What do New Orleans, C-Span, the Clarence Thomas Hearings, and middle-school education have in common? At Lake Erie College, they are all brought together by being a part of the background of Associate Professor of Education Dr. Linda Siegel. Dr. Siegel has been at LEC for about six years, but before working with the many young teachers LEC graduates every year, she had a career in public education herself.
The Lake County native grew up just down the street from the College. "My parents were uneducated, and I was the first one of my family to go to college,” she says, "so at that time it was ‘do you want to be a nurse or a kindergarten teacher,’ and I wanted to be an attorney.” She received a scholarship from a small college, and decided that the road to becoming an attorney could go through teaching government, so she acquired her licensure to teach public school right here at Lake Erie College.
After completing her undergraduate degree at LEC, Dr. Siegel continued her education at Ashland University, receiving her M.Ed. from there, and then entered the teaching world as an instructor in government and American history in the public schools system. During that time she was selected as a Lyndon B. Johnson Scholar, which led to her serving as teacher intern at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. during the Clarence Thomas Hearings—she worked with members of all three levels of the federal government, as well as lobbyists, the media and the private business sector.
Dr. Siegel also served as Armonk Scholar and embarked on a three-year teaching experience project in Germany, where she trained European teachers on developing and implementing a Holocaust curriculum. Another project she was involved in was the production of a C-Span TV program in collaboration with a group of educators from the U.S., Russia, Philippines and South American countries as a part of a post-graduate study at the Energy and Environment Institute at University of Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. She is also a Red Cross volunteer, and worked as a family services intake trainer in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"All of [these] scholarships I got through my teaching experience,” she says. It was these scholarship experiences, as well as her background in the public school system, that ultimately led her to completing her terminal degree in 2009 from Ashland University and turning her attention to helping build the next generation of teachers.
"When I was a teacher I had a lot of experiences as an educator that gave me an insight and an opportunity to understand that I can contribute to supporting other teachers while they are in training,” she says. Dr. Siegel has a passion for her field because she sees it as a bigger commitment than just instruction of the material. "I think many people who go into education are oriented towards serving people.”
Yet education requires a lot of work, whether you have a natural gift for it or not. "I don’t believe that you can just be born a teacher because there are some very academic skills and knowledge that you need to learn that you are not born with,” Dr. Siegel says. "The process of becoming a teacher involves a lot of work, opening the book and studying.”
She sees many students who come in with the type of character that allows them to have a more natural approach to engaging with students, yet they still have a lot to learn, especially about working with different kind of students and under different circumstances. In this, the students at LEC are lucky to have the support of all of the professors at the education department.
"I think one of the benefits of the students [at LEC] is that they [receive] a very personal education,” Dr. Siegel says of her colleagues, who all provide different experience in different licensure areas. "I know I learn from my colleagues, and I am pushed because of their brilliance and their work ethic, and their deep care for the students.”
Because of the intimate and personalized learning environment in the department, the education students have been involved in a number of projects themselves over the past few years. They participated in the development of an international classroom project between LEC and a school in Bolivia, and presented their work at an international conference in Austin, Texas. "They were not even teachers yet, but they were presenting [their project] to other teachers,” Dr. Siegel continues with pride.
Another group of graduate and undergraduate education students, in collaboration with a local musician and a local high school and a middle school after-school program, developed a complete lesson plan based on the utilization of technology in the classroom. "We do a lot of collaboration,” Dr. Siegel says.
"Education is not a field for the non-courageous these days,” she continues. "It requires a commitment to your craft.”
Dr. Siegel herself brings over 20 years of experience in the classroom to her own students. "Many times people would say that you go to college but don’t understand the real world of teaching; [it’s] all theory,” she says. "And I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students who are learning to be teachers to have professors who can say, "I was there for 20 years and I get it, I get it.”The way education can truly open doors is something Dr. Siegel very much relates to. "My grandmother was a maid and the housekeeper for the president of Lake Erie College at the time,” she says. Her grandmother was from Hungary, and she never received her education. "If it weren’t for her and her work ethic and kind of culture and expectations that she had for her family, none of her generation and those after her would have succeeded. So it’s amazing instead of looking at probabilities in life to look at possibilities.”