Twin Falls educator teaches by example

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of an ongoing series profiling influential or interesting members of Eastern Idaho’s educational community. If you’d like to suggest an educator or administrator to be profiled please email EdNews editor Jennifer Swindell at [email protected]

TWIN FALLS — One of the more difficult responsibilities for new teachers is figuring out how to connect with and effectively teach individual children in a classroom. Creating successful teaching methods is rarely as easy as new teachers think.

“There are teacher candidates that are a little naive,” Clinical Assistant Professor Amanda Eller said. “You have to let them know they will see difficult students or behavioral disorder students and that can be a bit of a reality check for (college) students.”

Amanda Eller
Amanda Eller

Eller is an Education Foundations professor at Idaho State University’s Twin Falls satellite campus. Previously, she’d taught elementary school in several Idaho districts for 16 years.

The veteran educator joined ISU’s teaching staff in August, after finishing a doctorate degree in education. She moved from second-graders to college students, because she wanted to play a role in preparing future teachers to succeed in the classroom.

“As a teacher today you are having to deal with more (behavioral issues) yourself,” Eller said. “It’s important we help (college) students realize they’ll see it and what they will need to do to prepare for it.”

Eller is a firm believer in experience-based teaching. She actively uses her elementary teaching background to illustrate educational concepts to students.

“A lot of professors focus on theory, but I feel like I bring a lot of real world experience to share with these candidates,” she said. “My students really like when I talk about how things work in the real world in an actual classroom.”

ISU senior Miranda Packham recently finished several of Eller’s courses. Packham appreciated Eller’s tilt toward unconventional teaching methods.

For example, as a second-grade teacher, Eller removed the chairs from her classroom and replaced them with stability exercise balls for a year. Eller said the balls allowed students to get out wiggles and use their muscles, which increases blood flow to the brain.

She then tested the students in a variety of areas including core strength, balance, memory, handwriting and verbal fluency and recorded the results.

“It surprised me,” Packham said. “It was interesting to see how much stability balls can benefit children and keep them on task during the day. It also was interesting to see her data from the beginning of the year to the end and how student test scores went up.”

The stability ball exercise is one of several innovation ideas Packham plans to bring into her first classroom as a result of Eller’s lessons.

Teacher candidates aren’t the only ones benefiting from Eller’s lessons though. Prior to working for ISU, she began teaching GED test preparation courses. In that role, Eller teaches concepts to adults who didn’t finish high school so they can pass the high school equivalency test.

“At the time I was enjoying elementary education, but I was ready for a change,” Eller said. “That was when I started teaching GED courses and I realized that I also loved teaching adults.”

Colleagues say Eller has proved just as effective a teacher for adults as children.

“She is able to show things in a different way and bring concepts to their level of understanding then build upon them,” Twin Falls Instructional Coach Megan Morris said. “She’s taken the kids who dropped out of the traditional system … and they’ve found success with her teaching style.”

The most rewarding part of Eller’s new career as an educator of future educators, is the enthusiasm teacher candidates bring to the profession.

“These candidates want to be teachers … they have a driving passion to work with students,” Eller said. “Seeing their excitement about going into the profession helps me and has increased my enthusiasm about teaching as well.”

East Idaho Reporter Nate Sunderland can be reached at (208) 317-7721 or [email protected]