2020 Best Teacher Award winner Andrea Purdy holds a passion for teaching and the ability it gives her to connect with diverse students. Her open and inclusive classroom offers students a home where Purdy, an associate professor of Spanish, helps them develop their academic and cultural skill sets through learning and connections.
While she’s no longer physically in the classroom this semester, Purdy continues to support and challenge her students through remote learning, providing a virtual safe space where students can continue to learn together.
Purdy grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico where Spanish was her first language. Her father was born and raised in Mexico while her mother was from Texas, giving Purdy a sense of dual identity from a young age. Between the ages of 4 and 5, her mother played her English phonetics records so she could learn English pronunciation. After learning the basics of the language, Purdy and her friends began mixing English and Spanish into their conversations. Eventually they could converse fluently in English. By the time Purdy’s parents decided to move to the U.S. when she was 13, she had become fluent in the English language.
Journey to a new home
Because her father was retiring and her mother wanting to be closer to family in Kansas, they decided to move when Purdy was 13. Before her move to the U.S. Purdy had visited Texas a few times to see her grandparents, on the bus ride there she tried to get off at the stops where she heard Spanish. The language was deeply tied to the comfort and familiarity of home. Purdy would yell “¡Mira los antílopes!” (“Look at the antelopes!”) on the bus ride which prompted other passengers to ask her mom “Where did you get the little girl?”
Life in a completely new environment challenged Purdy’s sense of identity. While she felt deeply connected to her home in Chihuahua, she didn’t look traditionally Mexican. As a fluent English speaker, most of her classmates assumed she was from the U.S.
“It took me a long time to figure out who I was. I was blonde, blue-eyed, and from Mexico, so people looked at me and said, ‘you’re an American!’ even though I didn’t understand behaviors,” said Purdy. “It was the fact that I looked American and I didn’t look like a Mexican that seemed to make me fit in better.”
On the surface, Purdy seemed to fit in with her peers, but she felt as though she had lost her way and was not a part of any distinct group.
“I was neither Mexican nor American,” said Purdy.
“No matter what someone is going through, the ability to rise above it all and change someone else’s life through your own struggles is not something that everyone can do. [Dr. Purdy] showed me the true definition of perseverance.”
– Kara Copeland (’20)
Finding identity in academia
Through the changes and challenges of her teenage years, Purdy’s love for school remained constant. Purdy was the first in her family to go to college, enrolling at Wichita State University, where she excelled in her studies of international relations and Spanish.
As she neared the end of her undergraduate studies, Purdy was unsure of her next steps. One of her professors presented her with the opportunity to become a Spanish graduate teaching assistant at Texas Tech University. At Texas Tech Purdy studied Latin American literature, which led her to an epiphany. “I realized that you could have more than one identity,” said Purdy.
Her immersion in Latin American literature, coupled with teaching, helped her define her identity on her own terms. Her passion for teaching and love of literature allowed her to articulate who she was in distinct but unifying contexts. “It was a way for me to understand me,” said Purdy.
The gift of teaching
Through her own journey of self awareness, Purdy has learned the importance of awareness in teaching.
Purdy strives to create a culture of respect in her classroom, while encouraging students to explore new perspectives and challenge their assumptions. “I think that we owe it to students to provide them with things that kind of make them uncomfortable at times,” said Purdy.
By setting clear expectations around respectful dialogue, Purdy creates a space where students feel comfortable to speak openly while remaining aware of others. Purdy encourages her students to approach uncomfortable discussions that push them to think beyond their own perspectives. She believes this is essential for their advancement.
This open exchange of ideas doesn’t just benefit students; it benefits Purdy as well. She asserts that she learns from every one of her students because they have unique information and perspectives to share. “It is not so much that I come in and impart wisdom,” said Purdy. “But rather that we’ve worked together to come to an understanding of the material.”
The respect and inclusivity Purdy establishes in her classroom helps her build relationships with her students. Her awareness of how life circumstances can pose difficulties outside the classroom make her a wonderful listener and a trusted mentor. Many of her students recognize these qualities and talk to her when they are experiencing difficult times knowing she will always be their ally.
Whether in-person or online, Purdy dedicates herself to her students and their growth. She strives to appreciate each of her students as distinct individuals who enhance her teaching experience. Her dedication and understanding of the challenges that students face informed Purdy’s win in this year’s Best Teacher Awards.
“Learning and teaching is like a tapestry,” said Purdy. “You’re weaving threads together and the threads are all of the different students that come in to give different weaves and textures to my life and to the academic life to which I belong.”
Given the transition to remote teaching and learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s BTA ceremony has been rescheduled. Purdy will still be honored for her hard work and dedication the evening of March 24, 2021 at the LSC Theatre. Registration to attend the event will open in January 2021.