Teacher Appreciation Week: Professor Paul Coppola

Written by: Shannon Smith

Logging on to their virtual classrooms for the last time before finals week, teachers seek to impart the last bits of their knowledge before students complete the end of their semester. It is always a bittersweet moment to say goodbye and prepare to welcome in a new set of students. However, Professor Paul Coppola, an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biology, left his last class on a special moment, one of the greatest gifts a teacher could receive. After ending his last class before finals, one of his students made a speech on behalf of his entire class, each one of them holding up signs thanking Coppola for his tutelage during the semester. As they signed off, some of the students also expressed their thanks to him for helping them make it through the semester. “I was totally surprised—I was very, very touched. I didn’t expect that…it really meant a lot to me,” Coppola said.

The difficulty of teaching classes virtually during the pandemic has only increased teachers’ determination to reach out and engage their students in each of their courses. Being isolated behind cameras and microphones has prompted professors to find new ways to better interact with their students. Whether that be using various visual aids like PowerPoints and videos or sharing secondary resources for students to take advantage of outside of class, they had to be flexible and redesign lesson plans to work with technology on a virtual platform. This helped them to rethink their learning strategies and connect with students in new ways.

For Professor Coppola, it took twice as long to prepare for his classes, but eventually, he found a way to make sure that his students could easily follow his lessons. The structure of Zoom calls made it difficult to call on students. However, students could answer questions anonymously without the added social pressure by using polls, assuring Coppola that they were paying attention and understood the material. He tried to make classes fun, engaging, and easy to participate in, instilling a light atmosphere to an otherwise stilted virtual environment.
At the beginning of each class, he would also share a slide of announcements for the week, including the week’s speaker for convocation and current events worldwide.

One of the most exciting things about being a teacher is interacting with students. Professor Coppola truly values the time he spends with his students, ensuring they are supported in all their endeavors. “I try to show the students that I have their best interests at heart,” he said. “I try to be very attentive and listen to them.” As a teacher, his goal is to create a space where students can learn and feel appreciated. Each of his students has an open, guiding hand through him, ready and willing to aid them in succeeding in their goals during and after college.

One thing that Coppola feels helped his students the most was meeting with them one on one throughout the semester. After every class, he would ask one of his students to stay behind and just sit and talk with them about how they were doing—personally and academically. He would log into class 15 minutes before it started, and if any students logged in early, he would greet and talk with them about their day. Another benefit, especially at Washington Adventist University, was to have the opportunity to pray with his students, including their prayer requests for school, living conditions, family, and other personal requests at the beginning of every class. Making an effort to meet with his students personally was valuable to his ability to teach them while showing students that they were not alone and assistance was available to them if needed.

Consequently, it is essential to acknowledge that student-teacher interaction is a two-way street. Students can have as significant an impact on their teachers as they can on them. “What I love is when students ask a question…I encourage them to review their notes after class, and if there is a question to bring it up to me next class,” Coppola commented. Both inside and outside of the virtual classroom, professors appreciate it when students ask for help and even say hello or initiate a conversation. Being restricted to using a camera and microphone to interact with students can be overwhelming, especially when they can’t see or hear their students—it’s like teaching to a blank wall. The sense of isolation that comes with protecting ourselves from further spreading the virus has affected all of us—that’s why it’s important to connect in the ways that we can consolidate.

In anticipation of Teacher Appreciation Week, starting this coming week on May 3rd, let us show our gratitude to our teachers for their dedication and commitment to our education. This year has been more challenging than most, but they have continued to rise to the occasion despite multiple restrictions. So, take out the time to show you appreciate them and let them know how much you care.

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