Winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College
Elise McCauley, the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College, is a professor of speech and English at Redlands Community College. Over her 28 years as an educator, McCauley has worked at the middle school, high school and college levels. Her diverse experiences and the unique challenges her students face have driven home an essential truth for her: “Teachers don’t teach subjects; they teach students.”
McCauley’s empathy and put-the-learner-first focus has helped her adapt her teaching strategies to meet students’ most pressing needs. When she was a rookie teacher at an inner-city school in Tulsa, McCauley adapted her lessons to address some of the daily realities her students faced. “‘Romeo and Juliet’ became about gang violence more than star-crossed lovers; ‘The Odyssey’ became about facing life’s challenges more than classical literature,” McCauley said. “I had students write future autobiographies where they planned to live to 100 so they could visualize the future and set goals.”
Today, as a professor at Redlands Community College, McCauley practices the same strategy based on keen observation of her students’ needs. When COVID forced classes online in 2020, McCauley recognized the need for students to better communicate and physically present themselves in a professional manner over video conferencing platforms, whether for school or job interviews. She incorporated an online training curriculum, Zoom Play Days, into each of her classes. The curriculum received many accolades, including the Great Ideas for Teaching Award from the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges.
“Professor McCauley maintains a rigor in her classes to prepare her students for the challenges they will face, both academically and professionally, while also showing compassion and empathy for the personal struggles students face,” said colleague Marcia Shottenkirk. She also builds relationships and supports students’ progress through regularly scheduled one-to-one conferences, Shottenkirk added.
Former student Jamie Warren said McCauley is a role model who has made her feel more confident with public speaking. McCauley provided techniques and a note packet for students to prepare their speeches, taught them the fine art of providing constructive criticism, and pushed them outside their comfort zone by assigning impromptu speeches with little prep time.
“I left on the last day of class a better person, public speaker and even a better friend because I am better at communication than I was before,” Warren said.