“I never would have thought I’d teach at the college level”: Q&A with Rachael Lynn Hoffert, EdD ’17
Teaching new educators the importance of compassion beyond academics is key to Rachael Hoffert’s approach. Because of her experiences with English language learning students, she teaches that the emotional security that teachers can provide is just as important as reading and writing skills.
What inspired you to work in education?
I see working in education as a calling. Something that God has called me to do. I will never forget opening the door of my first classroom to a surprising diversity of students from different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. That first year of teaching taught me so much about empathy and understanding–the values that really, really helped me see my classroom as my mission field. I really wanted to reach all of those learners in my classroom.
I was very nervous about going back to obtain an EdD in Teacher Leadership, but it was written into my job contract that I needed it. So, I got comfortable teaching at the undergraduate level and did a little bit more research about Concordia’s online program and value system. I am a working mom. I have three boys and a busy husband–he’s superintendent of our local school district. And so this online program appealed to me as a working mom, a Christian and a professional.
Concordia’s integration of faith and learning, their faith-based values, were another selling point for me. I appreciated how, through the courses, it wasn’t a sermon but was woven into the courses. It was very natural, yet valuable to me.
Was there one course in the program that stood out to you?
The first course I took was called the Ethical Educator. And in that class, we really looked at transformational leadership and how integrity and compassion are as important as academic knowledge. It made me really reflect on my life experiences, both personally and professionally, and evaluate my ability to make ethical decisions as part of my leadership. Because I teach undergraduate teacher education candidates, I was able to incorporate those principles while teaching future teachers. It gave me a stronger foundation around why I do what I do.
What was the hardest part about earning your EdD and who helped you?
The hardest part was probably remembering how to be a writer again. It had been about seven years since I pursued my master’s degree. I had to jump back into being a student again and that took a little bit of time. But I always felt supported. So by the time I got to the dissertation process, writing came very naturally to me.
My biggest cheerleaders were my husband and my family. He had actually pursued his doctorate earlier and would tell me, “Rachael, you’ve got to just keep going. You can do this.”
I was very nervous to start the dissertation process. I’d heard horror stories, but my faculty chair Dr. Maddox not only had high expectations for me, but he really was a servant-leader himself. He was always willing to assist and critique, telling me, “Rachael, keep going. Don’t stop.” I think I would have stopped without that encouragement. His advice was very important to me. And on top of that, on Blackboard with other students in the class, I always felt supported.
How do you feel the program and what you learned aligned with your personal mission?
As I think about the transformation of society, this program definitely aligns with my personal mission. As I started the doctoral process and especially the dissertation process, I really wanted to study a group of students that I felt were underserved: middle school English language learners. What I learned during the whole process of research was how many are being underserved in our own backyard. And as teachers, we’re called to serve all children. The challenges these English language learners face are not just academics, either. It’s also how other students and people perceive them at school. It just drove home that there’s more to teaching, an emotional security side that’s also very important.
What about educating future teachers is the most rewarding part for you?
I would never have thought that I would teach at the college level, it’s just not where I thought I would land. I thought I’d teach elementary my whole life. Obviously, God had other plans. But I love walking into the undergraduate classroom and helping them realize that they are — if they truly feel called to this profession — in the best profession in the whole world. It’s a tough profession, yes. But it is so rewarding. And so that’s key.
Plus, we are involved in schools all the time, on-site. So my students are merging their knowledge of the classroom within actual school environments, and seeing those little kids makes my job really rewarding. I get the best of both worlds. I get soon-to-be teachers and then I get kindergarteners and first graders. It makes my job a lot of fun.
How do you practice self-care in the midst of taking on so much?
Self-care is very important. Going through the doctoral program, we had to put up some boundaries. On the weekends, we’re not social butterflies in the community. We’re at home with our kids. Sundays, besides church, is really just a time for us to regroup as a family. Because when I am with our children or my husband, I want to be in that moment.
Another thing I like to do is hit our local gym a couple times a week. The kids go with me, and we have a good time. It’s important to me to be able to work off some stress. I kept that habit through the whole dissertation process.
What do you hope your students remember from your time with them as they move forward, becoming teachers?
I hope they can look back and say, Dr. Hoffert knew how to give them the skills to teach children how to read and write–but also how to view the classroom as their mission field. How they could be compassionate and walk with integrity into difficult situations. And that’s what I really hope for them, to be competent in how they teach children academically but without forgetting compassion and integrity.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and a MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.