Wright on Track
Tigerville, SC (December 3, 2019) Few colleges ever get to tout a 100 percent hiring rate for their graduates. But in North Greenville University’s College of Education (COE), they’ve been able to brag on that stat for the past three years in a row (and counting); yes, all of the college’s job-seeking graduates have found teaching positions within just a few months after graduation. And no one knows the COE’s secret to this success better than the college dean: Dr. Constance Wright.
She could hardly wait for church to end.
As soon as her family returned home after the service, she would trade out her frilly dress, matching hat, white gloves, tights, and patent leather shoes for shorts and a T-shirt; tie up her long, blonde hair into a ponytail; and then race out the back door barefooted — like that early scene from “The Man in the Moon” — to find trees to climb and mud to play in outside of her family’s home in Fairview, NC, located near Asheville in the heart of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
“I was the only girl in the family, so my mother took every opportunity to put me in a dress. She especially loved taking it to the next level for church,” Dr. Constance Wright explains, then owning up to her reputation back then as a tomboy. “I hated every bit of it.”
However, that sentiment changed when Wright was around 14 and they asked her to fill in for one of the Sunday school teachers who was sick. She prepared for her lesson, put on her “Sunday best,” and headed to church. Wright felt nervous at first, up in front of a room of children, as she’d only recently become a Christian herself.
After a few lessons, though, she discovered she loved her new role and began to sense her calling to become a teacher.
“It was deeper than loving the children,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.’”
To become a teacher would mean to join the family business. Both of Wright’s parents, as well as a handful of her mother’s relatives, worked in education.
Lest you guess that they all forced her to follow in their footsteps, she relays that her father, who taught biology and physical education at the local high school, actually tried to talk her out of that career path plenty of times.
“He would say, ‘I think you should do anything but teach. It’s just going to get more difficult for teachers,’” she remembers.
Wright realized the truth of her father’s prediction years later.
By that time, she had completed both her bachelor’s and master’s in education, taught at the K-6 level for several years, and just started her first year teaching high schoolers. Assigned to teach a dual-enrollment elective course in child development, Wright was delighted when the class filled up with students eager to work towards earning college credit, so she thought. When she walked into the classroom for the first time, she learned they had a much different motivation.
“Nearly a third of the students were pregnant. The reason they were taking my class was because they wanted to know, ‘What is happening inside of me right now, and what do I do after I have the baby?’ So I knew they were scared. Most of them were 17 and found themselves facing hard decisions. They had to grow up quickly,” she realized. “It was at that moment I knew my purpose was much greater than instruction: I would become a mother figure to some, a mentor to others, and a prayer warrior for all of them.”
In fact, some of Wright’s students were still debating whether or not to get an abortion. When they confided in her for advice, she encouraged them to consider other options.
“Through this experience, I began to see the desperate need for teachers who could bring the Christian influence into the classroom and help guide their students,” she says.
Wright calls this revelation her “second calling”: the experience sparked her passion for preparing aspiring teachers to focus not only on “getting students to excel academically from one year to the next,” but also on helping them to “grow as a person, as a citizen, and as a contributor of the community where they live.”
Once the school year ended, Wright began working on her doctorate. She dreamed of going into higher education, and she did — serving for eight years at Montreat College in the education department.
Then one day, the administration called her in to let her know they had to eliminate the department due to budget cuts. She was disappointed to hear she would lose her job.
Feeling uncertain but hopeful, Wright decided to call up one of her colleagues, the dean of the College of Education (COE) at NGU, to see if the university might have any openings. The two had met several years earlier, and she’d left the dean a copy of her resume.
“I explained to her what had happened, and she asked me if she could interrupt me for a moment. She told me that she had walked up her letter of resignation the previous week — she was going to retire — and at that time, they had asked if she could recommend anyone. She had given them my resume, which she had kept since my initial visit,” Wright remembers. “The miracle, to me, was that God knew then that I would be needing a job, and He had already begun providing for me. That God brought me here is undeniable.”
Since Wright joined NGU in 2012 as dean of the COE, the college has continued to make strides.
