STAMFORD, Conn. – MaryAnn Gardner found her passion for teaching early in her career. The enjoyment she finds teaching students in the University of Bridgeport’s IDEAL Program adds to her enthusiasm.
“I immediately enjoyed it,’’ said Gardner, who teaches psychology and human service courses. She started teaching at Bridgeport two years ago and is an adjunct professor in the university’s Stamford branch. “I think the environment is so friendly and warm, and it helps students who are returning or who are coming in for the first time. I think it’s so important that you find a school like the University of Bridgeport that has a warm, friendly environment.”
One aspect of teaching in the IDEAL program that surprised Gardner is the enthusiasm of the students. Most of them are older and have been away from college for a while. Gardner said her students have a thirst for knowledge that sometimes younger students lack.
“I think sometimes if you’ve been away from a learning environment, and you go back as professional, it’s a little more meaningful,’’ Gardner said. “They are really hungry to learn more. There are so many more opportunities. It’s nice to see people so enthusiastic about learning and wanting to grow professionally.”
Gardner keeps students engaged by active learning. “A lot of what I do is project-based,’’ Gardner said. “Students are assigned projects that will be relevant to their careers. I found that they learn more that way rather than just writing papers and taking tests.”
Gardner, who has taught at every level from pre-kindergarten to college, acquired a Masters in Human Services | Clinical Counseling and a Master of Education a few years ago. She said she particularly enjoys working with students who have learning challenges, and she tries to bring that experience to her current students. She also works as a learning specialist in Westport in a therapeutic education program.
As someone who recently extended her educational pursuit, Gardner believes she can identify with her IDEAL students. “I think it dawns on some of us that we are late bloomers,’’ she said. “When you come back to school later on, you have an appreciation for it. I just found myself that I wouldn’t take anything less than an A in a class. I wanted to learn as much as I could. If I’d done that class out of high school, I’d have been happy with a C. It has to develop.”
Over her years as an educator, Gardner has relied more on technology to help students learn. While some old-school instructors are reluctant to embrace new trends, Gardner has discovered technology makes learning more interactive and appealing.
“They have so many more advantages today,’’ Gardner said. “My classroom is like a big learning lab. It’s very interactive. I’m very much into Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (a theory that states people learn in many different ways). That’s why we do a lot of innovative and creative projects. I don’t measure progress by knowledge or tests. I like to see what students learn. Today we have a lot of visual learners.”