Successfully teaching developmental and gatekeeper courses, particularly to students who may lack confidence and support, is as much about science (understanding the research), as it is about art (instructor’s personality and style). It entails a measure of both, the exact quantity to be determined by the singular needs and traits of any one class. The science is formal, as well as anecdotal. No one should discount or devalue his or her own hard-won classroom experiences. The art is knowing how much content to deliver, in what format, and when to stop delivery. It is to be quite intentional about our methods and strategies – on the fly intentional. It is about eye contact, precision with one’s language, and the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues. Most importantly, though, it is the opportunity many of us miss: the art entails intuiting exact times when we are able to publicly acknowledge a student’s non-cognitive expertise and skill, those “other” intelligences, unique life experiences, and the value of such expertise and experience.

As educators, we will discover that once adult students know we value them as whole individuals with untapped potential, they will work on projects all night long, if necessary. They will rise to the occasion, going well beyond what is expected of them, because YOU believed they could meet certain standards, facilitated the process 100%, and expected nothing less. Quite often, we subconsciously ascribe value and respect to academic knowledge and skills alone, or we advantage this knowledge above the skills required to simply make it from one day to the next. Honor and acknowledge the latter, and you will astronomically impact the former.


(Excerpt from CAPTURE My Heart, Educate My Soul: A training and reflection manual for faculty of developmental English students and faculty teaching “Gatekeeper” courses, Pamela Tolbert-Bynum Rivers, Ed.D., Hopewell Publications, 2018)