Colchester resident Allison Dean was one of three Community College of Vermont faculty to recently receive a 2021 Teaching Excellence Award.
Each year, CCV recognizes members of its faculty with the award. Faculty are nominated by students, staff and colleagues. This year, more than 60 instructors received nominations. Recipients are selected by Academic Council, which includes faculty, staff and student representatives.
Dean thought she was destined for a career in research, but quickly found she just didn’t enjoy the work. She’d always had an interest in teaching, and was licensed as a K-12 teacher when she saw an ad for an anatomy and physiology instructor position at CCV.
“‘I don’t know if I can do that. Can I do that?’” she remembers thinking. Her husband encouraged her to try, and “I kind of fell in love with teaching.”
That was in 1999, and Dean has been teaching at CCV ever since. She also teaches at Vermont Tech and Champlain College, but says being an instructor at CCV is different because students are coming from such a wide variety of backgrounds.
“[They’re] not all traditional students,” she said. “They’re fitting this around other things. Most CCV classes I teach, students are really motivated…They really want to excel, and that is probably the best thing about teaching at CCV for me, is students really want to learn.”
Dean says she’s grown as a teacher over the years.
“I think I’ve learned a lot about different ways of thinking about material, which has kind of pushed me to pull a lot of different kinds of labs and activities into my class because I realized that everybody learns differently," she said. "I knew that in my core but I didn’t see it as much as I see it now.”
A staff member who nominated Dean for the award wrote:
“What makes Allison so special is the way she approaches her work with all students…She is culturally prepared to work with any kind of student, culture here meaning all different backgrounds represented by CCV students.” The staff member shared that they worked alongside Dean to support students who felt frustrated and hopeless. “She also used a holistic approach to deal with students, knowing that we were/are working with human beings with different needs at different levels…Allison truly cared/cares about her students’ future, the efforts they made, their motivation and love of learning.”
This fall, she’s teaching Nutrition and Anatomy and Physiology I and II, all online.
“I ask a lot of ‘why?’” she says about her courses. “I want students to really learn how to apply material rather than memorize. I really want you to understand it, not to just tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to explain it so you really know it.”
She says keeping a growth mindset allows her to continue improving her skill set as an instructor.
“I’m still learning too, which is one thing I really like about teaching…there’s always something else I can learn and I’m always changing things. I’m always working to change things to make it better for students.”