UNC Charlotte continues its long-standing tradition of honoring exceptional teachers who have demonstrated excellence in motivating and mentoring students to achieve in the classroom, in the community and in future careers.
Heather Coffey and Tonya Bates are the 2020 recipients of the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence and the UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence, respectively. They were honored during a virtual ceremony Thursday, Sept. 17, along with the other finalists – Paula Connolly, professor, English; Eric Heberlig, professor, Political Science and Public Administration; Susana Cisneros, senior lecturer, Languages and Culture Studies; and Kathleen Nicolaides, teaching professor, Criminal Justice and Criminology.
The recipients and finalists have common characteristics that set them apart.
“Their classrooms are places of inclusion where free expression of ideas is encouraged and welcomed, and where students of different backgrounds find acceptance. They are creative. No matter what discipline they teach, they find new and inspiring methods to spark their students’ desire to learn and to grow,” said Provost Joan Lorden, as she introduced the six finalists.
Coffey is an associate professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education and is a teacher of future teachers. She encourages a social justice mindset in her students and gets to know her students so they are comfortable sharing concerns about teaching in environments that do not mirror their own experiences.
“The crux of my teaching philosophy requires that I create a classroom space where students feel that they are heard and respected and are able to share their honest opinions and questions without being judged or criticized,” Coffey said. “Supporting the needs of pre-service and practicing teachers of diverse students has not only become my job, it has become my passion. I feel an immense sense of responsibility both to the teacher candidates with whom I work and to the P-12 students they will eventually teach.”
She helped develop the interdisciplinary Civic Minor in Urban Youth and Communities as well as the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Prospect for Success. Coffey, who is a former middle school and high school educator, designed and directs the new model for the Teaching Fellows program and is the director of the UNC Charlotte Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project.
“Dr. Coffey’s body of work fills a gap in the education of diverse learners in high needs urban schools. She has made substantial contributions to pre-service and in-service teachers as well as the local Charlotte community. Her commitment to schools, teachers, and the profession is reflected in the sustained partnerships she has developed in the Charlotte and surrounding communities,” said Lan Quach Kolano, professor of Education and interim department chair of the Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education.
The Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence, first presented in 1968, is given to a full-time, tenured faculty member with at least seven years of service to UNC Charlotte.
The University and its students also benefit from the excellent teaching of those with a range of titles like lecturer, clinical professor and teaching professor. The UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award honors faculty members who have at least five years of teaching experience at UNC Charlotte.
Bates, ’97 ’01 M.S., is a senior lecturer and a pioneer and leader within the Department of Biological Sciences in incorporating active learning, inquiry-based learning and technology in the classroom. Her courses, including high-enrollment, general education classes for non-majors, are strongly student-centered and focus on real-world applications and scientific literacy in an effort to better connect students with the material.
“Since 2010, I’ve taught biology to over 5,000 students. Each of these students has provided an opportunity to reflect on why I do things the way I do, inside and outside of the classroom. Despite the large class size and barriers, my teaching remains student centered. It’s my goal to lead all my courses diversely so that students have multiple opportunities and avenues for grasping the material,” Bates said.
By adopting a flipped classroom and other active learning approaches and by using learning assistants in large classes, her students benefit by opportunities to work collaboratively and to receive individual assistance. Instead of listening to lectures, students are engaged in low-stakes formative assessments.
“Active learning is something Tonya incorporated in her classroom long before we were all talking about it. She has worked tirelessly on re-designing Biology courses for majors and non-science majors and made these courses interactive and collaborative. Her outstanding teaching and her critical changes in our curriculum have led to better student learning outcomes in our department,” wrote Pinku Mukherjee, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.
Bates, who received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC Charlotte, facilitates workshops for middle and high school science teachers, serves as a judge for K-12 science fairs, volunteers with the regional Science Olympiad competition and serves on UNC Charlotte’s Science and Technology Expo planning committee. She also has extended her impact through training and mentoring University faculty.