New programs added under her leadership include Spanish education and, most recently, physical education. In addition, every NGU student now graduates with a Read to Succeed endorsement, and education majors can now take American Sign Language to fulfill their foreign language requirements.
Wright has also helped to lead several technology improvements, such as the addition of Chromebooks and iPads for instructional purposes.
But Wright says one of the most important changes she has implemented is strengthening the mentoring program at NGU.
Previously, NGU hired mostly outside teachers to complete observations for students enrolled in courses with field experiences. But now, it’s the education students’ actual professors who watch them teach and then provide feedback.
“Our professors are able to monitor in real time if they’re teaching our students effectively and then make any needed modifications to their instruction right away,” Wright explains.
This is the shift Wright attributes to the college’s recent hiring rate success among education graduates. For the past three years, in fact, the COE has touted a 100 percent hiring rate among graduates who sought a teaching job.
Wright adds that the notable success is also due to the comprehensive way NGU’s COE faculty teach students what they need to do to land a job after graduation. For example, NGU education majors go through the process of preparing a professional portfolio, writing a cover letter and resume, and learning specific tips about how to conduct themselves in a school setting. They even experience mock interviews with local principals.
In addition, NGU’s COE hosts a job fair every spring, inviting representatives from school districts in Greenville, Spartanburg, and beyond to meet and set up interviews with NGU’s highly sought-after teacher candidates prior to graduation.
Now that she’s overseeing both NGU’s undergraduate and graduate programs in education — after a reorganization of the COE in March 2019 — Wright hopes to make it even easier for NGU alumni who are seeking another degree after graduation.
She’s looking into smoothing out the transition between NGU’s bachelor’s and master’s programs and master’s and doctoral programs, all but eliminating the application process for students who have already established a proven track record at NGU.
Moving forward, Wright also plans to create a professional development center for teachers at NGU’s Tim Brashier Campus at Greer, as well as to add new academic programs to NGU’s growing list of education offerings and to further develop NGU’s education facilities.
Of course, she also hopes to continue mentoring aspiring teachers who understand what she understands:
“Being a teacher, you get to make a lasting, life-changing impact on the world,” Wright says. “What I hope each of our students has been prepared to do by the time they graduate is to inspire future generations to love learning; to invest in learning themselves so they can remain effective in the classroom; and, most importantly, to impact communities by modeling Jesus’ love. They have the unique opportunity of taking Jesus with them into school environments where He is not necessarily welcome, and by doing so they demonstrate His love not only for the children in their classroom, but also their colleagues and, ultimately, the greater community.”
“The College of Education faculty are just phenomenal. They pour into you spiritually and academically, leading by example to show you what really matters in the classroom. Now that I’m in the field, what stands out the most is that they care enough to keep praying for me and checking on me. Where else can you find professors you can call to get practical advice or to share a celebration with?”
Rebecca Komoroski | Class of 2018
“One of my favorite things about the College of Education at NGU is the amount of time they have the education majors in classrooms observing and teaching. I truly believe the classroom experience provided is what sets NGU education grads apart from others; we’ve been given time to see multiple grade levels, subject areas, and teachers. This simply prepares teachers more than anything else! I feel I had so much experience that I was completely prepared for my semester of student teaching.”
Ashley Caviness | Class of 2015
“If you want to be a music teacher, I would definitely recommend NGU. Music education is a very busy major; it requires much focus and determination, and the classes are very thorough. When you actually step into public schools and begin your journey as an educator, however, you know that all that hard work was well worth it! In some ways, our education classes required us to do more than we actually have to do in Greenville County Schools. This makes for a pleasant experience once you are out on your own. I would much rather be overprepared than underprepared!”
Adam Cochran | Class of 2014
“The smaller class sizes in the College of Education at NGU really allowed me to build more personal relationships with my professors. I wasn’t just a name on a roster. I felt they honestly cared about my success in school and in the real world after graduation. They did not sugarcoat things, either. They trained us for the real world and not the fantasy land that so many beginning educators have in their minds about how their classroom will be when they start the profession.”
Erik Hines | Class of 2004
Orchestra Director and 2016 Teacher of the Year
For information about NGU’s College of Education, visit NGU.edu/college-of-education.