TLTE's Reeves named 2015 Swanson Award recipient

Jenelle Reeves
TLTE's Jenelle Reeves honored with the Swanson Award for Teaching Excellence.

TLTE's Reeves named 2015 Swanson Award recipient

24 Feb 2015     By Brad Stauffer

Jenelle Reeves was once reluctant to pursue a career in teaching, but now she’s being recognized for her excellence in that very discipline. The College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) has selected Reeves, associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, as the 2015 recipient of the Donald R. & Mary Lee Swanson Award for Teaching Excellence. She will be recognized at the All University Honors Convocation April 12 and at a college luncheon May 1.

The central focus of the Swanson Award is the positive impact of teaching excellence on students. Award recipients must demonstrate that their teaching promotes thinking, encourages engaged, active and continuous learning, and holds high standards for student performance. They must also provide evidence that they are working to improve their own teaching, including research and scholarly activity.

Reeves’ diverse career includes her first job teaching English as a second language (ESL) to Japanese high school students, serving as a an ESL instructor at the University of Tennessee, and since 2002 serving as a professor in the areas of ESL and teacher education at Auburn University and UNL. She teaches both UNL undergraduate and graduate students on campus and online.

Comments by Reeves’ students in recent course evaluations underscore her award-winning talents as a teacher:

  • “She knows how to create a meaningful class experience that is relevant to the students. I feel more prepared to teach in an ESL class because of her expertise, influence and direction.”
  • “Thank you for your superior organization and communication in this course. This is BY FAR the best online course I have ever taken. Usually I wince when I see that a course I really want to take is online. That was not the case at all with TEAC 413P.”
  • “I liked how we were required to put the information we were learning into use by making accommodations in our lessons. We were not just learning about information, we were learning how to use and implement the information into our professional careers.”

The challenge of preparing educators to teach English learners in K-12 classrooms is not for the faint of heart, says Reeves.

“My work as a teacher educator is to developing robust reasoners,” says Reeves. “Teaching is complex, and teaching with students who do not speak English proficiently deepens this complexity.”

Most of her UNL students have very little in common with the English learners they will teach. Reeves’ students are predominantly white, nearly all native English speakers, have little experience with a second language, and most have never traveled outside the country.

“A first step in my courses is often to help [my students] see this mismatch and to encourage them to think critically about it, to reflect thoughtfully on the educational opportunities offered and denied the English learners in Nebraska classrooms, and to design effective instruction for English learners,” said Reeves.

When she came to Nebraska in 2005, Reeves saw little opportunity for her students to interact with the English learners they were preparing to teach. She led program changes that introduced English learner practicums into both the elementary education program and English learner endorsement programs. The changes allowed UNL students to see first-hand the academic challenges English learners face and to better understand how to help them succeed.

Reeves is also a big advocate for students to pursue a global experience. She has led education abroad trips to South Korea, the Netherlands and will be leading a group of students to Italy later this year. Travel study, she says, offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience living as a “linguistic and cultural outsider”—much like English learners in America.

“Today’s knowledge about education has to be the equivalent of an entire year of academic study,” said one of Reeves' students who recorded her thoughts after observing South Korean schools. “My mind is overflowing with new ideas, beliefs and emotions after visiting three elementary schools in and around Chuncheon, South Korea. I can’t help but think about how I can use this knowledge to become a better teacher and positively impact the lives of my students. Growing up in America, I have only been able to imagine one version of the schooling experience, and today I experienced the power of international collaboration to continue to grow personally as a teacher, and nationally as an education system.”

Clearly, Jenelle Reeves is making an impact on her academic program at UNL and her students. Her engaging style and focus on giving students an effective balance of theory, practice and high expectations is having a profound influence on future teachers and leaders in the field of English language acquisition. Now an assistant professor of applied Linguistics and English at Briercrest College and Seminary in Canada, Bradley Baurain calls Reeves a “peer among peers” and is grateful for the investments she made in him as a “student, teacher, researcher and writer.”

“She did not force me to march to the drum of her research interests,” said Baurain, “but instead focused on encouraging and equipping me toward pursuing my own interests.”

That unselfish commitment to her students exemplifies her qualifications as the 2015 recipient of the Swanson Award for Teaching Excellence.

College of Education and Human Sciences
Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education