More than likely, your favorite teacher in school was the one who made learning fun – the one who taught you to love learning. When Jennifer Brewster was a substitute teacher in a third-grade classroom in Tazewell County, Virginia, she said, “A little boy kept asking me to read things for him, telling me he couldn’t read. ‘Well, why don’t you just try,’ I said. ‘Show me what you can do.’ And he started reading, and I said, ‘Who told you that you can’t read? Because you can read beautifully.’ He said, ‘My teacher told me I can’t read.’”
That was one of the many times, Brewster said, she felt like God was telling her, “This is why you need to be a teacher.” Students, she added, need a teacher who encourages them and helps them learn to love what they are doing.
“I’d always wanted to be a teacher since I was little, but I didn’t have any type of certification or degree,” said Brewster. “So that was one of the moments that helped me to finally realize it was time to step out and pursue my dream.”
Her husband, Mark, a 1982 Bluefield College graduate, encouraged her the most, suggesting that she inquire with his alma mater. Their boys, Scott and Morgan, were getting older, so he told her, “Go back and do it now. There is no better time. You’ve always wanted to do this, and you know we can’t have three in college at the same time.”
“I went over to Bluefield with no appointment,” recalled Brewster. “I just walked in and said I wanted to talk to someone about starting college. When I left there, I had my class schedule for the fall. It was so easy and nothing like I had expected. So, it was my time to further my education. At the age of 38, I went to college.”
Brewster’s parents moved to Bluefield to help with the kids, while she pursued a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with teacher licensure (Elementary Education-PreK-6). She completed the program in three-and-a-half years as a full-time traditional student, graduating in 2008 with memberships in the Alpha Chi National Honor Society and the Pi Lambda Theta Honor Society for Educators.
“The staff and faculty were all so friendly and nice. It was like family,” said Brewster. “I made friends, and I was even in a few of my classmates’ weddings. What makes Bluefield College so special is the togetherness. Everyone works together like family.”
Dr. Thomas Brewster, dean and associate professor of BC’s School of Education, said, “We are especially proud of students like Jennifer who chose Bluefield College’s Teacher Education Program after developing their passion to be a teacher from prior experiences. Stackable licensure and credentials give our students the opportunity to advance within the field of education, providing continuous learning and added financial incentives.”
Having a career as a teacher, Brewster agreed, has taken the burden off of her husband to be the sole provider for their family. Her paycheck, she added, provides for their boys, who are both now in college: Scott, a pharmacy resident through East Tennessee State University’s College of Pharmacy, and Morgan in graduate school at Radford University after earning his bachelor’s degree from Bluefield College in 2016. But while the financial benefits have been a tremendous help, Brewster said, they’re not all she gained from her BC experience.
“It gave me a sense of fulfillment that I earned something on my own that nobody else could do for me,” said Brewster about her Bluefield degree. “It empowered me to do other things – make decisions and carry on conversations with people I’d never dreamed I could talk to before. Looking back, before I went to Bluefield College I was very insecure with low self-esteem. I was so wrapped up in my little circle – just my family. I’d use every excuse not to step out of that circle, but I’m glad I had the support to pursue my degree. Not only did my degree help me build my skillset and earn a better paycheck; it gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I could make a difference.”
And make a difference she is. Dr. Donna Watson, former dean of BC’s School of Education, said that since graduation Brewster has served as a mentor for other students in the Teacher Education Program. “She’s caring and creative,” said Dr. Watson. “She holds high standards for her elementary students and an even higher standard for herself. She’s an exemplary graduate of the Teacher Education Program at Bluefield College, and she spreads goodness and light in her classroom each day.”
This past fall, Brewster began her 10th year teaching and her fourth year as a fifth-grade teacher at Graham Intermediate School in Bluefield, Virginia. She’s proof that education is more than a diploma and that Bluefield College is realizing its mission of helping students understand and fulfill their calling.
“I’ve seen a lot of students who don’t have much,” said Brewster. “I want to teach them to love learning and to be empowered. I want them to succeed, and this is my way to invest in them.”
Original article by Briana Morris Fillers, United Way of Southwest Virginia.