This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Dr. Donna Topping, professor of elementary and early childhood education. She has been at Millersville for 15 years.
Q: What has been your favorite memory thus far?
A: My favorite memory, and it’s one that happens again and again, is seeing the “Aha” moment when learning clicks for students.
Q: How would you describe your teaching technique?
A: I’m very high energy when I teach and I’ll do whatever it takes to get the point across. I incorporate music, drama, art, storytelling, cartoons, physical movement, pair and small group work into my lessons. Additionally, I will use more traditional techniques like lecture and PowerPoint.
Q: Students generally take the PRAXIS exams during the semester they have your courses. How do you prepare them for this exam and help to ease their anxiety?
A: I create multiple-choice “PRAXIS-like” exams so they are studying not only for my class, but also for that very high stakes test that will determine their certification. We study for tests differently, depending upon the type of test we will take, so I make sure that their study investment will yield bigger results in this way. Of course, the best preparation is to know the subject well, so I teach for that. There is a great deal of comfort knowing that Millersville University students traditionally have done very well on the PRAXIS.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in regards to education?
A: “Be the kind of teacher you would want to have.”
Q: What’s one thing that most people on campus don’t know about you?
A: I’m a church organist.
Q: Do you take it as a compliment that Millersville University is sometimes stereotyped as a “teacher’s college?”
A: That’s a fond tribute to our roots, but everyone knows we have grown to encompass so many more fields.
Q: What qualities make up a successful educator?
A: There are so many attributes that come together in a successful teacher! If I had to settle on just two, I’d say passion and compassion – passion for your subject, and compassion for those who are learning it.
Q: How many teaching positions have you held?
A: I was a first grade teacher, reading specialist, supervisor of reading and language arts for a school district before moving to higher education, where I taught at another university before coming to Millersville.
Q: Have you been involved in any on-campus organizations or committees during your time at Millersville?
A: I have served on a number of committees in my department, school and across the University. One of my favorites was the President’s Advisory Leadership Council, where I got such a broad overview of the University as a whole.
Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment in the education field?
A: I’m proud of my three books published by Heinemann, a leading publisher in my field. But when former students come back and tell you that you made a difference in their teaching, there is very little that can top that.
Q: How important was education in the recent election?
A: It is time for politics and big business to get out of education. I would actively campaign for any candidate whose platform stated, “I’m staying out of education. I don’t know enough about it. I’m going to leave it to the educators who know what they’re doing and what needs to be done.”
Q: If you could switch lives with anybody in the entire world for one day, who would you pick?
A: Probably Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, from the Food Network. She gets to spend her life interacting with such interesting people while traveling, shopping, cooking and entertaining!
Q: What has been the most challenging experience you’ve encountered while teaching?
A: Time is every teacher’s arch-enemy. We know our subjects so well and so thoroughly that it’s hard to wrestle that subject to the ground so that it fits into time allotted for a course, and still make sure the course has integrity.
Q: How did you grow from this?
A: It forces a constant revisiting of knowledge, and the discipline of distilling the essence of what’s most important.
Q: What is your idea of a relaxing day?
A: A chilly, rainy day where I have nothing planned; a fire in the fireplace, a stack of books and crossword puzzles at the ready.
Q: What is one thing you just cannot live without?
A: The love of my family and friends.