STAMFORD, Conn. – For Joanne Butler, it all started with a degree in secretarial administration from the University of Bridgeport. More degrees followed, but her first experience made all the difference in her path to becoming an adjunct professor in the university’s IDEAL program.
“The skills and techniques I learned from that degree have been helpful and transferable,’’ said Butler, who teaches in Stamford and Bridgeport. “Those courses really help me with the projects that I do now. I plan, organize and motivate and teach people.”
Butler also brings her work experiences into the classroom, and finds them particularly valuable in reaching the broad spectrum of IDEAL students she meets.
Butler became a social worker and focused her efforts on assisting children and families affected by HIV/AIDS, children in foster care and residential systems, and adults with mental health issues and co-occurring disorders. She has taught courses in crisis management, sociology of deviance, and gerontology.
“What I like about the program is that they really want to be there,’’ said Butler, who has been teaching for eight years. ”They’re motivated. They do the work, and they know what the payoff is going to be. They’re able to set a goal and they know that they’ll get a degree and that it will benefit them down the road.”
Butler’s attention has most recently been on her gerontology class, which studies the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging. The course is an eye-opener for many of her students, who are quickly forced to examine their own lives and goals.
“I really flip it back on them,’’ she said. “It's making them look at themselves and where they see themselves down the road. What’s in their family history? How is it going to benefit them? Where and when do they want to retire? Do they want to work or volunteer? So many think they’re going to come in and study old people. But they’re studying their own life, and what they can do.”
Butler started teaching when her children were in high school at Housatonic Community College, and has worked there and at UB since 2008. "Teaching is always something I wanted to do,’’ she said.
Her career in social work, while not exactly the same as formal academic teaching, helped her prepare. “I did conferences and presentations on foster care,’’ she said. “I worked for family services organizations, and I would go out to all of their different branches and teach in our region. It wasn’t on an academic level. But it was teaching. And the skills I learned were transferable to this format.”
Butler feels she has come a long way since the beginning of her career as a teacher. The trick, she said, is interactivity within the classroom.
“You can only lecture for so long,’’ she said. “You have to interact and give voice to their concerns. It requires a lot of thought. I have to come up with strategies that let them learn the information, and keep them focused.”