A professional ballerina turned elementary education major, Rachel Hewer took a unique path to the field of education and is doing unique things in the classroom, as well.
Although the Olive Branch native was a professional dancer before pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the UM DeSoto Center, she always had a passion and love for children that she discovered while teaching dance. Among her unique contributions to the classroom, Hewer hosted a Living History event for her students at her student teaching site in Southaven in April, allowing her students to dress up like historic characters and act out history.
We recently sat down with Hewer to talk about her experiences with the SOE at the DeSoto Center.
Where are you from and what are you studying?
I’m from Olive Branch, Mississippi, and I’m in the elementary education program at the DeSoto Center.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue education?
When I graduated high school, I joined Ballet Memphis as a professional ballet dancer. While I was dancing professionally, I started teaching ballet at night and that’s when I realized how much I loved kids. So I really enjoyed teaching children of all different ages while I was dancing professionally. When I had the opportunity to go back to college because I was going to stop dancing and retire, I decided to pursue my degree in elementary education.
What did you learn as a dancer that will help you as an educator?
The most valuable thing I learned as a dancer was how to work as a team and work ethic. I learned how to create an environment where people are doing their best all the time. Through my experience as a professional ballet dancer, I learned how important it is to know that everybody works together to make a production. So in the classroom, everybody has to be collaborating together in order for it to be successful.
Tell me about the living history event that you are hosting at your Southaven teaching site.
The event has students choose a person to research and then they get to “become” that person at a Living History museum and tell people about their life. Our field trip is to the Civil Rights Museum, so we geared them to become somebody who was a Civil Rights activist, or someone who was involved with women’s rights. One of our students is researching Helen Keller, so that relates to disability rights. I’m really excited and the kids are excited about it too, it’s been a really interesting experience.
What do you like most about the elementary education program?
I really love the field experience, but what I also really enjoy about this program is my ability to have personal relationships with my professors. At the DeSoto campus, the classes are smaller and I can always approach one of my professors for help or advice. Our professors make themselves available to us and mentor us, as well as our clinical instructors.
What is your philosophy toward education?
I want to provide an equal opportunity for all students to learn. If I was to have a school mantra it would be, “We learn to serve the world in need,” because I think that so many times we forget that really, a community is about service. So I want to provide every student an equal opportunity, and I want my students to know that the reason they’re getting educated is to give back to the world.
What is your dream job?
I think my dream job would be to one day, be in a two-teacher classroom where both of us have a certification in special education and can work as a team to give support to a full classroom of students. I also have a dream of taking students through three grades and keeping students for a longer period of time. I got to experience that through teaching ballet. So, I would love to be in a program where I have a group of kids for several grades and can see how things build and see them grow through that transition. That would be my dream job.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years, I see myself planted in a school where I’m also involved in the community. I want to be a teacher who goes to the soccer games, who helps tutor after school and who understands what the community is. I definitely see myself planted in a school and involved in the community.
What are your hobbies outside of the classroom?
I like traveling, I think it broadens your world to go to different places and observe different cultures. I also like to read.
Do you have any words of advice for students pursuing education?
Ask questions. Ask, “Why are we doing this a certain way?” This is especially important now when education is going to be changing over the next five years, and we’ve seen it change so much in the past 10 years. As educators, we really need to evaluate why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why are we setting the classroom up the way we are? Why are we providing support? Why are we teaching this pedagogy? When I stepped inside an elementary school after it changed so much since I was kid, I had to ask a lot of those “why” questions, and I think the people who ask “why” are the people who make the big changes for us to make it better.
By Liz McCormick