SOE News

Dwight Rogers will continue caring, connecting, making music in retirement

When Dwight Rogers enrolled in an undergraduate course in educational foundations at the University of Florida, he wasn’t planning to be a teacher.

“That course was inspiring, especially a project I did interviewing high school students about their experience with integration,” he recalls. “As the oldest of five siblings, I had always liked being around young children, and when I graduated, I decided to volunteer with Teacher Corps.” After two years of working in elementary schools, he was hooked.

Rogers took his first teaching position after earning a Master of Education degree from the University of Florida in 1974. “I still consider getting through my first year of teaching to be one of my biggest accomplishments,” he reflects 34 years later. “Seeing the most disruptive little boy in my kindergarten class become transformed into a thoughtful, interested student was magical!”

Rogers taught for several years before pursuing a Ph.D. degree with an early childhood specialization at the University of Florida. Ready to teach others how to teach, he joined the faculty at Ohio University and taught there for four years before coming to the UNC School of Education in 1986.   

“Throughout his career here, Dwight has been the consummate teacher,” said Interim Dean Jill Fitzgerald. “He is the person I have gone to repeatedly when I wanted to improve my teaching.”

“He is adored by his former students, who continue to express their love and gratitude for this wonderful person, even years after they graduate,” Fitzgerald said. “It would be difficult to find another colleague in our School who has achieved as many 4.0s—the highest possible teaching rating—as Dwight.”

The multiple teaching awards that Rogers has received, both from Ohio University and from UNC-Chapel Hill, further attest to his excellence. Two that he particularly values are the 1997 Students’ Undergraduate Teaching Award, nominated and selected by the undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Outstanding Faculty Award, selected and presented by Carolina’s senior class of 1999.  

Among Rogers’ major accomplishments at the School of Education was his work with colleagues to re-conceptualize and redesign the Elementary Education program in 1996, making it more field-based and connecting the content and theory taught in the classes with what happens in schools.   

Another important focus was his scholarly work to emphasize the ethic of caring in teacher education. “People go into teaching because they care about children,” Rogers notes. “But few were talking about that in academia.” Rogers studied how a “context of caring” takes form in working with children and advocated caring as an essential perspective for educators.

“Dwight’s scholarship has been impeccable, and his service to the School has been extensive and unselfish,” Fitzgerald said. “Without question, his scholarship on caring has been an analog for how he has conducted his professional life.” 

An expression of his ethic of caring was Rogers’ work in supporting new teachers and re-energizing experienced teachers. For new teachers, he co-developed and co-directed support groups to help teachers as they were struggling in their classrooms. During a period of five years, about 100 teachers participated in the new teacher support groups from area school districts. 

This work culminated in a 2002 book titled From Isolation to Conversation: Supporting New Teachers’ Development,co-authored with Leslie Babinski.

For experienced teachers, Rogers taught a research class in the School’s Master of Education program. Under his guidance, each teacher chose a topic of interest, such as, “Why are my students failing my tests, particularly my minority students?”

Each teacher designed and conducted a research study to investigate the question of interest. The teachers met regularly with a research group for serious discussions of their practice and research. Rogers often encouraged the teachers to interview their students in searching for answers.

“I think this process gave some teachers new perspectives on their work,” Rogers said. “It re-energized others, revitalized their practice and left them more connected with each other and more sensitive to their students.” 

Drawing on his lifelong interest in music, Rogers also co-directed the Curriculum, Music and Community project. He and UNC Folklore Professor Glenn Hinson worked with fourth-grade teachers in several school districts around the state to integrate traditional North Carolina music into the curriculum, not just as a typical arts enhancement unit but as a central part of the course of study. Area musicians came into the classrooms to sing, tell their stories and answer students’ questions.

“This project was based on the theme of collaboration,” Rogers said. “Teachers worked together around a central organizing theme—music. Instead of the usual scenario with schools trying to reach out to parents, in this case the community reached in to the schools. The result was powerful.”   

As he anticipates retiring this summer, Rogers reflects on his work, “For me, the important thing about teaching is building relationships, talking and listening, understanding each other. I’ve found that if I get to know my students and provide an opportunity for them—and me—to learn and grow through serious dialogue, that’s when education happens.”

A firm believer in lifelong learning, Rogers already is exploring new challenges that he will continue to pursue in retirement. Having played the banjo for more than 30 years, he is now learning to bow the double bass. “It’s a tremendous challenge and very humbling,” he reports. “But I can say that I’m making progress.”

The School of Education is making progress too, bolstered by Rogers’ many contributions throughout his career. “Dwight understood and worked selflessly for the good of the School,” Interim Dean Fitzgerald said. “He has been responsible for much of the good work that has happened here.” 

What his former students say

“My teaching career would not exist without Dwight Rogers' influence. From my first class with him to having him as my supervisor, Dwight has never stopped teaching me about children, learning, building relationships, and reflecting on myself as a teacher. Dwight helped me become confident in my abilities as an educator and helped foster my love for teaching. Words cannot express what he means to me, or how grateful I am to him. I only hope to have as big an impact on my students as Dwight has had on me.”

Jen Whicker (A.B.Ed. ’07)
First-grade Teacher
E.K. Power Elementary School, Durham, N.C.
Former Undergraduate Student 

 “Dwight has a special talent for listening deeply. He asks great questions with just the right level of challenge and complexity. I learned so much from him—how to articulate my thinking, how to focus my writing. He encouraged all of us to be more reflective about our teaching. He has continued to support my work as a second-grade teacher over the years—still willing to listen and help me find answers to my own questions. The best kind of teaching!”

Robin Franklin (M.Ed. ’03)
Second-grade Teacher
Lakewood Elementary School, Durham, N.C.
Former Student in M.Ed. Action Research Class

 “As an undergraduate teacher candidate, I learned from Dwight the importance of care toward students in the way that he modeled care for me and my fellow undergraduates. Later, as an elementary school teacher, I drew on his influence as I tried to understand particular students through my relationships with them and their parents, and let this understanding inform my teaching. As a doctoral student working with Dwight on the Curriculum, Music and Community project and later my dissertation, I learned the importance of treating and respecting teachers as professionals and honoring their expert knowledge. Finally, my experiences as Dwight’s student and friend remind me of the importance of cultivating my own interests and talents outside of the workplace, and his path encourages me to lead a more balanced life.”

Sydney Brown (A.B.Ed. ’91, M.Ed. ’92, Ph.D. ’05)
Assistant Professor
Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, N.C.
Former Undergraduate and Graduate Student