Ashley Harper was part of the Clemson University College of Education’s first teacher residency cohort. She served as a teacher resident at West End Elementary in Easley during her final year at Clemson, and she wasted no time in putting a full year of classroom experience to use when West End Elementary hired her as a third-grade teacher in 2020.
She credits her time at Clemson with preparing her – as much as that could have been possible – for an initial school year defined by a pandemic, and then with an early opportunity to serve as an instructional coach for other teachers at West End. Harper won West End Teacher of the Year for the 2022-2023 school year and continues to share her approach to students and her fellow teachers.
We got the chance to catch up with Harper during a recent visit to West End to talk about what Clemson meant to her, how she stays in touch with the College and what faculty member stood out to her the most during her time at Clemson.
What stands out to you about West End Elementary?
Everyone is here for the students; the love that students receive from the staff and everybody around them is incredible. Everyone has a positive attitude when they come in and we are all working toward one goal, which is the success of the kids.
As an instructional coach, I get to know all of the teachers and their strengths and I am able to see more than just the third-grade classroom that I was in. It has really challenged me to expand my horizons because I only knew the little bubble that I was in.
Helping teachers with new lessons and actually going in and modeling teaching lessons allows me to work closely with teachers, which has been exciting for me since I get to work with the teachers and the students at the same time.
How did the College of Education equip you for the classroom?
Clemson gave me such a small cohort and we actually still stay in contact to this day. We still give each other ideas. To this day, we’re able to bounce ideas off, ask for resources. We were placed in classes freshman year and we were able to stay in those same classes from freshman to senior year.
I was part of the first cohort of the Clemson teacher residency program, and it was appealing when it was presented to us as just an idea. It was a master’s program, but it also offered a full year of experience with graduate-level courses. A full year of experience in a classroom with a teacher who was also trained to be a master teacher through Clemson was something that was interesting to me just because I knew education was where I wanted to be, where I wanted to stay. Why would I not want to get more experience and more resources and stay at Clemson to do so?
Residency was extremely valuable from day one; during my first year of teaching, it didn’t feel like a first year. I got to experience day one to day 180 in a school, so things that you normally don’t see such as parent conferences, the first day of school and the last day of school were experienced through that cohort.
Is there a faculty member that stands out to you?
One faculty member from the College of Education that stands out to me to this day is Dr. Tyminski. I had him as an undergrad, and he also taught some courses in the master’s residency program.
Dr. Tyminski always challenged us. He actually treated us as like an elementary student at times, which we thought was fun and funny in the moment, but coming into the classroom, his resources and the way he taught his classes really impacted me as a teacher because I felt like I had seen the students’ way of thinking before. Learning how a kid thinks helped me change the way that I taught.
He still stays in touch with all of us from the College of Education. He follows us on social media to encourage us, and I can still reach out to him today for resources or tips. He is actually working with West End this year, so I get to work with him as a coach as well.
How do you stay connected to the College?
The biggest way is through social media. When I graduated, I followed the College of Education on social media, but I also get to stay connected through the student teachers that are here at Western Elementary. I think they appreciate knowing we’ve been where they are and that we’re there to help.
It has also been interesting to see the professors coming and the professors that are still there and the assignments they are doing. There have been multiple faculty members that have reached out to me. It’s just been really open and easy to communicate with the College of Education. They’re not just professors, they’re not just faculty. They’ve actually become friends who are really easy to talk to.
When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
I’m actually a fourth-generation teacher; my great grandparents, grandparents and my aunts, uncles and my mom are all teachers. I grew up in a family of teachers and I was able to see the impact that they had on their community, students and everyone around them.
I enjoyed watching them plan, watching them talk about all of their students, listening to them talk about all of their experiences. From a young age, I would play school at home with the resources that they had. Ever since I was a small child, that was something that I wanted to do.
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