Senior Joanna Barker hopes to inspire and encourage other young teachers

The top-notch education and highly skilled faculty at Lees-McRae is not just limited to the campus here in Banner Elk. This is something that senior Joanna Barker knows all too well as she approaches graduation from the Elementary Education distance learning program at Surry Community College (SCC) in Dobson, North Carolina.

Lees-McRae partners with SCC to offer an alternative pathway for Elementary Education students who wish to receive all the resources and expertise the faculty of Lees-McRae has to offer in a traditional seated classroom setting without having to travel to campus. Students begin the first two years of their degree at SCC, then have the option to remain on the same campus for their junior and senior years while earning their degree from Lees-McRae.

This program is particularly helpful for students like Barker who work full time and are unable to travel to campus for any number of reasons. Inspired by her older sister and mother, who are also both educators, Barker decided to pursue distance learning.

“It was super convenient being close to home, I was able to work, and we didn’t have to move or stay on campus, but I still got the same education I would have on campus at Lees-McRae,” Barker said. “My older sister did the Lees-McRae program, and I’ve always heard other teachers talk very highly of the Lees-McRae education program as well. SCC was close to home; I could do it here while still working.”

After graduating, Barker will be registered to teach kindergarten through sixth grade, but her previous involvement in the school system, paired with her educational requirements for the program, have given her experience in a wide range of grades.

“Fall semester of our senior year we do an internship— I did mine in first grade— and in the spring semester we do student teaching, and I was in fourth grade. It was the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but really gave a broad view of both sides,” Barker said. “I have also worked in the schools as a substitute teacher trying to get my foot in the door here in the local school system. I’ve worked with different grade levels at different schools just trying to make connections and relationships with teachers and principals.”

Barker hopes to continue working in her local school system after graduation, and she says the connections she has been able to build with principals, administrators, and other instructors throughout her undergraduate career have set her up for success.

Participating in the distance learning program on SCC’s campus allowed her to complete her internship and student teaching requirements in that same school system, establishing strong relationships before she even starts her first day.

“Because I was able to do that here, I was able to build more connections with local principals versus some that I may or may not see again otherwise,” Barker said. “I was able to gain wonderful references and wonderful friendships that I would have still built, but just being able to do that in my local school system was nice.”

While she finds teaching to be very rewarding, and the Elementary Education distance learning program to be fulfilling, Barker said her time in school has not been without its challenges, however she hopes she can encourage current and future students as an alum.

Throughout her junior year, the COVID-19 pandemic affected many of the program’s in-class requirements. She and her fellow students were often unable to work in person in the schools or had to adhere to strict masking and social distancing requirements, posing unique challenges to the young educators. However, she said these challenges helped her become a better, more adaptable teacher.

“Those sorts of things made it really hard to get to know the kids at first, and those relationships are the most important things about being a teacher. Thankfully, we quickly found ways to get through that,” Barker said. “Hopefully I can encourage some seniors and juniors doing this program and let them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, because it is hard. As an alumnus I hope to be able to do that somehow.” 

Barker also hopes to encourage other students, whether they be aspiring teachers, nurses, or criminal justice professionals, to take advantage of the online and distance learning options Lees-McRae has to offer.

“The instructors on the Surry campus were excellent. They really cared about us as students and as future educators and really wanted us to do our best,” Barker said. “I highly encourage anyone who wants to go to college, but maybe can’t live on campus, or maybe doesn’t feel comfortable moving away from home for whatever reason, to look into the distance learning program at Surry.”

Learn more about online and distance learning at Lees-McRae

By Maya JarrellApril 28, 2022
Campus LifeAcademics