Professor Shout-Out! Meet Dr. Aja LaDuke

Dr. Aja LaDuke, Assistant Professor, Teacher Education Department since 2010

LaDuke, Aja PSO

Where did you attend school?

I am originally from Connecticut and I went to the University of Connecticut for all of my undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. Go Huskies!

Where else have you been employed?

My position at Saint Rose is my first full-time faculty position and it has been a great place for me to begin my career in teacher education. Prior to returning to UConn for my doctoral studies, I taught third grade at Lake Garda Elementary School in Burlington, CT. Those students are in college themselves now! My dissertation work was a two-year project with high school students at a large urban high school near UConn. Having experience and certification across grade levels has been very helpful to me in my teaching here. It has also inspired me to stay connected to the classroom through various projects and programs with schools in the area, such as New Scotland Elementary School and Albany High School.

Did you always want to teach?

Many of my students tell me that they knew they wanted to teach even before going to school themselves, playing “school” with brothers and sisters at 3 and 4 years old. I didn’t know quite that early, and if I think back I would say that my first career aspirations were in writing. I read a lot as a kid and would sometimes write stories and plays for fun. I started thinking about teaching in middle school. We had to do career reports in 8th grade and I wrote about being an art teacher. I moved away from that but think that I channeled that appreciation for art into my work as elementary school teacher. Between that and my years as a resident assistant, I think I make a pretty mean bulletin board. As a teacher educator, I am lucky to be able to blend many of my interests – teaching, writing, service – into what I do with my students and colleagues.

What is the highlight of your academic career thus far?

It is very hard to answer this question as I have had many experiences here at Saint Rose that have both shaped my professional identity and helped me to grow personally. There are two in particular that come to mind. During my second or third year at Saint Rose, I became involved in the Turning Tables series. Turning Tables provides a unique opportunity for students to lead conversations with members of our campus community from all spaces about issues of race, class, and gender in society and furthermore to take a close and honest look at how they play out on our campus. With the help of Shai Butler, GE Washington, and excellent graduate assistants, we helped to develop students from my undergraduate Foundations of Education class into adept discussion facilitators. At our Turning Tables meetings, they asked participants thought-provoking questions about these issues, including those that highlighted what have been doing well at Saint Rose and what we need to improve. The fact that the program has been so well received and so successful is a statement to Saint Rose as an institution.

Secondly, I have been involved with a program that has had a home at The College of Saint Rose for the past three years, the International Leaders in Education Program or “ILEP” for short. This program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX, brings a cohort of 15 or 16 international teachers to a small number of campuses across the country. All of the ILEP Fellows teach middle or high school in their home countries. Including this year, we have had Fellows at Saint Rose from Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Philippines, Tanzania, and Uganda. They take graduate courses here at Saint Rose and also live together on campus. The Fellows also co-teach with partner teachers in local schools in Albany and our surrounding areas. This year, we held a Global Studies Conference on campus and the Fellows presented alongside undergraduate and graduate students from Saint Rose, as well as presenters from other universities in New York and even out of state. In my work with ILEP, I have found that there are certainly distinct differences between education in the U.S. and other parts of the world, but also some universal similarities – i.e. how can we motivate students, how do we create more democratic, student-centered classrooms, and other questions that all educators are working on world-wide to some degree.

What’s your favorite color?

I really like orange, which is very funny to my colleagues who are Syracuse grads and fans when March Madness comes around.

Favorite place to eat in the Capital Region?

Even though I lived here for almost five years, I am still discovering good places to eat in the area. I am a big fan of barbecue, so I’d have to say that Dinosaur BBQ in Troy is definitely on the list.

Favorite TV Shows?

There is so much good TV these days! So many to name! Lately I’ve been very interested in learning about television writers – how they get their ideas and then turn them into what we see. I’ve read several books and watch shows like “The Writer’s Room” on the Sundance Channel that tell the behind the scenes stories. I find it so interesting to hear how writers create episodes that stand on their own but are also links in a chain that make up the whole series. As a viewer I love finding a clue or callback to a previous season when I watch. I went to a lecture on campus recently on screenwriting by Chris Millis, our visiting writer this year, and it was fascinating! He talked about how the writers and animators did this in the Toy Story film series.

As far as binge-watching, this summer I finally got around to watching The Wire. Each season of The Wire is an examination of one or two institutions in our country, which is so interesting. I am only on Season 3, but I hear that Season 4 is about schools. Since my Foundations course is in part an examination of the U.S. school system, I am very curious to see what they have to say. Since the show came out in 2002, it is also funny to hear the characters talk about “these new things called text messages.”

What is the last book you read?

The last book I read was called “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is about a young Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to study and writes about her observations in a blog. Her observations are insightful, funny and really ask the reader, particularly an American reader like me, to think twice about the things that we consider so “normal,” and whether they truly make sense. I feel like seeing your norms and culture from an outside perspective is such an important experience to have, particularly as an educator. In 2008, I did a Habitat for Humanity trip in Malawi for two weeks. I remember one of my “reverse culture shock” moments after I came home was while pumping gas. There was a TV right there at the pump running commercial after commercial. It was very jarring to me at that moment. Just this week in class, a student told me that she was at a non-sports themed restaurant that had TV’s in the booths playing kids’ shows to keep the children occupied. We had a great conversation about how childhood has changed and thinking about our role as educators in helping young people to develop critical and media literacy skills. The goal is not to completely disengage with media or technology, nor should it be, but instead to do so more critically and from a standpoint of greater awareness.

If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?

Teleportation! I would use it to visit our ILEP Fellows who have since returned home to their countries and if my powers worked in a way that I could bring others with me, I’d take my students along too!

Any other fun facts you’d like to share?

I love karaoke! I love to choose random songs that the people in the room probably haven’t thought about in years, but will say “I love this one!” – especially from the 80s and 90s.

What do you think?