When prospective students are considering joining the College of Education (COE) at Belmont, there’s one person COE makes sure they talk to: Dr. Annie Insana.
With her background in education and experience working in Tennessee’s education system, Insana brings a valuable perspective to her role as Director of Clinical Practice at Belmont University.
“I am not a salesperson, but it’s so easy to talk about our College of Education and our University as a whole because of how magnificent the experience is and what we try to do on a day-to-day basis to support our students,” Insana said. “It’s really easy to sell something that you truly believe in, and I think there’s so much great potential and possibility here at Belmont. I love that I’m here. This is essentially my dream job.”
A Passion for Preparing Teachers
At the Tennessee Department of Education, where she first served as Director of Literacy for Educator Preparation and Induction Programs followed by Senior Director of Educator Preparation, she developed valuable administrative skills and a deep understanding of educational institutions in the state for five years.
“I got to know our EPP or Educator Preparation Provider community really, really well,” she said. “It was one of the joys of working in that position. Tennessee has 45 institutions that prepare teachers. And so over time I really got a chance to know the institutions, the people who work there, what their mission and vision was to prepare the next generation of teachers.”
Out of those 45 institutions, she chose Belmont when it came time to return to the classroom.
“All of my interactions with Belmont were always very positive. They were a smaller school, and I knew that, but they always just seem to have so much potential.”
Her move to Belmont was motivated by her desire to make a meaningful impact on the next generation of educators. “I’ve had my sights set on Belmont for a long time.”
Belmont’s warm and caring atmosphere, coupled with a shared mission to support students as whole individuals transitioning into the challenging role of a teacher, immediately resonated with Insana. “The people here make the difference, when putting my state hat on, when I’ve seen institutions not be as successful or their programs are not thriving or they’re struggling. There are other complications, like the teaching profession in general across the nation is declining. But I feel like when you have the right people in place, leadership-wise, administratively, faculty, we’ve got just this beautiful blend of expertise. I am constantly learning from my colleagues. They have such a gift of teaching and scholarship, and I think we communicate and complement each other well. That’s what I really think sets Belmont apart, especially because it’s not too big. When you get into an institution, it could be stellar, but it can sometimes be a problem when it gets too big and impersonal.”
"The people here make the difference...we’ve got just this beautiful blend of expertise."
A Dream Realized
Insana’s love of teaching began in childhood in Kansas City, Mo., when her early fascination with education and teaching set the stage for a career dedicated to both instructing students and nurturing new educators. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher very, very early in life,” she said. “We have a picture of me, I think I’m 7…. and I decided to create a library,” she said. “I made library cards for every member of my family and lined up the books, and said, ‘You need to come and check out a book, and then you need to read it and give me a report.’”
As she grew older, her joy in helping those who struggled with understanding solidified her aspiration to become an educator. Insana explained, “When I knew that I understood something, it gave me joy to support somebody who wasn’t getting it as easily as I was.” Her affinity for peer-to-peer learning became a driving force behind her decision to pursue a career in teaching.
After completing her education, Insana embarked on a seven-year journey as an elementary school teacher, initially in California and later in Smyrna, Tenn. Throughout her teaching career, she worked with diverse student populations and relished the challenges and rewards of the profession. However, her commitment to education extended beyond the classroom.
Recognizing the importance of mentoring and supporting new teachers, Insana became a mentor teacher, guiding student teachers and sharing her expertise. She also ventured into graduate school and took on supervisory roles, focusing on preparing future educators. She shared, “It was always part of me to anchor into what it feels like to be new... teaching is so hard, but it’s so rewarding.”
Insana’s dedication to teacher development continued as she worked with the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative, a statewide organization providing mentorship and induction services to new teachers, at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she had just completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction - Teacher Education.
Advocates for the Education Profession
Insana firmly believes in advocating for the teaching profession, especially in a climate where some discourage students from pursuing a career in education. She said, “We have a responsibility to advocate for our teaching profession,” and she’s committed to equipping her students with the knowledge and skills to be effective advocates for positive change in education.
“I am from the belief, and I know that my dean and my peers feel the exact same way, but we have a responsibility to advocate for our teaching profession,” she said. “More and more as we have parents who come with prospective students, we often hear that people are dissuading students from even coming to an institution to become a teacher. So I think that’s really important to advocate for your profession but to do so in a very realistic way. So you can’t hide the fact that teaching’s really hard. It is, but it’s incredibly rewarding and there are a lot of benefits.”
One of the keys to advocating for the professions is better understanding legislation and the decision-making procedures that affect the education sector. Insana underscored the rapid pace at which bills can transform into laws, explaining that “bills can get on a docket and pass and become law in a matter of just weeks….Some of the most recent laws we see are impacting our teaching profession.” Insana endeavors to keep students well-informed about this process. “It’s really important for our students to know that because they can understand where they can intercept and interrupt and advocate for these changes before they’re made and make a negative impact.”
Hope for the Future of Education
When asked about what gives her hope for the future of education, Insana highlights the transformation she witnesses in her students. She said, “What gives hope is to watch them transform from a college student to a teacher, and that identity shift that occurs while they are in the classroom.”
And that happens early in their time at Belmont. “Even in the very first year as freshmen, our faculty create opportunities in their courses for our Belmont students to engage with K-12 students so they can be in the classroom early and understand if teaching is for them, or what age group. I want them to engage in that way instead of waiting until junior or senior year.”
Community Engagement and Partnerships
Those opportunities are nurtured through Insana’s role as Director of Clinical Practice, which involves cultivating and maintaining relationships with school districts and ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership. In addition, “there’s a great deal of opportunity to partner with other types of organizations like Accelerating Scholars as a great tutoring program where they can train our students online to support K-12 students in literacy and math,” she said. “And that’s now aligned with some of our third grade retention laws.”
Insana says what keeps her up at night is addressing the question: “How do you ensure that we’re staying relevant to what’s happening in today’s classrooms?” This concern, she notes, arises from the reputation of higher education as sometimes being out of touch with the realities of contemporary classrooms, with some educators having not been in a K-12 classroom for decades. To tackle this challenge, Insana takes proactive steps to bridge the gap between academia and practical teaching. Last year, she set her annual goal around teaching, recognizing that continuous improvement is essential. She values the opportunity to teach the same class multiple times, seeing it as a chance to refine her methods.
The Mock Classroom: A Learning Ground for Educators
The latest evolution in her teaching methodology involves a simulation classroom, where students can interact with a physical classroom on Belmont’s campus. This approach empowers future teachers to manipulate desks, evaluate material accessibility and gain practical insights into classroom dynamics centered around visibility, accessibility and distractibility.
“The mock classroom helps students adapt to different teaching environments, preparing them to excel in diverse settings,” she said. "They can actually go and manipulate the desk. They can go and sit down on the carpet and see if there are any issues with accessing materials."
This unique learning experience allows future educators to engage with various classroom layouts, from traditional setups to cutting-edge technology-infused environments. Insana and her colleagues continuously seek ways to make teacher education relevant and practical in a rapidly evolving educational landscape. "I'm trying to always have a lens on how to make it the most relevant for my teachers so they can make it the most relevant for their students. And that means my teaching is always evolving. And that's one great example. And how lucky are we that the College of Education was able to invest money and to create the space so that we could use it and support our candidates?"
Insana’s goal is clear: to ensure her teaching remains relevant and focused on advocacy and to equip her students to do the same for their future students. Through Belmont’s College of Education, the future of education looks brighter than ever for these change-makers.
For more information and to apply, visit the College of Education.