Dr. Charlene Wilkerson is a faculty member at Brenau University's Augusta campus.

Getting Real

Charlene Wilkerson updated her own skills when she came out of retirement to teach at Brenau so she can help her students apply their real-world experience to new world education.

Dr. Charlene Wilkerson is accustomed to some of her students asking if they must type their papers. She lets them down gently.

“A few want to handwrite them,” she says, “And I say, ‘We don’t do that anymore.’”

Wilkerson was in education field for 32 years with the Richmond County School System before retiring in July 2008. Brenau opened a new chapter in her life, just as it did for her students. As an assistant professor of education on Brenau’s Augusta campus, Wilkerson teaches nontraditional students ranging from their 20s to one woman approaching 60 this past term.

Although today’s more traditional students, for who laptops, smart phones and digital keyboard communications are standard equipment, it is sometimes an adjustment for some students who have not been in classrooms since  three-ring binders , paper and ball point pens were in vogue.

Nonetheless, Wilkerson says her adult learners of all ages are “more motivated. … They know where they want to go and what they want to do.”

Wilkerson received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Knoxville College, her master’s degree in special education from South Carolina State and her specialist’s degree in school counseling at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She returned to South Carolina State to complete her doctorate in educational leadership.

In her career she was a special education teacher as well as an elementary and high school guidance counselor. After six months in the retirement, she says, “I got kind of bored. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and working with others who want to work with children.”

Wilkerson joined the Brenau faculty in January 2009. A popular instructor, Wilkerson taught “Instructional Planning and Curriculum for Teachers” this past term. Her classes usually range from 8 to 12 students. And, she has even added a new skill to her repertoire: teaching online courses.

She bases her philosophy of education on a quote by humanitarian Eugene P. Bertin: “Teaching is leaving a vestige of yourself in the development of another.  And surely the student is a bank where you can deposit your most precious treasures.”

Wilkerson makes sure her nontraditional students can adjust to modern educational standards, including assignments involving work on computers.

“I understand these are adults coming back, and some haven’t had a lot of experience dealing with technology,” says Wilkerson “I find a time we can get into the computer lab so we can walk through this together.”

Some of her students are only a couple of years removed from their college days, and many have associates degrees. She says some had left college due to family reasons, such as finances or illness, and were finally able to return.

Quite a few worked in child care or had children and were familiar with the educational system before deciding to go back to school themselves. Wilkerson’s oldest student was a 25-year veteran of Georgia’s pre-K system who needed to become certified.

They draw on their life experiences in discussions and sometimes role play. “They’re more eager to talk, more self-directed,” Wilkerson says. “They have a clear understanding and perception and are not afraid to share that.”

She brings in outside speakers and makes sure homework is not too time-consuming.

Wilkerson says her students prefer the classroom setting in lieu of online because “they’re so used to that personal touch.”

She’s seen a few drop out, “mostly early on if they find the workload overwhelming, but they usually tend to stick with it.”

In addition to teaching classroom control, management and scheduling, Wilkerson also finds herself reassuring her students that “kids are kids.”

“They want to be disciplined, they want to be taught,” she says. “Yes, they may come with situations and even baggage. If a teacher is prepared to give them what they need, it will be fine.”

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