Eugene Pringle ’17EdD knows having a teacher invested in your future can make all the difference in the world. He’s experienced this first-hand for years as a student, then as a literacy coach, teacher and administrator. Now the UCF alumnus is back in the classroom as a professor to make a difference in the lives of future educators at Bethune-Cookman University.
“[Teaching] was one of those things that was very natural for me,” Pringle says. “I’m able to use education as a platform to pay it forward just because I’ve had so many great teachers who’ve done that for me – and I want to do that for students too.”
“But, I’m a teacher at heart because I was a good student and had teachers invested in me. At some point … I always go back to being the student.”
Originally from South Carolina, Pringle attended BCU as an undergrad and pursued two master’s degrees at Nova Southeastern University before coming to UCF for a doctoral degree in educational leadership. After graduating from UCF and at 27 years old, he became one of the youngest administrators in Orange County as an assistant principal at Odyssey Middle School. He saw the position as an opportunity to contribute through a larger leadership role. However, his passion has always been in teaching, and he finds his former position to be helpful in the classroom now.
“I think the merger of being a student, teacher and administrator are very important and function as a system,” Pringle says. “I understand why certain decision are made and what is impacting those decisions. But, I’m a teacher at heart because I was a good student and had teachers invested in me. At some point those roles interchange, I always go back to being the student.”
Here Pringle discusses the public education system, the Florida teacher shortage and what it’s like teaching at an HBCU:
What was the most valuable lesson you learned while attending UCF?
UCF has been very innovative in its approach in the Educational Leadership doctoral degree program. When I was there I got to engage in a lot more research than I ever have before. Coming to UCF taught me not to look at something’s face value, but instead to look at the research and analyze it. Then utilize practical applications. And that has been a game-changer for me. In this field, it helps add credibility. I think because UCF is such a research-based institution, it makes the education program more effective and the instructors there more successful.
“I think at the very core you have to be relatable. … I also think the best teachers try to study and hone in on their craft.”
What makes a good teacher?
I think at the very core you have to be relatable. Someone who takes their experiences, reflects on them and uses them to move forward in the field.
You have to be a good combination of caring and firm so students know you care, but at the same time you hold them accountable.
I also think the best teachers try to study and hone in on their craft. We look at teaching as a science typically, but I think teaching can be an art.
What are some misconceptions people may have about public education?
That teachers and administrators are not getting the job done. In public education there are a different set of struggles that come with it. It’s very tough to sit in a classroom of 22 to 25 students and do all that you need to do. I’ve seen teachers first-hand, day-in and day-out [work] at their schools late into the night to make sure they’re at their best for their students. Just because we don’t have certain outcomes doesn’t mean those things aren’t happening – I’ve seen first-hand that they are.
Sometimes a loud classroom can be viewed as the teacher having poor management. But in my experience, I allowed students to move around, collaborate and work together. It’s not about just sitting and lecturing to students.
How do you maintain patience in a classroom – especially a hectic one?
It’s important to understand is that you’re dealing with people. Educators are [usually] trained as if everyone behaves the same way and this is how you respond. Sometimes lessons don’t go as planned, so you need to be very flexible in how you manage the classroom and approach students.
But seeing students have those “a-ha” moments from students is rewarding and helps keep perspective. At that point you know that your teaching hasn’t been in vain because they actually get it and they will be able to use that in their life at some point.
“Our core business is to educate students, so if someone is not trained or educated to do that then that becomes a disservice to students.”
What can you say about the teacher shortage going on in Florida?
I think it’s sad honestly.
As an administrator you have a certain budget for a certain amount of students and teachers, so a shortage can throw this off. From an operational standpoint you have to shift things around and move things around. You have people on your campus like instructional coaches that you have to plug in that position to make sure kids in learning, but that pulls them out of their position so it becomes a whole trickle-down effect.
On the other side, you have classes of 25 students, seven periods a day, who don’t have licensed certified teachers. That becomes an issue because our core business is to educate students, so if someone is not trained or educated to do that then that becomes a disservice to students.
How do you think this problem can be solved?
Accountability, as far as testing, should not be thrown away, but I do think some things need to be reformed a little bit so we don’t lose a lot of the good talent in the field. We have people who are very knowledgeable who aren’t able to pass these examinations and some of it [is] for the same reasons we discuss with kids. Some individuals are just not good test takers.
As educators we stand in front of the students every day and we perform. So, there should be some type of performance piece to measure what teachers can and cannot do.
“The HBCU experience is very unique and a lot of our HBCU are fighting for their existence.”
What is it like having attended and now teaching at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)?
I graduated from BCU in 2011, so I’m not far-removed. I tell my students all the time these same desks you’re sitting in are the same desks I sat in as a student. It’s actually rewarding. Not only can I speak to what is going on in K-12 public education, because I’ve actually been there, I’m also able to identify as a student [at this school.] For students who struggle with confidence I’m able to say “Hey, I’ve been where you are and I was able to leave and do pretty well for myself.”
My professors here [at BCU] knew specifically the struggles I would face as an African-American male not only in my field, but in everyday life. So they were able to give me the personal training to navigate the world.
The HBCU experience is very unique and a lot of our HBCU are fighting for their existence. But a lot of these institutions came into place at a time when a lot of African-Americans were not able to get certain educational opportunities. Even though we’re in a different time period, I feel there are still students who aren’t getting those opportunities from different institutions.
What are some things you think don’t get taught enough in schools?
A lot of times we get caught up in the math, the science, the language arts, the history. While those things are important, my philosophy is that we have to use those things to send students out into the world and be productive global citizens. We need to also hone in on the emotional skills, the social skills, the soft skills — all of those things are what students need in life.