Teacher Feature: Black inspires students with interactive learning

Abigail Buenker, Managing Editor

Kathy Black has been teaching business communications for her entire career. Before she began her professional career, she began her education at Lake Land College and transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  While at SIU, Black earned her bachelor’s degree and graduate degree. During her two years in grad school, she taught as a graduate assistant for business communications.

“I have been teaching business communications for my entire career. That has been my first love always,” Black said.

After her work as a graduate assistant, Black was offered a full-time job at SIUC, but Black wanted to move on and gain more experience.

“I got a job at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio and I taught there for five years. I taught computer applications, computer programing and business communications.”

While Black enjoyed teaching at Bowling Green State, she began to feel burnt out with teaching.

“I kind of put the brakes on, and we moved to the St. Louis area. I got a part-time job and did software training in St. Louis,” she said.

Black enjoyed her job in the city and raising her family. But over time, she and her husband decided that they weren’t in love with city life.

“We loved our jobs in the city, but my husband was working for State Farm and had an opportunity to transfer to the Mattoon office. So we jumped on that,” Black said.

Due to her family relocating in the Mattoon area, Black decided that it was time to return to teaching again. After talking with the Business Division Chair at Lake Land, she was hired as an adjunct in 1997 and went on to accept a full-time position in 1998.

“When I started teaching here during the first week of teaching as an adjunct, I was walking up to the front door and some young man opened the door for me and held it open and I walked in,” she continued.

“I just remember thinking- Wow. In all of my five years in Bowling Green, Ohio- that never occurred.”

From day one, Black has always felt a special connection with the students at Lake Land College. After about five years of working at Lake Land, the current Business Division Chair was promoted to Vice President, leaving the Business Chair position vacant.

“I knew I was a leader, but I hadn’t really thought too much about it. I thought some of the older people within the position would take the role.”

However, many of Black’s colleagues had talked with her and saw that she should step into the job. Black accepted the position and has been the Business Division Chair for 17 years.

“I still get to teach, and honestly if I didn’t still get to teach I would never have taken this job because I love teaching so much,” Black said.

Currently, Black teaches just a few classes that are both online and face-to-face classes. One of the classes she teaches, Business Career Development (BUS 120), is a class for business students that focuses on business communications and helping students to plan their career. She also teaches Advanced Formatting (BUS 114), which is a second level computer keyboarding class primarily for students involved in a medical or office career. The class focuses on formatting documents and using the advanced features of Microsoft Word.

“I love watching students learn. It’s so exciting for me to see a change in a student from day one all the way to the end of the semester in only sixteen weeks. I love watching students think critically and give them projects that involve that,” Black said.

Black employs what she calls an ‘interactive learning’ style. She minimizes her time lecturing and gives her students the opportunity to use their own critical thinking to internalize the material. Instead of students passively absorbing information, Kathy lets her students discuss the material in small groups, present information to the whole class, and then discuss once more as a class.

“[Interactive Learning] is more applicable to how students are going to live their lives. It prepares them more for figuring things out on their own. Students also retain more,” she said. “There are all kinds of studies on the taxonomy on the different levels of learning. The rote memorization method is ‘here today, gone tomorrow’- but if you have to present something and actually learn it to the point where you are the teacher, that’s one of the highest levels of learning,” Black said.

Black also encourages her students to get to know one another and loves watching students getting to know one another over time.

“Before class in the beginning of the year, students come in and they’re all quiet and they are on their phones. But now that it’s midterm, they’re all visiting,” she said. “And I think that’s something that you’ll emulate at your future jobs,” Black said.

Though Black loves teaching, she also has to balance her job as an instructor and her job as the Business Division Chair. In her role as the Business Chair, she attends meetings, does paperwork, and meets frequently with the business instructors.

“The administrative part is such a huge part of my job. I’m resolving conflicts, building schedules, making sure the faculty get paid and budgeting for my division…. I’m always on call,” she said.

After Black’s many years at Lake Land, she is most proud of the programs she has implemented at Lake Land College. After almost two decades of working at the college, Black plans on retiring in 2020 and only has one full academic year left before she retires. Though she has enjoyed her time as Business Chair and as an instructor, she hopes to leave an impactful legacy at Lake Land College.

“When I leave, I know that the webpage design program will continue on. Peer-to-peer will continue when I’m gone. It’s cool that those things exist, but I’m most proud of the relationships that I have built with students over the years. I am much more proud of that than anything else.”

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