MC professor, department chair is “servant” teacher

MC professor, department chair is “servant” teacherNovember 30, 2021

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Betty Clements

“Midland College knows how to celebrate others,” Betty Clements, department chair of Languages, Speech & Communications said.  “That’s one of the things that made me love this college!”

Clements said these words shortly after she received the 2021 Teaching Excellence Award on Friday, November 19, 2021.  At this event, her fellow employees celebrated her expertise in teaching and genuine concern for students.

“I’m not just a teacher,” Clements explained.  “I serve and interact with students on a daily basis, and that’s what makes me happy.  I’m a servant teacher.  My job is to understand where students are and then help them reach their goals.  Teaching is about building relationships.”

The idea of relationship building is one of the things that Dr. William Feeler, dean of Fine Arts & Communications, said makes Betty a truly exceptional faculty member.

“Ms. Clements is a person who shows love and respect to all around her,” Feeler said  “As the cleaning lady said, ‘She’s cool!’”

Clements has been “teaching” since she was a little girl. 

“I have 12 brothers and sisters,” Clements explained.  “I’m the fourth oldest.  Growing up, I would gather all my younger siblings together and force them to be my students, whether they liked it or not!  I created lessons and used old textbooks given to my father by the local principal. I handed out paper and pencils, and I made them raise their hands to talk and answer questions.  I knew very early in life that teaching was my passion.”

Clements grew up in Monroe, LA in a working-class family.  Her father was a school custodian.

“We were poor, but resourceful,” Clements recalled.  “My parents owned their own house, and we always had a big garden. The garden helped to provide food for us, as well as neighbors and friends.  Whenever anyone was down on their luck and needed food, my father was quick to respond with fresh vegetables from our garden.  He instilled in all of his children the importance of helping others.  He said that we all have something to give in order to be a blessing to others.”

Clements was the first person in her family to receive a college degree.  Immediately after high school, she attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on an academic scholarship.

“I didn’t know anything about college, and since my parents and older siblings hadn’t gone to college, I had no one to help ‘show me the ropes,’” she explained.  “I remember my first day in Freshman English class.  It was a 7:00 a.m. class, and there were about 14 students in class.  The professor’s name was Mrs. Fuller.  The first thing she said was, ‘I’m known as Flunking Fuller.  No one makes an ‘A’ in my class.’  I was terrified.  I remember thinking that maybe college wasn’t for me.  I stuck it out, and while I made ‘A’s’ in other classes, Mrs. Fuller was true to her word.  I only made a ‘B’ in her class, but I passed!”

Clements said that she still remembers that terrible first day of college and tries to giver her students a different experience.  

“We never know what students are experiencing or their backgrounds, and when a student enters the classroom, their entire background enters the classroom and impacts how they learn and grow.” she said.  “I thought I did not belong in college from my experience in Mrs. Fuller’s class.  Students need to feel a sense of belonging and it is created through communication and relationships. How I communicate with them can impact whether or not they continue in their academic journeys.  Learning is relational; therefore, it’s important for me to get to know my students so that I can help guide them through my class.  It doesn’t mean I have to lower my standards—it just means that I have to help students meet those standards in a way that is not intimidating or threatening.  There is a way to be firm and also communicate concern.”

Clements is in her fifth year of teaching at Midland College, and Feeler said she has been one of the greatest assets of the Fine Arts & Communications Division.

“She is conscientious, fun, dedicated and innovative,” he said.  “She made a huge impression her first semester by agreeing to go to Greenwood High School to teach dual credit Speech classes on their campus.  Then, she won the hearts of both the students and the principal by going to their evening basketball games!”

Clements still teaches dual credit Speech courses in Greenwood and said she loves the Greenwood community.  Feeler said that her work in Greenwood has done much to cement Midland College’s relationship with the community and even to help in the expansion of dual credit classes.  

This past spring, Clements coordinated and led Midland College’s first online diversity conference and is pursuing this topic for a doctoral dissertation in Educational Administration at Carolina University. 

“I’ve always had an interest in diversity,” she said.  “However, I’m not interested in how diversity highlights differences, but rather how it can bring people together.  Differences shouldn’t separate us.  We need to work together.  My goal for the diversity conference was to give students and employees a safe space to address differences and then work together for common goals.

“Growing up, my parents never made it seem like because we were African-American, we were different from others.  It was not uncommon for us to have people that were not African-American at our dinner table.  That’s where I learned that we had more in common than we had differences.”

Clements said that she can relate to many community college students because even though she started her college career as a traditional student, she finished as a mother of three small children when she was in her 30s.  

“During my sophomore year of college, I became pregnant and dropped out,” she explained. “It was more than a decade later before I enrolled at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.  By that time, I was married, and my husband worked to support our family while I pursued my dream of obtaining a college education. Our children were in grade school at the time, so the children and I would compare grades and sit at the kitchen table and study together.  We motivated each other, and it helped to hold each other accountable.”

When she was finishing her bachelor’s degree, one of her professors encouraged her to get her master’s degree.  So, she continued to earn a master’s degree and became a graduate teaching assistant.  Since that time, she has held numerous teaching positions at Southern University at Shreveport, Baton Rouge Community College and most recently, before coming to Midland College, at West Georgia Technical College in Atlanta.  

“I love Midland,” Clements said.  “It’s the first time I’ve lived out of the deep South, but I couldn’t ask for a better place to work than Midland College.  From the minute I accepted the job, everybody embraced me.  When I came to Midland, it was during an oil boom, and I had a hard time locating an apartment.  Katherine Allen, who was then the department chair, offered to allow me to stay with her until I could find a place.  Vivian and Kent Moss [retired music and photography professors] took me out to lunch and invited me to their church.  I immediately knew that Midland was where I belonged.”

In the past five years since Clements has been at Midland College, she has made a lasting impression.  

“Ms. Clements quickly gained a reputation as a superb teacher and a favorite of students,” Feeler said.  “Then she became department chair upon the retirement of Katherine Allen.  She is recognized as an excellent leader by all her faculty members.

“When I proposed to her that we use Speech 1315 as a corequisite credit course with students taking developmental reading, she immediately jumped on board, working with both Speech and Reading faculty members to make the program a great success.  In fact, I believe that we were the first program in Texas to reach 100 percent corequisite status in the developmental program.”

Clements arrived at Midland College with the goal of starting an honors speech club on campus.  She accomplished that in her second year and now leads a very active organization.  

When the COVID pandemic forced Midland College professors to change teaching styles, Clements was one of the first to begin using a combination of virtual and traditional classroom teaching in the fall of 2020 by simply opening her classroom to those students who wished to attend class on campus, rather than virtually.

“Betty shows her dedication to students and to her job through her availability—even answering her phone in the summer when not teaching or on weekends when she is out of town,” Feeler said.  “When asked to meet a new challenge, to help others, to do more, to go the extra mile, to serve on a committee, to be a confidante, to give attention to a student, Ms. Clements knows only one answer—a resounding YES!”

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