MY GTCC STORY: DEANA ST. PETER
HUMANTIES TEACHER CREATES COMMUNITY IN THE CLASSROOM
By Jana Carver
Deana St. Peter knows what it’s like to be a community college student. Although she earned her communications and English degrees at Mississippi State University, she spent her summers at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC).
“I was one of those students who couldn’t take a really heavy load during the school year because I worked,” St. Peter said. “So even though I worked during the summer too, it made sense for me to take a couple of classes at the local community college.”
Even though this meant she didn’t get much of a break during the summer, she said the benefits of taking courses at a community college were worth it.
“Because the class sizes were smaller, I tended to do better in more difficult subjects there. I took my algebra there, my biology … it also lightened my load during the school year, so when I was working and trying to go to school all at the same time, it was more manageable,” she said.
It was her positive experience at MGCCC that inspired her to teach in a community college environment.
St. Peter went into teaching because she wanted to serve her community. Since coming to Guilford Technical Community College in 2001 to teach English and humanities courses, she’s been able to see that calling come to fruition.
“The fortunate thing about teaching writing courses, humanities courses and literature courses, is being able to help students figure out their place in the world,” St. Peter said. “No matter where they are in their lives, to see them have that ‘aha-moment’ where they can relate to something someone wrote 500 years ago, and when they come to a better understanding of somebody else or find appreciation for somebody else’s struggle … when they overcome those differences, it’s just really cool.”
In her 15 years at GTCC, St. Peter has received the Excellence in Teaching Award twice and the President’s Award for her contributions to GTCC’s e-degree program in 2008. Most recently, when the English and Humanities Department separated into two departments earlier this year, St. Peter was named chair of the newly formed Humanities Department.
“After thinking of ourselves as English-department-people for so long, now, to be in this new Humanities Department, it’s really an exciting time; it’s a great opportunity,” she said.
But these achievements don’t just speak to St. Peter’s success on the administrative side; they also speak to her talents as a teacher and how dedicated she is to her students and the college.
“I try to get to know my students. I try to get to know them individually through group activities. … I try to have that sense of community in the classroom,” St. Peter said. “I think that’s really important.”
Creating that community can be a challenge at times, since St. Peter teaches 75 to 150 new students each semester. But to her, developing those relationships is the reward.
“I learn a lot from my students,” she said. “The first semester I taught World Literature, I taught ‘The Ramayana,’ and I had a young Hindu woman in the class. She took us through how to pronounce all the names and explained how she was exposed to it as a child on TV shows, and coloring books. … She was really able to show us that ‘The Ramayana’ is indeed a living epic. Having her firsthand experience, being raised Hindu and having that as an important foundation in her religious training … that was really cool.”
St. Peter said that getting to know her students in this way is something she “wouldn’t trade for anything” because every story is important, and she hopes that when her students leave her class, they know the importance of their own stories as well.
“I want them to see themselves as important, as having valuable ideas and a voice,” she said. “I want them to realize they have something to contribute not just to the classroom but to our society, to our community, to our culture.”