Meet the Instructor: Professor Jill Neidlinger – Ancilla College

We are inspired by our Hawkes instructors and are eager to showcase their talent and compassion for their students. Victoria Kelly, member of the Customer Support Team, interviewed Professor Jill Neidlinger from Ancilla College to learn more about her career, as well as her passion for investing in students’ lives and strengthening their math skills. We’ve had the pleasure of supporting Professor Neidlinger and her students since fall 2007, as she uses our Basic Mathematics, Introductory Algebra, and Viewing Life Mathematically materials in her courses. Check out the interview below for a peek inside Professor Neidlinger’s classroom!

  • How long have you been teaching?
    • I’ve been teaching at Ancilla College since 2000 and have been full time since 2005. I believe it was 2006 that I attended a conference where I saw a Hawkes presentation. I was very impressed, so I came back to tell my colleagues about Hawkes, and we started using Hawkes the following semester.
  • What would you say your secret to teaching is?
    • I would say patience -especially with math! Having a good attitude is important, because many students have “horror stories” associated with math experiences. A quote I try to share with students is “math is fun!” Students don’t always agree with this statement at first, but I try to make it fun for them. I hope to show them tricks and shortcuts to help make math a more enjoyable experience for them. They’ll eventually tell me, “Oh! That was easy!” and that’s what I like to hear!
  • What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your teaching career?
    • I have the mentality that everyone can do anything if they work hard enough. I try to be optimistic in every approach I take with students. I’ve learned that with some students, math is especially challenging, which leads to extra care and attention on my part as the instructor. I’ve had students come back to me and say, “I passed the course because you stuck with me!” I know it’s important not to give up on them and to keep encouraging them. You’ll have more success stories than not, and the students must know you have their back. I love the fact that Ancilla College is a small school, so there are more opportunities to build those relationships with students.
  • Regarding your classroom structure-what setups or styles have you tried? What worked, and what didn’t work out?
    • I learned so much from one of my colleagues who was my 8th Grade Algebra teacher. She recently retired after 40 years of teaching, and she spent the last 10 years teaching at Ancilla College with me. We learned that going through the Learn portion of Hawkes in class is helpful. We also found that providing the students with a paper copy of the Practice problems in conjunction with reviewing Learn really helps the students. Since they have a physical copy of the Practice problems in front of them, they can follow along with my explanations in class. I create these assignments from the Hawkes Assignment Builder in the WebTest area of the Grade Book, and then I print them out to distribute in class.
  • How do you engage and motivate under-performing students?
    • I try to spend more personal time with them. If I am working directly with them, it’s harder for them to sneak out of the classroom. I have all the students text me their phone numbers on the first day of class. If I notice the student is struggling in the course or skipping classes, I reach out by texting them directly. We have a smaller school, so we have more of a capacity to do this. I love having the opportunity to make personal connections with my students! I truly believe that personal connections really go a long way. 
  • Do you have a favorite “breakthrough” moment you’ve experienced with a student?
    • I’ve had so many of these moments. I try to help them identify and shake off their bad math experiences, since I know those previous experiences are holding them back from growing in their math skills. Some students don’t realize where their math anxiety comes from. I try to help the student identify that negative math moment, break down the wall, and move forward. Anytime I can do that, the student feels so much better and it makes me feel good!   
  • How have your thoughts about technology in the classroom evolved over time?
    • I remember when students would work through an entire worksheet of math problems just to turn it in and find out everything was wrong. I like to be able to give immediate feedback to students, but traditionally there is a gap between when the student submits their homework and when I can give it back to them. When the student immediately realizes if they’re right or wrong, they can learn from their mistakes as they practice. This is an example where technology helps so much, and I appreciate the immediate feedback Hawkes gives to students! One of my colleagues was drawn to Hawkes because I told her about the automatic homework grading Hawkes provides.
  • What keeps you coming back to Hawkes each year?
    • I’m comfortable with Hawkes, as I’ve used it for so long! I find it user-friendly and easy to teach. The interface is very simple to explain to my students, as well as new instructors. It’s just three buttons: Learn, Practice, and Certify. One of my colleagues was new to Hawkes this past spring semester, and she loved it. I’ve had several representatives throughout the years and having that personal connection has been great. I tell my colleagues that it’s great to talk with people from Hawkes since they understand math. I’ve found other companies do not have that understanding and math background. I also tell them that it’s great to call Tech Support, since they have an awesome South Carolina accent!
  • How has Hawkes’ unique Mastery approach made a difference in your courses?
    • I’m encouraged that students can truly understand the material before moving forward to the next lesson. I know that they’re working their way through the lessons. I really love how Hawkes introduced FlexMastery, and I think the students have really appreciated this! I also encourage the students to do the Practice Tests. I think it’s a great feature that students do not always utilize like they should. I love that Hawkes gives me the opportunity to make practice worksheets in the Assignment Builder tool. I typically give paper tests in class, but I like to give my Developmental Math students an opportunity to retake the test online if they desire. I use the WebTest tool so that the questions are presented in a random order. I think this approach helps with their test anxiety, since they’re used to working on their homework online. I appreciate that Hawkes allows me to drop the lowest test grade. I like to set up this grading approach in my Developmental Math courses.
  • What is one thing your students don’t know about you? 
    • My students may not know that I love to sing! I was a member of a small theatre group in my hometown, and I participated in many musicals and plays. My students do know that I love Star Wars! I have to share this with you: one of my students painted me a picture that features the Star Wars opening setting, but instead of a “galaxy far, far away,” it has a short description of my “classroom not so far away.” The painting reads “in a classroom not so far away, college students were trying their best to succeed in Math for Elementary teachers. Who was leading them? The fearless Jill Neidlinger.” The student painted math symbols and equations among the stars in the background and surprised me with it at the end of the term!
    • I know this is a hard question, but who is your favorite Star Wars character?
      • I’m a Luke Skywalker fan. I’m a fan of the original good guys: Leia, Han, and all of them!
    • I love musicals too-what is your favorite play or musical that you’ve been in?
      • As for the musicals I have been in, my favorite was Sound of Music! Right now I’m constantly listening to The Greatest Showman. The songs in it are very powerful.
  • What is your favorite aspect of your campus or college?
    • Everything! The main thing is the size of the campus. Due to the campus size, I can have personal relationships with my students. Even if someone is not directly my student, I typically know who they are. I am the advisor of Ancilla College’s Student Government, and I get to know many students this way.  I’m also a graduate of Ancilla College! I have always loved the campus size and seeing that the instructors really care about the students’ overall well-being.

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