Jim Nolan Reflects on Career Preparing Teachers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Education means a variety of things to a wide range of people. For Jim Nolan ’83 Ph.D. C I, education starts with teachers and students.
Nolan, the Henry J. Hermanowicz Professor of Teacher Education, has been instrumental in the College of Education since he started at Penn State as an assistant professor in 1987.
“I see myself professionally as a teacher, and my heart is in schools. In all honesty, those teachers and administrators with whom I have had the chance to work have taught me a tremendous amount and have impacted me as much as I have impacted them. It has been mutually beneficial,” Nolan said.
Since he graduated from the University of Scranton in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, Nolan has dedicated his life to education, specifically teacher education. He has spent time as an elementary school teacher, a secondary German teacher, a high school guidance counselor, and as a professor at Lafayette College, Scranton, and Penn State.
He earned an M.S. in counselor education at Marywood University in Scranton before securing a Ph.D. in curriculum & instruction at Penn State.
In his 27 years at Penn State, Nolan’s impact has been felt in numerous ways, perhaps none more significant than his role in the planning, implementation, and facilitation of the College’s Elementary Professional Development School (PDS).
The PDS is a collaborative partnership between Penn State and the State College Area School District through which Penn State pre-service teachers participate in a full-year internship experience in classrooms in the school district.
Bernard Badiali ’85 Ph.D. C I, associate professor of education, first met Nolan in 1981 when both were graduate assistants. They have been friends and colleagues ever since.
“Over the last fifteen years, it has been Jim’s devotion to the College and the PDS community that has kept the College at the forefront of teacher education,” Badiali said.
“Ask anyone who has been involved in the PDS movement, and they will say that Penn State exemplifies one of the best university collaborations in the country. I credit Jim Nolan for this.”
Jackie Edmondson ’89 EK ED , ’96 M.S. EDPSY , ’99 Ph.D. C I, associate vice president and associate dean of undergraduate education and the former associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies in the College, has been Nolan’s pupil and his colleague.
“Jim’s respect for excellent teachers and his commitment to quality public education has been unwavering. He is one of the most respected educators in our community. He is well known and is a go-to person when questions about teacher education are raised,” Edmondson said.
“I feel so fortunate to have been able to study with Jim when I was in my master’s degree program, and then later to have him as a colleague. He continued to be my teacher and mentor when I joined the faculty at Penn State, and I will be forever grateful for all I have learned (and continue to learn) from him.”
Devotion to students and teacher-student relationships is something Nolan said has remained a constant in his more than forty years in the field.
“What is most important is the relationship between teachers and the students whom they teach. Teachers’ ability to inspire, to challenge, to motivate, to puzzle, to care for, to accept, and to meet the needs of students they teach is what education is all about,” he said.
“We often think about education as starting at broad societal levels and moving gradually closer to the child, i.e., policies from the government pushing in on schools and eventually teachers and students. That thinking gets us in trouble. We need to start with the teacher and student as the center and move outward. Everything we do as schools, as individual schools, as school districts, as states, and as a country should be aimed at serving the needs of that relationship.”
--by Andy Elder (June 2014)