CCV proudly recognizes members of its outstanding faculty with the annual Teaching Excellence Awards. Faculty are nominated by students, staff, and faculty colleagues, and this year more than 80 instructors received nominations. Recipients are selected by Academic Council, which includes faculty, staff, and student representatives. This year, CCV is pleased to honor Heath Fuller, Gail Marlene Schwartz, and Norm Whittle.
Excellent and Accessible
Heath Fuller exudes a passion for the subjects and students she teaches, and in her classes, you’ll find a space for conversation, critical thinking, and confidence in having your own opinion. “More than anything I want to see [students] talking and thinking through issues…I really want to see their brilliance,” Heath said. “These courses are made up of excellent, intelligent individuals.”
Her diverse academic background has led Heath to teach courses in the humanities and social sciences at CCV for the past seven years. In college she found a passion for religious studies and the arts and developed an interest in “how material culture intersects with ritual, with belief, with all of the meaning-making systems we create for ourselves in the world,” she said. She now teaches cultural anthropology, comparative religion, women in art, literature courses, and more. “I think that I’m most interested in the diversity of humans and the way that we are both flexible and tied to tradition and there’s so many ways to talk about that,” she said.
While pursuing her master’s degree, Heath knew she wanted to teach at a college level. In choosing to teach at CCV, “I was first thinking it was a stepping stone [to a university]. But pretty quickly I realized that this is the place,” she said. “I think there’s this idea that you have the excellent colleges and then you have the accessible colleges, and how can we make it both.” At CCV, she thinks that is possible. “I really love teaching at community college,” Heath said. “I get to experiment with different ways of teaching and being in the classroom…and I get to provide quality education to people who have traditionally not had access to it.”
A focus on students has always been central to Heath’s teaching style, and she maintains that focus when she reflects on receiving the Teaching Excellence Award. “I think that it means the most to me because it’s from students. What I do I do for them and I am honored that they feel that I’m doing a good job. I also want them to know that they taught me something every semester…they should get teaching excellence awards too. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without them.”
The Power in Writing
Gail Marlene Schwartz wrote her first (unpublished) novel when she was 11 years old. Growing up in a conservative household she didn’t receive an abundance of encouragement for artistic pursuits, but nonetheless knew that she wanted to be a writer. Gail is now a professional copywriter and editing consultant, has a creative writing practice, started an online digital magazine, and teaches at CCV. Additionally, she is looking forward to her novel Falling Through the Night being published in February 2024.
Gail first came to CCV as an academic coordinator before she started teaching courses from English composition, to effective communication, to piano. “CCV for me is really a life’s mission. I’ve been teaching on and off for CCV since the year 2000 and it feels like a really natural convergence of spiritual practice, activist practice, and artistic practice and that’s the sweet spot for me,” Gail said. “I tell my students if Harvard called me and offered me a job I would absolutely turn them down.”
Her love for teaching at CCV also stems from her passion for the students, many of whom choose to go to college despite facing barriers. “For me the way into learning is through struggle. It’s something that I find there’s sort of a shared understanding [of at CCV], that life is not easy, and that can be such a catalyst for really exciting processes,” Gail said. “It’s amazing to be able to share in somebody’s process in learning and uncovering new skills…people that aren’t teachers don’t relate to that, but it’s thrilling.”
In Gail’s nominations for the Teaching Excellence Award, students acknowledged her supportive spirit. “Gail has been one of the best teachers I’ve had so far in my learning career,” one student said. “She took a class of strangers and made everyone feel at home. She gave us a safe place to learn and express ourselves freely. She has helped me get back my passion for free writing that I had lost years ago. Gail holds you accountable, yet still lets you be human and make mistakes.”
For Gail, receiving the Teaching Excellence Award is just as much about her students as it is herself. “I grew up feeling that I was very ‘other’ and ‘outside’ and not successful…I am sort of a mess and goofy and odd, but also my work has meant something,” she said. “I’m thrilled that my students wrote something and something happened as a result of that – that’s the most exciting part of the whole thing. It’s definitely an honor.”
Always an Educator
The majority of Norm Whittle’s life has been spent in a classroom, both as a student and teacher. “I’ve always had an interest in teaching,” he said. “When I took accounting in high school as a junior I just fell in love with it. Then my senior year I took accounting II and it was all self-taught…I loved it so much I was always ahead of everybody so I was teaching my classmates. That’s when I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Norm attended Plymouth State to earn a bachelor’s degree in business education and joined the workforce as a high school teacher after graduation, a position which he’s kept for 32 years. “In high school is where kids get interested and the light bulb goes on,” which he said is his favorite part of teaching that age. “[I like] to see their interest level grow and get them interested in an area they didn’t know about.”
His love for teaching led him to earn two master’s degrees, one in business education and another in teaching with internet technologies, and to pursue teaching at the college level at CCV. Norm taught his first class for the College in 1992 and has taught business courses continuously since 2002. “At the college level I just like working with adults… they’re there because they want to be. That’s what I’m there for: I go out of my way for any student that wants help.”
For Norm, teaching high school and college simultaneously feels complementary. “If I wasn’t a high school teacher in accounting I probably wouldn’t be able to keep changing or know the pitfalls for the college level,” he said. He can also encourage students to take advantage of what CCV has to offer. “Students are more so now looking at community colleges for their first two years of school to save money before they move on. It doesn’t have the same stigma it did 30 years ago…it’s just as rigorous as a four-year institute.”
As Norm starts his 33rd year as an educator, he now has the Teaching Excellence Award as a notch in his belt. “I’m shocked,” he said of receiving the award. “I’m honored that students actually chose me out of all the people and it’s like ‘wow, I do make a difference with students’. It’s a good feeling. It’s nice to be recognized that what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing.”