Teacher goes beyond the call of duty

For some veteran teachers, retirement is just not all that fulfilling.  That was the case for professor Maurene Nelson, who has been teaching fundamentals of speech for 26 years.

Nelson, 75, retired after teaching full time for three years at Cal State Los Angeles and 11 years at Cal Poly Pomona.  However, after a few months of not working, she decided that retirement was not for her.

So she returned to the classroom and the students she loves.

“I am uninterested in not having an occupation or not knowing what to do with my time,” Nelson said. “The future of my students is what I am interested in.”

This semester Nelson is teaching at three community colleges: Pasadena, Glendale and Citrus. She says that she loves nothing better than being in the classroom with her students.

Nelson’s teaching style is a reflection of her personal philosophy. She strives to help students overcome the fear of public speaking and become competent communicators.

Samuel Lee, Ed.D dean of language arts and enrollment management said, “she always has very engaging activities for them, gets them up out of their seats, talking and interacting with each other, and based on that, she affects a lot of them.”

Nelson’s priority is to create classrooms where students can connect and feel comfortable.

“They always say, ‘Mrs. Nelson, this is the only class where I know the name of everybody in the classroom,’” Nelson said. “And I say, ‘of course, because we’re the family.’”

Nelson believes that there is one important attribute students must develop to be successful in any field of study they pursue.

“I don’t personally believe that anyone can be any kind of competent speaker until they feel a degree of self confidence,” Nelson said.

Many people have experienced low self-esteem at some point in their lives; Nelson understands the struggles that students may experience before they can move forward.

Nelson’s mother died when she was 6 years old. She was raised by her father who had a drinking problem. Her father remarried when she was 10, but Nelson said that through her middle school and high school years she felt very neglected.

“No one cared,” Nelson said.

She drifted through those years she said, left to navigate her own life and made a lot of mistakes, but that did not keep her from pursuing an education.

She graduated from PCC at age 20 with an Associate of Arts degree in organizational communication. But she had also married and started a family, so she decided to put her education on hold.

She went through a divorce and three years later remarried. As her two children grew up she decided to go back to school, encouraged by her husband, Grant Nelson. In 1981, she enrolled in Cal State Los Angeles and finished her BA in speech communication in ’84 and would go on to complete her master’s.

Nelson has designed her courses to not only help students break out of their shy selves but also to become proficient in listening, speaking, writing and thinking.

Nelson’s teaching career not only has provided a pathway for students to develop confidence and voice their opinions, but also has encouraged them to relate to her as a mentor and friend.

Chris Kidder, 34, one of Nelson’s former students, has remained in contact with her for four and a half years after completing his last speech class.

Kidder who enrolled in two of Nelson’s speech courses at Glendale College, says that her teaching style has helped prepare him for life.

“I look to her as a mentor,” Kidder said. “She has always motivated me and pushed me to be better.”

Nelson describes the call to teach not only as a privilege but also as a gift.

“This is teaching to me: you regard students like your children,” Nelson said.

Her message to students is “Do your best.”

“I’m equipping you to do what I do,” Nelson said. “I go way above the call of duty, and I want that from you, too.”