Position: Associate Professor and Director, Graduate Program in Gifted Education
Teaching at Samford since: 2006
Bonus fact: Wood has a doctorate in in special education/gifted education from the University of Alabama.
Why do you teach? Why do you teach at Samford? I feel I was born to teach. I remember playing school as a 7 year old. I used the eight steps on our front porch as grade levels, and assigned my two sisters and the three girls who lived next door their spot on the steps based on questions I asked them. I was the oldest of the six of us, so they had to mind me as the teacher. I was a peer tutor in elementary school for students who were struggling, not a role I support today. And, I tutored athletes in high school in math and English who were in jeopardy of getting kicked off the teams. Teaching is in my heart and soul. I taught in K–12 schools for 30 years. I have probably taught more than 2,000 children before coming to Samford. As an instructor, faculty adviser and mentor, Samford has broadened my world of teaching and given me the opportunity to impact the lives of so many more children, maybe upwards of 10,000.
What is one thing your students may not know about you? There is probably not much my students do not know about me. I tend to be an open book. I use stories of my life, especially as a teacher, to illuminate my teaching. I share both my adventures and my mishaps in hopes of connecting with my students and helping them learn from my successes and my disasters.
What is your favorite activity outside Samford? I love to garden. My husband and I live on five acres and spend most of our free time outside tending to botanicals. We are “square-foot” gardeners and grow vegetables organically, including the usual summer veggies as well as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas. We also have eight blueberry bushes and four blackberry vines. Every year, we have bumper crops to share with friends and family. But, my real passion is flowers. I have 128 rose bushes, two large beds of irises, at least two dozen hydrangeas and 32 peony plants. In May, a symphony of color explodes in our yard.
How did you become interested in educating gifted students? My first 25 years as an educator were spent as a speech-language pathologist, a very rewarding and fulfilling career. But in 1998, my “cheese was moved,” forcing me to take a new path as an educator. I took what I thought would be a temporary job as a gifted specialist in Anniston City Schools, but within a couple of years, I found myself going back to school to work on a doctorate in gifted education. God opens doors just when they are most needed and usually unexpected. I taught gifted children for eight years before completing my doctorate and beginning my new adventure at Samford.
How did your background prepare you for your current role at Samford? Somewhere deep down, I always felt I would one day be a professor at a university. While I loved working with children in schools, I had a sense of unrest thinking that there were still mountains to climb professionally. Pursuing my doctorate was a dream I’d had since obtaining my master’s degree at 23, but as they say, life happens. When I made the decision at 50 that the time was right to go back to school, I knew where I was headed professionally: academe. Most certainly, my years as a gifted specialist were crucial to helping me to see the importance of every child maximizing his or her potential. Unfortunately, gifted children are the most likely to underachieve and to languish in today’s climate of education reform, so I have come to regard meeting the needs of gifted children and youth as my personal quest. While life experiences as a high achiever in school have given me insight into the joys and burdens of gifted children, my personality traits help me identify with their affective selves.
What is one thing you want your students to know when they graduate from Samford? I hope that as my students graduate from Samford with a master’s degree in gifted education they will feel prepared and empowered as educators to meet the academic and affective needs of their students, and that their connection with Samford will always be there to support them in their professional journey. The field of education, like many professions, faces tremendous challenges in the 21st century. Classrooms are more diverse than ever, and students come to schools with problems that are more difficult to address. But, my hope is that the educators we are preparing at Samford will be equipped to provide a meaningful education to students, imbued with love and understanding for students as creations of God. I see great things happening in schools where my students are teaching and reaching to impact learning.
What is some of the interesting research you are currently doing in your field? Currently, I am researching how to measure growth in learning for gifted children. In general, students in K–12 classrooms are measured with grade-level assessments. For students who score at the 90+ percentile on a grade-level assessment, there is little room to demonstrate their true level of knowledge and skills. A more appropriate strategy is the use of above-level tests with high ceilings to measure growth in content knowledge and skills. Few schools offer this type of assessment. If what we teach depends on what students can demonstrate that they know, we face a real conundrum with educating our most advanced learners. We need to match learning goals to content mastery for all learners, but most particularly students who demonstrate mastery of the grade-level content. It’s time to remake, revise, re-envision how schools should work, especially if we are to ensure an appropriate education for all students.
Why is it important for Samford to provide specialized training for teachers of gifted students? Students with gifts and talents are exceptional learners. They need an education that is matched to their strengths and interests while also addressing their social-emotional needs. Samford recognized this need over a decade ago, and developed a program to train educators of the gifted and talented. As the person hired to develop this program, I researched the best programs across the country and conferred with key experts in the field. With the support of my department chair, I developed a core of courses founded on the teaching standards from the National Association for Gifted Children. Samford’s graduate program in gifted education is one of only three in the state. Since its inception in 2006, we have graduated more than 100 candidates who work every day to bring high-quality educational experiences to children and youth who demonstrate advanced academic knowledge in science, math and technology, creativity in fields such as literature and the arts, and leadership skills. I am so proud of the program and the support it has received from the dean and my colleagues in Orlean Beeson School of Education. Having a graduate program that trains educators to address the needs of gifted children helps support the entire school as its faculty trains teachers of all learners.