For Nancy Ruppert, chair and professor of education at UNC Asheville, the middle school classroom is where magic happens. Her ability to create her own educational magic for her students and colleagues at UNC Asheville has earned her the 2018 Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, UNC Asheville’s original teaching award.
The award was presented to Ruppert by Patrick Foo, associate professor of psychology and the 2017 recipient of the distinguished teaching award, who praised Ruppert’s dedication to middle school education. Throughout her career, Ruppert has returned repeatedly to the middle school classroom—a task that would terrify most college professors, Foo said.
“I find going back in a school magical,” Ruppert said. “Each time, I gain a sense of knowing how teachers are being treated, how they feel. Experiencing that, not just listening to them and working with the kids on their journey, impacts my teaching here.”
“I think the most powerful part of my journey has been to ‘live’ within schools, with kids and their families, with teachers and administrators, with district and state leaders, and with the society that makes up public schools,” she continued.
At UNC Asheville, Ruppert helps college students prepare for their own journeys as teachers.
“I have never had a teacher/professor care about me as much as Dr. Ruppert,” said Kendra Jarvis, who became one of Ruppert’s students in 2002 when she came to UNC Asheville to pursue a teaching license in middle school education. Jarvis has now worked in Buncombe County Schools for more than a decade in various roles including: an award-winning 8th grade language arts teacher; a secondary literacy coach; and currently as an instructional technology facilitator.
“Although I do not remember every lesson Dr. Ruppert taught, I do remember how she made me feel: like I had value, I was important and had something to share with students,” Jarvis said.
Ruppert’s influence didn’t end when Jarvis graduated. “Throughout my career, I have stepped out of my comfort zone many times and Dr. Nancy Ruppert has always been behind me cheering me on. Her support has spurred me into new adventures and career paths,” Jarvis said. “Knowing Dr. Ruppert has opened many doors for me, from being asked to teach regional workshops with her, writing articles, and being part of committees.”
“Without her support, I would not be in my position today.”
Beyond the classroom, Ruppert currently serves as president of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) Board of Trustees, an international organization with more than 55,000 members dedicated to helping teachers and administrators working with 10-15-year-old students.
“Professionally, being elected as president of AMLE has been the highlight of my career," Ruppert said.
“I am a middle school teacher at heart. I majored in middle level education as an undergraduate at Warren Wilson College, and while I have taught in elementary school, junior high schools, middle schools, and college, my passion remains with the spirit of middle school students and those who work with them. I believe we all have a little bit of that middle school magic in us; it is pure joy to work with our licensure candidates here and spread that joy.”
Her years of experience with middle school education—whether as president of AMLE, a university professor teaching future middle school teachers, or as a teacher in the middle school classroom itself—has given Ruppert a deep understanding of what is required of middle school teachers. It’s an understanding she works hard to share every day at UNC Asheville.
“Build relationships, take care of yourself and your colleagues, and give 110 percent for 180 days—that’s what we need from all teachers,” Ruppert said, “Don’t go into teaching thinking that it’s going to be easy; remember that some days are better than others; and know that you are going to make mistakes.”
“Working in a Public Liberal Arts university, has been a privilege. I work with colleagues across all disciplines to help prepare students for their journey.
“Teaching is a really fun part of that journey.”