Dr. Ronda Blevins, Assistant Professor of Education, Coordinator for the Job-Embedded Practitioner program, Carson-Newman University, TN

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ronda Blevins, Assistant Professor of Education

What programs do you teach at Carson-Newman University? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?

I teach multiple classes at Carson-Newman University and serve as the Coordinator for the Job-Embedded Practitioner program. Across our programs, I teach courses in educational technology, assessment, research, curriculum, and foundations of education.

How will your program better prepare/equip educators for the current climate they are facing? How will it help them tackle the challenges of COVID and post-COVID teaching?

I spend a lot of time with my job-embedded students working through the issues they may be facing in the classroom at the current moment. In my educational technology class, we spend a lot of time talking about different aspects of educational technology integration and what that integration can look like and should look like.

In all courses that I teach, I am constantly asking my students to think about the content we are working with and the assignments they are completing from viewpoint of their current or future classroom. This means that everything they are doing is serving a dual purpose. Not only are they completing assessments for coursework, but they are also receiving feedback and suggestions for their classroom and hopefully growing in ways that enhance student learning.

I happen to be one of those professors that does not believe in just doing things to be doing them, so everything that we do in classes has a specific purpose for growth in the classrooms where my students are making a difference in the lives of children.

What attracted you to teach at Carson-Newman University? What sets them apart?

I absolutely love teaching at Carson-Newman. I started at Carson-Newman as a student in the first Ed.D. cohort when I was teaching in other places. After finishing my Ed.D., I taught for a couple of years elsewhere. Then I served as the Graduate Advising Coordinator for two years before I moved into a faculty position.

What sets Carson-Newman apart is our love for students and the way the entire education department works as a family. When problems arise (as they inevitably will in life), the whole department works together to find solutions.

What is your professional background as an educator?

I have wanted to be a teacher of some sort since my freshman year in high school. When I went to college, I was determined to be a band director. After a couple of missteps, including a deplorable academic record, I left school. When I decided to go back six years later, the desire to teach was still there. At that point I thought I was destined to be an elementary school teacher. It turned out that wasn’t my calling, and I figured that out fairly quickly and switched to a sociology major.

I ended up graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2010 (12 years, one husband, and two children after I initially began) with a B.A. in Sociology, but my last class had been in Juvenile Criminal Justice Theory, and I fell in love with that. I enrolled immediately in the Criminal Justice program at the University of Cincinnati and earned my M.S. in Criminal Justice from University of Cincinnati in 2011.

I honestly thought that I was finished with school at that point, and I was teaching as an adjunct at Roane State Community College in the Criminal Justice program. I also worked part-time at my church doing graphic design and happened to work with my high school chemistry teacher. She is the one that encouraged me to apply for the brand-new Ed.D. program at Carson-Newman. Sadly, she passed away right before my first classes began, but remembering the faith she had in me, along with a ton of support from my family and friends, helped me to finish the Ed.D. program.

I taught for a couple of years in public school then returned to Carson-Newman. I think, deep down, I always wanted to make a difference and always realized that my place to make a positive impact on the world was in the classroom.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education?

I think I became interested in education before I ever really knew I was interested in education.  I had terrific teachers when I was going through school, and I can remember wanting to be like them. My mom tells the story of when I would get in trouble in first grade for “helping” the other students on the spelling test and when I played the teacher in daycare.

My students say I’m their “mom” teacher, which is a role that I love. To me, teaching is not just what you do when you stand in front of the class and deliver content. It is supporting your students, even when they are out of your class. Some of my kids from the first high school class I taught still call me or come by my office. Education is all about building relationships, and I love to do that.

What would you tell prospective students considering your program about yourself? What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?

I would tell students considering my program that two words that define the job-embedded program at Carson-Newman: Ubuntu and Ohana. We laugh together, cry together, solve problems, and try to do all of that while also learning to be great teachers. Education is a challenging field, but it is also one of the most rewarding life choices you can make. Not every day is easy, but in the job-embedded program, we try to collaboratively deal with those hard days and solve problems to make all our classrooms better.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their graduate education degree? How can people stand out in this field?

I guess I’ll borrow the Nike catchphrase and say, “Just Do It!” Going back to school was not in my plans, and there were many obstacles as I went through school. It will not always be easy, but it will be worth it. Those teachers that care enough to go back to school to continue to learn to teach better end up standing out because they are going back during rough times in education and continuing to make the choice daily that even with the problems, working in education is worth it.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Education is a hard place to be right now across the country. Don’t let that diminish your calling to teach children and make an impact on this world. I often tell my students that if someone asks what they teach, the answer should always be “I teach children and people.” We don’t teach standards; we teach students about our content or discipline to meet standards.

The heart of teaching is what is happening in your classrooms. I am not one of those perpetually positive people, but on my worst and most frustrating days, I make myself stop and think about those times when I know what I am doing has made a difference. Teachers, cling to those moments; they are more precious than gold.