Alumni Spotlight: Michele M. Stoffan, Ph.D.
What program(s) did you graduate from?
Bachelor of Science in Education, 1972 - Major Early Childhood Education; Master of Arts in Education - 1975 - Major Early Childhood Education; Doctor of Philosophy - 1981 - Major Curriculum & Instruction: Language & Cognition, Minor Theoretical Foundations.
Why did you choose your program area(s)?
I was always fascinated by the thinking patterns and delight of young children. I loved playing with and caring for my younger cousins. I started babysitting at 12, teaching swimming lessons at 15. I also deeply enjoyed teaching. My Grandmother had taught in a one room school house and although that was long before I was born, that seemed to be a part of who I was as well. My sister and I frequently played "school" in our basement and of course I was the teacher. Selecting Early Childhood Education seemed a very logical choice.
What does the field of Early Childhood Education mean to you?
I knew fairly early (11 or 12 years old) that I wanted to be more than a teacher. I am not sure where I heard the term educator but that seemed to fit as a goal.
Why is this program important?
I sensed that the guidance and support provided to children could shape the future and I wanted to have a positive impact there if possible. I was fortunate to have many wonderful role models in my own education and I still reflect on memories of my own teachers both positive and negative. I knew how important my teachers (including my parents) were in preparing me for my future and hoped I could be a part of good memories for my students.
How did this program prepare you for your current career?
Each of my experiences at Kent were unique. During my undergraduate program, an experimental design in teacher training had been instituted that allowed students to have experience in classroom as soon as they passed "Junior Standards". (These were a series of screenings to assure that you could present yourself well in front of a class, write correctly in cursive and manuscript both on paper and on a chalkboard, play a simple melody with chord accompaniment on the piano, and have an adequate GPA. This seems quite archaic now but...) Kent was still on quarters at the time. This allowed me to have experiences in a variety of settings including at a high poverty school in Ravenna. Student teaching senior year followed a similar pattern, 3 quarters of student teaching (1/2 days) in three different settings. For me those settings were Preschool in Tallmadge, Grade 3 in Kent and Kdg. in Akron. Although as a new teacher I still had a lot to learn my first year, this wealth of experience provided a strong foundation.
I pursued my Masters after just a few years of teaching because I still had burning questions about how I could best help students learn. I also felt if I wanted people to take my burgeoning beliefs about how children learn seriously, I needed "more letters" after my name. As a Kindergarten teacher, I wanted to build not only my knowledge base but also my credibility. It seemed to work! I was recruited to work on curriculum committees in my school district and then as a presenter for Early Childhood conferences and staff development in the Cleveland area.
Several years passed and that longing for more information and new challenges reemerged. After exploring the programs available and the possible professors with whom I might work, I selected Kent for my Ph.D. Again I had a rich and challenging experience. Because of my dissertation topic, I was allowed to take graduate coursework not only in Education but also in Sociology and Anthropology.
With my new Ph.D. in hand I explored several college teaching positions but ultimately returned to the classroom. I was quite the anomaly, a kindergarten teacher with her Ph.D.! I continued work in curriculum in my local school district and also presenting at a wider variety of conferences. In 1985 I was asked to join the faculty for the 2 +2 partnership program at our Community College. Because it was a new program, we had many non traditional students which I enjoyed. As the program expanded, I was asked to develop and teach graduate level courses which really helped me feel that I was making a direct impact on the lives of many more children. My work life became "good-bye boys and girls", drive to the local college for "hello ladies and gentleman" 2 or three evenings a week.
Eventually I was asked to serve as the Director of Academic Services for Elyria Schools, my school district. I was responsible for 13 elementary schools.I served in this position for 10 years. After "retirement", I was offered a position as a school improvement consultant through the Ohio Department of Education, another opportunity for both teaching and learning in many districts in Northern Ohio. The breadth of my experiences at Kent and the variety of excellent staff I was able to learn from at Kent laid a firm foundation for my whole career.
Why did you create your endowed scholarship at Kent State?
The Michele M. Stoffan Endowed Scholarship was established to help inspire and support future teachers interested in providing the highest quality of instruction in high poverty settings. The challenges of teaching in a high poverty school are great. Often the financial rewards are small but the impact teachers in high poverty schools can make in the lives of their students is even greater than the challenges. It is my desire to continue to provide some small encouragement to future teachers wiling to create this impact in the lives of children.