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Education Q&A: Elyse Max, Adult Education Administrator

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Kansas City Kansas Community College Adult Education Enrollment Manager Elyse Max has been working in adult education for the past five years and says the accomplishments of non-traditional students keep her inspired. (Photo by John G. McGrath/The Hale Center for Journalism)

Elyse Max is the adult education enrollment manager at Kansas City Kansas Community College, where every year about 1,000 students are enrolled in college-preparation, English as a Second Language, Pre-GED and GED classes. Max says adult education involves working with students at all levels, from pre-literacy all the way to college preparation. Each year about 150 students complete the GED program at KCKCC.

How many years have you been working in education and where?

“I have worked in education for the past nine years. I started as a teaching assistant in grad school at UMKC and as a refugee educator at Jewish Vocational Services. From there,  I taught sociology at several community colleges and English as a second language. I have been in adult education administration for the past five years.”

What is the best part about your job?

“I love seeing students reach their goals.  Each year, the GED program has a graduation ceremony. I have to sit on the stage with the college president and the VPs, and I always, always cry. I do love program planning, grant writing and data analysis, but would not be able to do it without seeing the benefit it has for the students.”

What brought you to education/teaching?

“I come from a family where the women are teachers. My mother used to tell me that when she was growing up women were supposed to be teachers or nurses, but times have changed, and women can be anything they want. I thought I knew for sure I would never be a teacher.  But, in grad school, I was presented with the opportunity to teach a section of Intro to Sociology, and after the  first semester I knew I would be following in her footsteps because education is one of the most important jobs in our society.”

What inspires you?

“I am super inspired by students every day. Students who have overcome the unthinkable and return to education are very different than the cookie cutter student who follows the socially prescribed path. Adult learners coming back to school to attain their diploma are motivated by things children couldn’t imagine. They see the value in the credentials, not just the piece of paper. I encourage everyone to make their education as meaningful. There is no right or wrong pathway — attaining it is part of the success. The other part is putting it to action to build a better world for self and others.”

What is something new related to teaching or education that you are excited about or wanting to experiment with?

“We are very excited to experiment with more types of computer-based instruction and assessment. Since the GED exam is now computer-based it just makes sense.  We are looking at implementing a distance education component in the program. We will also be moving to online orientation assessments and post-testing.”

What is the biggest obstacle you see in education today?

“I think the biggest obstacle in education today is funding. Not necessarily the lack of, but the distribution of. First of all, the public education model of funding education based on property taxes is inevitably going to perpetuate systems of inequality. Fiscally penalizing schools that underperform on standardized tests also perpetuates these inequities. Education as a pathway out of poverty will only work if schools in low income neighborhoods are funded in equal (or greater) amounts than the most successful schools.”

Is there anything that you learned or particular lesson from when you were a student (K-grad school), that has stuck with you?

“I will never forget my sixth grade teacher. After years of being chastised for my sloppiness, he decided that I needed two cubbies because I wasn’t messy —  I was creative. He gave me the space I needed to figure out my own organization and honored me for my uniqueness. That is what a really good teacher does.”

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