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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Jessica Folkart


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Jessica Folkart, associate professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, for the student-centered approach to teaching that she brings to her training of undergraduates, graduate students, and K-12 teachers in the state of Virginia.

Folkart’s goal is to wield her subject matter to captivate students and teach them to think critically and analytically, whether they are exploring the nuances of the preterit and imperfect verb tenses in Spanish grammar or pinpointing the connotations of sexual imagery in neo-baroque poetry. Folkart first helps students understand the logic and structure behind the topic at hand, and then empowers them to be the teachers who can identify an answer, discuss it, and defend it. Only then do they truly “own” it, she observes. Folkart regularly orchestrates her classes around study questions as a springboard for lively group discussions, where everyone delves into the text in search of sustainable interpretations grounded in textual evidence. For Folkart, the key is not knowing what answers to give them, but knowing what questions to ask them so that they can find the answers for themselves. A sense of humor and a willingness to embrace a change of plan are equally essential, she believes. Students’ dynamic discussions sometimes lead to discoveries that Folkart herself did not anticipate, and she finds those to be the most exciting. As one student wittily summed up the rewards of the experience, “The class was difficult, but the juice was worth the squeeze.” Dr. Richard Shryock, Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, praises Folkart’s skill in helping students fulfill her high expectations: “One of Dr. Folkart’s greatest gifts is to create a classroom environment of trust, support, and rigor wherein students are inspired to excel.”

Folkart’s dynamic, student-centered approach has made an impact at many levels of education at Virginia Tech and beyond. Folkart has infused her approach in the revisions she introduced to the Spanish undergraduate curriculum and in the new master’s degree in Hispanic Studies at Virginia Tech that she helped to create. Moreover, as Director of Virginia Tech’s Intensive Second Language Institute, she helps to train Spanish teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools across the state. In recognition of her achievements Folkart was awarded Certificates of Teaching Excellence in 2003 and 2009, and the Pan-Hellenic Council’s Teacher of Excellence Award in 2003. Most recently she received the university's Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011.

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A list of the past winners is available.