Anderson University College of Education
Laura Merk: excellence in education
Laura Merk, whose parents moved to Fort Mill when she was a fifth-grader, spent many of her growing up years in the district schools. After graduating from the Anderson University College of Education, Merk returned to teach at Fort Mill. Her ability to make learning upbeat, engaging and fun for her students earned her statewide recognition as a finalist for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Award.
How did you become interested in education?
I personally always loved school. I love learning and growing and I think every student should have that opportunity to learn and grow, so I wanted to build my career around that. I pretty much have always known that I wanted to be a teacher since I was young. I think every teacher at heart plays school with their kids and just loved going to school, loved being at school, loved the experience.
What was your favorite part of school?
My favorite part of school was always the social aspect, always getting to know other students, really making friends as a kid, and being around other people. The social aspect is so important.
Are there some teachers you admired?
My own sixth grade math teacher, Audrey Culp, was among the favorites. I got to work with her for seven years at Springfield Middle School where I attended. She taught me as a student, and she taught me how to be a teacher. There have been other teachers along the way: Karen Weston in eighth grade, and Lynn Marsh, Tiffany Davis, and Kyra Corley in high school also stand out. I just think back to my experiences with them and always remember the relationships they built with their students and how real they were in their conversations with us.
How did you discover Anderson University?
My parents recommended that I tour multiple schools before making a final decision, and Anderson was a school that came up online when I was searching for schools. I came on campus and it was just a different college visit from the others. Everybody was just so friendly. The campus had such a positive vibe. I knew that the very next day that was where I was supposed to be.
What are some ways your Anderson University education has helped you?
Anderson has an incredible program. I learned a lot through the College of Education. Anderson’s standard of excellence is really what prepared me to be a teacher, along with how to love our students as Christ loves us. That I think is what sets Anderson apart. Also, I was part of the Teaching Fellows program at Anderson University. That was a huge benefit, a huge part of my development as a professional and as an educator. I was able to take several travel opportunities with the Teaching Fellows. We were able to teach a summer program in China and we did an exchange program with Anderson’s sister city, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Just to see the education in those other countries really helped me grow as an educator and also to see the similarities and to see that we’re still working with human children; we all have lots of things in common as far as growing and learning.
What was your favorite part of college life?
I loved living on campus. I just thought the community and living on campus was so much fun. You got a lot more social opportunities that were just impromptu. So the late nights, the Cook Out runs, the walks on campus—I think being on campus gave me more of those opportunities and I just thought that it was fun to meet so many different friends in your dorm, and I loved that part. I was an RA my junior year (at Pratt), just because I loved that community.
I loved AU’s Student Appreciation Day—that was so fun. And West Fest was always a favorite. I loved all of the late night events, like we had pancakes in the “caf” during exam week. There were just fun activities, the programs Student Activities organized. Really, it’s just about hanging out with the people you’re doing life with.|
As a teacher, you were recognized as Teacher of the Year and as a State Teacher of the Year finalist. Were you surprised?
Of course I was surprised. There are incredible teachers in South Carolina and I just know that the teacher I am today is not because of me alone. It is because of all of the people who have poured into me and that continue to support me as a teacher. I would not be the teacher that I am today without my coworkers. I learn from them more and more every day.
You know, when you graduate, you have not arrived. You have only begun. And there was so much more to learn and I have had absolutely incredible coworkers, mentors that have really shaped me into the teacher I am. I think that I can proudly but humbly accept the awards knowing that it is because of those great people that I am where I am today.
At the end of the day, what gives you the most satisfaction?
Getting to know the students on a personal level and helping them on a personal level. I love math. Math is great. When students understand math better, that’s awesome. Knowing I’m there for my students as people, as children first. That’s what gives me the satisfaction and that’s what drives my career—really being able to pour into my students as people.
What are some “light bulb” moments when a student grasped something you were teaching them?
I do try to make math real to my students and that’s usually when I see those “light bulb” moments. So instead of just giving some numbers, we talk about real life. This is how much your favorite snack costs. How much money do you have? How many can you buy? They suddenly understand it when you make it real to them. So I say if you buy two bags of Takis for five dollars, how much does each bag cost? It’s easy for them. Each bag was $2.50. That’s what makes them realize you got it. You’re there. That’s really what helps their “light bulb” moments. But I also put songs and cheers and hand motions together to help them remember the different steps to everything we do in math. It’s all about engagement.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into teaching?
First of all, do it. We need great teachers in South Carolina. Find a good team to rally around you where you can give support and have support. Find that in your school. Find that in your district. Be there for each other, but also lean on others when you need to. You cannot do this big job alone. You need support from everybody. You need support from your coworkers, your administration, parents, the community. You need support from everybody.