Professor Heather Coffey Wins Top Teaching Award

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UNC Charlotte continues its long-standing tradition of honoring exceptional teachers who have demonstrated excellence in motivating and mentoring students to achieve in the classroom, in the community and in future careers.

Cato College of Education professor Heather Coffey is the winner of the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence. She was honored during a virtual ceremony Thursday, Sept. 17, along with the other finalists.

Coffey and the finalists have common characteristics that set them apart.

“Their classrooms are places of inclusion where free expression of ideas is encouraged and welcomed, and where students of different backgrounds find acceptance. They are creative. No matter what discipline they teach, they find new and inspiring methods to spark their students’ desire to learn and to grow,” said Provost Joan Lorden, as she introduced the six finalists.

Coffey is a professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education and is a teacher of future teachers. She encourages a social justice mindset in her students and gets to know her students so they are comfortable sharing concerns about teaching in environments that do not mirror their own experiences.

“The crux of my teaching philosophy requires that I create a classroom space where students feel that they are heard and respected and are able to share their honest opinions and questions without being judged or criticized,” Coffey said. “Supporting the needs of pre-service and practicing teachers of diverse students has not only become my job, it has become my passion. I feel an immense sense of responsibility both to the teacher candidates with whom I work and to the P-12 students they will eventually teach.”

She helped develop the interdisciplinary Civic Minor in Urban Youth and Communities as well as the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Prospect for Success. Coffey, who is a former middle school and high school educator, designed and directs the new model for the Teaching Fellows program and is the director of the UNC Charlotte Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project.

“Dr. Coffey’s body of work fills a gap in the education of diverse learners in high needs urban schools. She has made substantial contributions to pre-service and in-service teachers as well as the local Charlotte community. Her commitment to schools, teachers, and the profession is reflected in the sustained partnerships she has developed in the Charlotte and surrounding communities,” said Lan Quach Kolano, professor of Education and interim department chair of the Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education.

The Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence, first presented in 1968, is given to a full-time, tenured faculty member with at least seven years of service to UNC Charlotte.