Alanna Breen’s mother used to say, “an education is what you remember when you’ve forgotten everything you were taught.” That definition is close to Breen’s mind as an instructor in the Department of Languages, Literature, and Culture.
After final exams and graduation, many of her students might forget verb conjugations and the names of authors, but there are more permanent items on Breen’s syllabus. Students finish her classes knowing that they can learn more and accomplish more than they thought. Breen, who received one of the 2020 Undergraduate Teaching Awards from the College of Arts and Sciences, says this is because she makes her classroom a supportive community.
“It becomes a place where we build each other up, so they feel safe to take risks, ask questions, share opinions, and even make hilarious sarcastic comments," Breen says. “Many students choose to excel when given high expectations along with the means to meet them.”
I mainly just hope that they remember to appreciate all kinds of diversity, to think critically, and to always respond with kindness, a universal language.
― Alanna Breen
For example, Claire Estrada ’20, a Spanish major with a linguistics minor, wrote a nomination letter for Breen’s award, calling Breen her favorite professor. She explained that when she and several classmates felt overwhelmed in one Spanish course, Breen called a class meeting to ask how she could help. After that, Estrada’s grasp of the language soared.
“She empowers each student to become confident in themselves despite any doubts,” Estrada wrote. “Her encouraging feedback and constant reassurance instilled confidence and a sense of security, knowing that I wasn’t lacking as I had thought.”
Breen says she wants students to see their potential. “Students conform to or live up to their teachers’ projected opinions, so I encourage excellence (two of my messages are 'Do your job’ and ‘Overachieve!’) and it usually works,” she says. “I genuinely care about my Gamecocks and they respond well to that, which ultimately makes this job more rewarding.”
She empowers each student to become confident in themselves despite any doubts.
― Claire Estrada ’20
In addition to Spanish and Portuguese, Breen teaches “Values and Ethics in Literature,” a class that uses readings to spark discussions about important values. In another nomination letter, Kate Chalfant ’21, a public relations major and theatre minor, called Breen’s section of this course the best of many online classes she has taken at UofSC. “Her keen interest in student participation and contagious enthusiasm for the subject matter frequently made the class feel more personal than face-to-face instruction,” she wrote for Breen’s award nomination.
The class was also important because of the introspection it prompted. “I grew not only as a scholar, but as a person,” Chalfant wrote.
Breen says that more than anything else, she wants her students to develop empathy and “an instinctive respect" for all people.
“Fluency waxes and wanes, and memories fade, so I mainly just hope that they remember to appreciate all kinds of diversity, to think critically, and to always respond with kindness, a universal language.”