of Chicago that would help them in The Hunger Games. The pictorial language artwork is what really sets this lesson apart from some of the other great ones I have created at Columbia. I think  this lesson really helped solidify the important concepts we were trying to teach, because it provided students with an alternative outlet of expression. Yes, you get to internally reflect through writing a journal entry, and yes you get to have small group and whole class discussions, but students also get to create this piece of art that is essentially an illustration that represents a portion of who they are. That really resonates with me.

Who is your favorite professor in the program?

My favorite professor at Columbia would have to be our Methods of Teaching Math at the Elementary and Middle School Level instructor, Dr. Ava Belisle-Chatterjee. Although, “Awesome Alison” Whittington is a very close second. What makes Ava stand out to me is that her class made me love math even more than I did before taking it. Every Tuesday night I get to learn about new strategies to teach students how to approach, explore, and understand math concepts through a variety of methods. In this class, there’s lecture, discussion, presentations, small group work, individual work, and even times when we model how to do things to each other; there is a little bit of everything. What I love most about Ava is the perfect embodiment of what an excellent instructor should be. She models the pedagogical skills that Columbia emphasizes at all times, while never coming off overbearing or unapproachable. She makes the classroom feel like a community, and even though this is grad school and everyone is always being pushed to their personal physical, mental, or psychological edge, she helps all of us feel connected to each other, making the educational experience more meaningful.

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Tell me about your student teaching placement. What’s got you excited about it?

I am student teaching at Newberry Math and Science Academy in a 7th and 8th grade math classroom. Joshua Greenberg is my brilliant energetic cooperating teacher who is loved by his students, all 100+ of them. I’ve started going into his classroom once a week, and I already feel like part of the team. What I am most excited about is what I will learn working with him. He has a fast paced classroom, but when he sees that his students aren’t completely grasping or understanding a topic, he isn’t afraid to slow things down and explore various approaches to the concept.  I am also thrilled about teaching pre-algebra and algebra this year. Those are my two favorite branches of math, mostly because I think everything either builds up to it or stems from it.