Motivating the motivators  

“In class we talk a lot about ways to motivate students, but what we sometimes forget to talk about is that we also have an important role to play in understanding what motivates ourselves. Bill Simmons (the former “Boston Sports Guy”) is known for saying that if we sell it well enough, we can get a kid excited about watching grass grow. I believe that! But I also think it requires that teachers are excited about the grass themselves. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to motivate our students if we don’t feel excitement about teaching and about our curricula.”

Teaching for that moment

“There are these great moments where the shift from confusion to understanding is palpable, where students move from silence to asking interesting and messy questions to making complex observations and keen insights ... and everyone is just tuned in. I get so much energy from these moments.”

Why literacy?

“In every subject, a teacher is a teacher of literacy. This doesn't necessarily mean that they need to be teaching great works of literature in math — but that could be cool! It means that when they are teaching math, they are teaching a particular type of literacy. In every subject in school there are very specific ways that language is required to be used: from vocabulary, to forms of writing, to the kinds of text that are read. Teachers don’t ‘cover content’ in their discipline if they are teaching well. Rather, they are helping students to become literate in that discipline. The Common Core State Standards recognizes this in having a set of literacy standards that span ELA, history, science, and technical subjects.

When students graduate with a master's in literacy, they are prepared to be literacy specialists or just excellent teachers in their content area. They will also have deep understanding of how we become literate, which will allow them to provide their students with the most meaningful learning experiences.”

Modeling an effective learning environment

“I set up my classroom in a way that puts us on equal footing. I’m often at a table with students having a conversation with them. Two teaching techniques I find most important and really useful in class are asking challenging questions and giving feedback.

I’m not interested in knowing if the student memorized every fact from the reading, but I am interested getting them to think critically about what they’ve read. I hold each student to high expectations, but I bring my sense of humor to every class or conversation.

I plan carefully for every class down to the minute, but I am flexible and ready to re-route when needed. I try to show students a balanced model of good teaching, knowing that their own ‘style’ is very much under development.”

Life experience is a teaching tool

“I never discourage students from bringing their own personal experiences into the classroom. Now you’d think in a class like Theoretical Foundations of Literacy there is a lot of heavy reading and dense writing. While that is part of it, if I don’t allow the space for students to say ‘oh, this makes me think of the time I was in third grade learning to read and this thing happened’ or ‘this happened while I was teaching today,’ then they are not going to connect to these theories. So allowing students to bring in their outside lives helps facilitate learning.”

Learning by teaching

“I love being a student, especially the ‘reading and discussing’ part, and even the ‘writing papers’ part. Teaching not only gave me proximity to and involvement with the academic life I longed for, but it is a job that, in order to do well, you have to approach as a student, prepared to learn every single day.

One of my favorite moments was in 2011 when I decided to assign a filmmaking project. The only problem was that I had never actually made a film myself, which would make it difficult for me to support students in the technical aspects of the assignment. I was honest with them about this, and let them know that I would be completing the assignment right along with them, including presenting my film on our final night of class just like they would. In the most literal sense, I learned along with my students that semester. Even as I taught the course, I was a student and a team member. Our experience was so enriching that five students expressed interest in continuing with their work after the semester ended. The result was that we traveled together to Florida to present at the conference of our professional organization, the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association). This teaching moment could have been a complete disaster, but we all took a risk and tried something new together, and the outcome was very rewarding for all of us and created wonderful, lasting professional relationships among the group.”

Favorite course:

“My favorite course is Theoretical Foundations of Literacy. Students always come in thinking it is going to be boring and irrelevant based on the title, but they leave with a completely new perspective on just how complex literacy is. They also end up laughing far more than the title would suggest!”

Other courses I teach:

  • Linguistics and Language Acquisition for the Literacy Specialist
  • Current Issues and Trends in Literacy
  • Content Area Literacy Methods
  • Young Adult Literature

Lifelong learning

While she prepares students to be excellent teachers, she also works to help herself and her colleagues share ideas and get ever better at teaching.

  • She helped create the Teaching Integration and Innovation Lab (TIIL) on campus, "which provides Nazareth faculty with opportunities to gather, collaborate, and learn from one another to improve our teaching and better meet the needs of the diverse students that we serve."
  • She and fellow Naz education professor Rachel Bailey Jones, Ph.D., co-wrote a book, Innovations in Conversations About Teaching: Beyond the Workshop (2021), about how college faculty support one another as professionals to keep learning and to keep ensuring that students get great classroom experiences. "We improve our teaching through learning from and with each other ... and our innovations in teaching become contagious," says Hopkins.

Since all students are shaped by multiple teachers, any teaching challenges are inescapably mutual ones. Teachers who collaborate well become leaders in their school community. "Literacy program students, in particular, need to be prepared to be leaders in their classrooms and in their buildings as literacy specialists are increasingly looked to for instructional support for teachers, not just students."


The most important job

“My students are all becoming teachers, and I happen to think that is just one of the most important jobs in the entire world. They are going to touch hundreds and maybe thousands of students’ lives in their careers, and to be a part of that makes my work in teaching them feel really important.”

What's distinctive at Nazareth

“Nazareth students aren’t satisfied to be spoon-fed information and call that learning. They take ownership of their learning as active participants in class and work with me to pave the way through each semester. It’s no surprise that Nazareth has a great reputation for preparing excellent teachers: Each semester they come to my classes with passion and professionalism that is unmatched, eager to deepen their knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience with teaching.”


Hopkins and her students presenting at an International Reading Association conference in Orlando, Fla.

Advice for Future Teachers

“Pay close attention to the things that are stealing your energy to teach — and then stay away from those things! Then pay attention to those things or people that give you energy, and say yes to those things.”

Using What She Teaches

“Dr. H. has an awesome sense of humor and I love her ability to make dense topics, such as the dimensions of literacy, engaging and relevant to her students’ personal and professional lives. She created a jeopardy game (just recently) to help our class prepare for the final exam. She's aware that even as adults, differentiation, scaffolding assignments, and collaboration are essential for learning.”

— Anjoli Moise ‘18G (Inclusive Early Childhood Education)

In her words

Games for Engagement

“Dr. H. makes every class fly by. She makes every topic fun and helps you understand why it's important to learn about it. She's entertaining and truly one of the best professors I've ever had. I love her use of short activities that she calls ‘games’ in order to get us engaged and jumpstart our thinking. Her use of videos, images, and print text helps keep class from becoming routine. In my own classroom I will carry her energy as well as her open-mindedness for class discussions.”

— Rachel Besaw ‘18G (Literacy)


Wondering who else you can learn from — and who will support and challenge you? Check out more Faculty Spotlights.