Theresa Engle

Theresa Engle had more than 20 years of teaching experience and wasn’t looking to jump to the college level, but in spring 2007 a newspaper advertisement caught her eye.

That occurred when Engle came across an ad for a Briar Cliff Education Department opening, which she mentioned to her oldest son, Bill, who at the time was a sophomore at Briar Cliff. He exuberantly said she should pursue it, and within a week Engle had been hired for the fall 2007 semester.

Now, Engle has worked for 16 years at Briar Cliff and has served as the Education Department chair for the last eight years. She’s happy she made the jump after a 22-year teaching career in Siouxland public and private schools.

“I just feel really lucky to be here. Our program is a phenomenal program,” she said.

Engle leads a department with five employees, which includes four professors and an administrative assistant. She said they function together very well, and her approach as the chair is to lay out expectations and let the team flourish on an even playing field.

“Every one of them works so hard, they go above and beyond,” said Engle, who has a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Dakota.

There are about 50 education students attending BCU most years, and about 10 to 12 will graduate each year. They select from numerous possible teaching endorsements, with a mixture of content courses and methods courses, where students learn how to specifically teach information gleaned in content courses.

Engle said her prime aim is to have students graduate in four years or less with as many teaching endorsements as they want and can fit into their time at BCU. She works with students very early in their BCU careers to map out future semesters with which courses to take and when, to make sure no semesters are squandered.

“Our goal is always about the students, the success of the students. We are here to help them reach their goal of being a teacher,” Engle said. “Relationship building is really important in our department. I find out why they want to be a teacher. I want to know where they are coming from first.”

These days, Briar Cliff education major students are roughly evenly split between the K-12 education, secondary education, and the elementary education options.

“We have small class sizes, which benefits students and which is important to parents. Because we are small, we really get to know our students,” she said.

Engle is proud of some of the expectations at BCU, which she said are not the norm in other colleges. First, students get rolling early at BCU with school practicums where they can see the functioning of many classrooms in the area. Secondly, the students teach in those practicum settings, and they do roughly double the 80 hours of state-required practicum hours before they can embark on student teaching.

“Our students get so much supervised experience (via practicums) before student teaching, so they are really ready for student teaching,” she said. Engle added another benchmark exceeded by BCU is that the state of Iowa requires 14 weeks of student teaching, but Charger students complete 15 weeks.

Engle teaches several courses each semester, on top of her administrative duties. It all makes for a wonderful combination job as chair, she said.

“It is just so cool to be able to work with people who want to follow the path I took. I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl.”  

This is part of a Faculty Stories series profiling all the chairs of BCU academic departments in 2023.