In her classes with future middle and high school teachers, Assistant Professor Cassandra Lo emphasizes the importance of looking at lessons from a student’s perspective. She charges her students with completing middle and high school activities themselves so that they can evaluate the lessons firsthand and determine how they can use them most effectively.
“I find it best to teach this way because my students need to understand what the strategy will actually look like outside of a textbook or lecture description,” Dr. Lo explains. “Many of my students go off and use the strategies during student teaching and beyond, and I love when they find success with them.”
During her career as an educator, Dr. Lo developed a special research interest— exploring how teachers can best support students who have experienced different types of trauma. She was inspired to study this in 2009 while teaching at West Essex Regional High School in New Jersey. As an English and journalism teacher there, she read many personal student essays and quickly realized that there is a blind spot in preparing educators on how to respond when students reveal personal traumas.
“I saw my students craft deeply personal college essays year after year and there was not much direction in how to support them as they shared these emotional stories,” she says. “I advocate for teachers to engage in personal writing and check-in activities throughout the year with the option of sharing so that their students can witness and support peer testimonials of trauma.”
The inclusion of spaces in the classroom where students can share their traumas was the topic of Dr. Lo’s thesis at Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in English education. More recently, she published a scholarly paper on the need for relational teaching when working with students who have experienced trauma in School Psychology Quarterly. She also wrote a chapter on the subject in the forthcoming book, “Contemporary Perspectives on Developing Trauma-Informed Teachers.” Dr. Lo, who completed her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, has shared her work in trauma-sensitive teaching at conferences nationwide.
Dr. Lo actively supports teachers of color because she notes that there are “startling statistics” of how few teachers of color there are in the workforce and how many choose to leave the field. At St. Thomas Aquinas College, she is a member of the Social Justice and Equity Forum and heads an inquiry group of students of color who are studying to become English teachers. They meet with other teachers in the field to discuss their professional experiences and have been chosen to present at two national conferences for English educators at the end of 2021. “I feel very fortunate to be working at STAC now, where they take issues of social justice seriously.”
Dr. Lo joined STAC’s Department of Education in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, she has been continually impressed by her colleagues’ generosity in sharing materials and ideas. She also learns from her students every day and admires their passion and open-mindedness.
“My students are brilliant in so many ways and their contributions to our classes are so impressive,” she says. “I absolutely love working with future teachers, because I know they are going off into the world to make it a better place.”