GTCC instructor builds students from the ground up

GTCC instructor Karen Forster teaches students who are preparing to take the GED exam. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

GTCC instructor Karen Forster teaches students who are preparing to take the GED exam. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

By Jana Carver

For Karen Forster, the joy of teaching stems from the joy of learning.

“I always enjoy helping people, and I love that ‘aha moment’ when somebody gets it,” she said. “If I’m communicating a particular concept, or helping them get a skill, and they get it … when they feel confident and achieve that knowledge or that skill, it’s just a wonderful feeling.”

Forster is an instructor in Guilford Technical Community College’s Adult Education department, which is comprised of Adult High School (AHS), Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) programs. Since joining the staff in 2002, Forster has taught in each program, teaching a range of subjects from English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to psychology. She also received the college’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.

After 15 years at GTCC, Forster is retiring. Her last day is Sept. 30, and Forster says she doesn’t know what to expect from here, but she knows it is time.

“It’s very bittersweet,” she said. “It will be nice to get to sleep in a little bit and not have all the lesson plans on my shoulders, but I will miss it, and I will have to find ways to fill my days.”

But what she will miss the most is her students.

“I think what I am impressed with—at least with my current group—is how they support each other and how they make my job easier because of their great desire to learn and their great desire to be successful … and I’m not just talking about success in terms of monetary value. To be the best person that they can be, they know education is a key component of that,” she said.

She says one of the most impactful experiences she’s had at GTCC has been seeing her students graduate.

“One guy that I taught in my GED class was so overcome with emotion that when I announced his name … he just put me in this big bear hug, nearly knocked me over, and I nearly dropped all my name cards,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was a funny moment, but I could appreciate the fact that he was so excited to be up on that stage. … He was in the moment.”

Forster also has helped develop Learning Communities for math, reading, and ESOL ABE classes, which consist of teachers who meet to discuss how to improve distribution of resources and share teaching methods.

GTCC instructor Karen Forster teaches students who are preparing to take the GED exam. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

GTCC instructor Karen Forster teaches students who are preparing to take the GED exam. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

Part of why Forster has loved her job so much is because it has allowed her to meet many different kinds of people. For example, one of her ABE classes is comprised of students from all over the world, including China, Eritrea, Pakistan and Mexico. Forster said she loves how each student brings a different perspective to class discussions and through them she gets to learn about their culture.

“Getting to know the different students, their backgrounds, the countries they represent— whether the United States or other countries—and just hearing their stories … that has always been a big thing for me. Peoples’ stories are fascinating to me. People fascinate me, period.”

Forster joined GTCC’s Adult Education department as a volunteer tutor in 2001, helping GED students prepare for the GED. The majority of Forster’s background is in the corporate world, teaching business skills to professionals. But when her husband’s job transferred him to Greensboro, N.C. just before 9-11, GTCC was one of the first calls she made.

In the GED program, Forster found herself teaching students who, in many cases, were building themselves from the ground up. According to Forster, the dedication that the students continuously showed became one of her favorite parts about teaching. She learned quickly that although she had experience teaching adults, the GED students were a different kind of student.

“Adults know why they’re here. … They’re coming with a purpose in mind, and they really are ready to learn,” she said.


A native of Reading, Pa., Forster majored in history and social studies in college, which allowed her to further explore the events that led up to and followed World War II, which her father fought in and survived. On Friday nights, she’d come home from college and sit around listening to her father’s World War II experiences. Forster believes it was her father’s stories that not only drew her to history and social studies, but also it inspired her to teach. Perhaps it was the joy she found in learning about a piece of her father’s history that made her want to help others find joy in learning, too. In all of her years teaching, she said that was her true goal.

“There’s that saying ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,’ … I think from a teacher’s perspective, you can provide the environment, you can provide the materials, the help and the support, but the student has to take that and translate that into action on his or her own part,” she said. “The teacher’s job is to provide the most supportive environment that they possibly can for every student so that students can be successful, can reach their goal, and can find that fire within themselves to say ‘I can do this,’ and hopefully, I’ve done that.”

For more information about GTCC’s Adult Education programs, visit

Sept. 30, 2016