School of Education Asst Professor Jennifer Cuddapah Receives PDK Emerging Leaders Award
by Aliyah DeVille
Actors have the Emmys, musicians have the Grammys, and Broadway has the Tonys. So what do educators have? The Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) Emerging Leaders award. And the latest recipient of the PDK Emerging Leaders Award is JHU School of Education Assistant Professor Jennifer Cuddapah. Like an aspiring young singer who performs in front of her family as a child during holiday events, Cuddapah spent her formative years teaching anyone who would sit still for long enough. "Often, that meant my brother," she said.
Cuddapah’s current students look a little different. As an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the university’s Montgomery County Campus, Cuddapah now teaches future teachers. And she loves it.
"I’m teaching them a craft," she said. "It’s a very practical master’s degree. I get to instill in these future teachers the knowledge and confidence in what it takes to be a high-quality educator. I love that. I take great pride in teaching as a profession."
Cuddapah’s passion for the profession and her effectiveness have earned her the PDK Emerging Leaders Award, meant for educators under the age of 40 who have displayed service, leadership, and research in their field.
"For me, [the award] represents a commitment to teaching," Cuddapah says.
It’s a commitment she has displayed throughout her career, first as an elementary school teacher in the Montgomery County Public School system and now as a teacher educator at Johns Hopkins.
In her current position, Cuddapah teaches career changers. More specifically, she teaches individuals who do not have an undergraduate degree in education, but would like to enter the field. One reason she says she enjoys educating this demographic is that these students are more confident in the classroom, given their previous experiences in the workplace.
"They don’t get frazzled," she explains. "They have a confidence that new teachers don’t have.
"I think it’s because they come to us having had prior successes in other professions," she adds. "So they’re better able to weather challenging situations. They have more of a ‘this too shall pass’ mentality than new teachers who are new in the workplace."
And while other similar programs may exist around the country, Cuddapah says the JHU Master of Arts in Teaching program in the School of Education, and specifically in partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools, is unique because students are learning in a "top-notch" system. In addition, she says that the racial, socioeconomic, and religious diversity provide extensive learning opportunities for career changers.
By far the most important thing to Cuddapah is that her students share her passion for teaching and for children.
"You’d be surprised how many people come to interview for the program without mentioning kids once," she said.
She says she is always able to tell which students will be successful by how often they mention the needs of the students. She also cites some of her success stories as those students who didn’t get accepted the first time they applied for the program.
"Those who get rejected and then come back and ask for feedback can really change your mind," she adds. "I’ve had rejected applicants who go out, put my feedback into practice, and reapply. Those who successfully address our concerns often get in when they reapply. The ability to respond to feedback and make changes, that’s something you look for in a good teacher."
So what’s next for this award winning teacher educator?
Cuddapah’s current project is research on career changers in the field of education and what they have to offer to the education community.
"It’s a qualitative study that will explore the unique qualities of career changers in order to better recruit, prepare, and retain those looking to switch professions to the teaching field," she explains. Cuddapah, along with Faculty Associate, Dr. Mary Grace Snyder, already presented some of the early findings of the research at the American Educational Research Association meeting earlier this year. Now, she and Snyder are entering Phase II of the study, which involves a more in-depth evaluation of the data.
With a new dean at the JHU School of Education, Cuddapah knows program changes and improvements are on the horizon; however, she hopes to continue spending time in classrooms. Why? She sums it up in three words: "I like school."
Links to Cuddapah's recent journal articles:
- Journal of Teacher Education 2011: Using Wenger's Communities of Practice to Explore a New Teacher Cohort by Jennifer L. Cuddapah and Christine D. Clayton
- abstract for The New Educator 2011: Exploring Why Career Changers Leave Teaching by Jennifer L. Cuddapah, Mary Ellen Beaty-O'Ferrall, Frank J. Masci, and Monica Hetrick