Professor Profile: Audrey Friedman
Dean of the Lynch School Loves Both Nature and Nurture
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Audrey Friedman, associate professor and assistant dean of undergraduate students of the Lynch School of Education (LSOE), insists that her students call her Audrey because she believes it creates an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect. She began at Boston College in 1988 as a doctoral student in the curriculum and instruction program. Since then, she has worked her way through the ranks, becoming a professor in 1996, earning tenure in 2002, and rising to department chair in 2003 before becoming dean this year.
In addition to her administrative duties, Friedman teaches three courses. She facilitates the Undergraduate Inquiry Seminar, Theory and Pedagogy in the English Language Arts Classroom, a graduate level course, and English Secondary Methods. Friedman has also taught the Capstone course Science for Social Justice.
After graduating from a public high school in western Massachusetts, Friedman attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where she studied Zoology and English literature before adding secondary education to her list of majors at the beginning of her senior year. “Teaching for me was a happy accident,” Friedman said. “My goal was to become a research biologist, but the summer before my senior year, my husband proposed and indicated I needed to go to work to put him through dental school.”
Upon completing her undergraduate work, Friedman took a job teaching science and literature in an urban public alternative school in Philadelphia. While teaching, she earned a Master’s degree in reading and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her time in this setting was important to the development of her teaching philosophy. “I loved teaching in an urban school. I had a great deal of autonomy, but there was an immense amount of collaboration,” Friedman said. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Toward the end of her time in Philadelphia, a decline in the prestige of education as a profession began. “We were valued and supported in Philadelphia. Then, in the late 70’s, respect for teachers as professionals, problem solvers, and activists for social justice started to diminish,” she said. “The tenor was that teachers needed to be fixed.”
Friedman disagreed with this assessment of teachers. She said that there are many factors that affect achievement, and “almost every teacher brings meaningful expertise to the classroom.” She believes that teachers are not the problem. “We don’t need fixing. We need support, a genuine invitation to the conversation about teaching and learning, and we need to remember that our primary responsibility is to the student,” Friedman declared.
When she returned to Massachusetts, she completed a Master’s degree in critical and creative thinking at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and taught English at her alma mater. In addition to teaching, she also developed curriculum aids for literature with John Savage, professor emeritus, who encouraged her to apply for the doctoral program in the LSOE. “He was the catalyst for my applying here,” Friedman said. “I have an immense amount of respect for him as an educator and a scholar. He has been one of the most influential people in my career and vocational discernment.”
After completing her Ph.D., Friedman began teaching at BC and became one of the most effective teacher education instructors to ever pace a classroom in cowboy boots. She not only tells students effective teaching practices, but also models them by requiring students to participate in the activities they may one day use with their students. Friedman’s classroom practices and presence led the Carnegie Foundation and Council for Advancement and Support of Education to award her 2009 Massachusetts Professor of the Year.
Second to her ability to teach is Friedman’s profound care for all members of the Lynch School student body. When students come to her office filled with Star Wars memorabilia and gifts from students she has helped, she greets them with a smile and an excited shout of their name no matter how many administrative tasks she has on her methodically cluttered desk.
She believes the relationships she forms with students outside of the classroom are integral for learning in the classroom. “Relationships between student and advisor are critical. Understanding students as people contributes to my competence in serving their needs and teaching them,” Friedman said. “And they keep me young.”
For Friedman, the best part of BC is the students. “Students ground me. I learn something new everyday. I especially love the students who challenge me,” Friedman said.
“One of the reasons I took [the position as dean] is it allowed more interaction with students, but it also allowed me to continue to teach,” she said. “Our students make a commitment to others that has very little remuneration. They’re not in it for the money. They’re in it for the mission.”
One aspect of BC that Friedman finds problematic is the sometimes-disparaging view that some members of the University have of the Lynch School. “We need to get a message to the larger University about the success of our graduates,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of our graduates who want jobs in education get them. Given this economy, that is quite good. Also, our students remain in classrooms significantly longer than the national average, and 75 percent of our graduates are still in their professions.”