‘Everything I know came from UTA’s College of Education’

UTA alumna, doctoral student uses rap music to keep her students engaged and inspired

Tuesday, Sep 15, 2020 • Devynn Case : Contact

When one of Cora Garner’s most conscientious students stopped turning in assignments this spring, just after the COVID-19 shutdown, it was cause for alarm.

After leaving him several voice messages, Garner, a 2018 graduate of The University of Texas at Arlington and current UTA doctoral student, still hadn’t heard from him. A call to mom was in order.

“It turned out that he was getting depressed because he wasn’t receiving that same personal attention he was used to getting in the school year,” said Garner (’18 BA, English), an English teacher at DeSoto Early College High School. “I finally connected with him, and he just wanted to talk—about what it would be like to go back in the classroom and about missing football.”

Garner said it was a valuable lesson for her because it was a reminder of how delicate—and crucial—the balance is between teaching content and building relationships.

“It’s even harder virtually because your students may not have equitable access to technology,” she said. “They may call in to a meeting totally disengaged. Then I can’t reach them as a teacher or a mentor.”

Keeping students engaged, motivated and focused on their success is a challenge that every teacher faces right now, but Garner is prepared for it. She’s known for going above and beyond for her students, meeting them where they are to keep them engaged and taking creative approaches to make learning fun.

In the last few years, her innovative approaches to teaching English concepts like irony and essay writing have gone viral and received a fair amount of media attention. Known as the “rapping teacher,” Garner writes her own lyrics to popular rap songs, teaches them to the class and posts the videos online. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Cora Garner and Brenda Harris" width="745" _languageinserted="true" src="https://cdn.web.uta.edu/-/media/project/website/news/releases/2020/09/ms-garner-with-brenda-harris.ashx?la=en" src="https://cdn.web.uta.edu/-/media/project/website/news/releases/2020/09/ms-garner-with-brenda-harris.ashx?la=en" _languageinserted="true
Cora Garner (right) with UTA Clinical Instructor Brenda Harris.

“Rapping is a culturally responsive approach to instruction,” she said. “Most students love it. Some are too cool for school and don’t want to do it, of course, but everyone gets involved and manages to have fun when you incentivize it.”

In three years of teaching, Garner has received several accolades, including Teacher of the Year awards from the DeSoto Independent School District and the Southwest Alliance of Black School Educators—both in her first year of teaching, all while earning her master’s degree.

Garner credited Associate Professor Holly Hungerford-Kresser and Clinical Instructor Brenda Harris, both from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, as particularly influential on her development as an educator.

“Everything I know came straight out of UTA’s College of Education,” Garner said “Those two professors especially are the reasons why I am such a remarkable teacher today. They gave me a voice in education and empowered me.”

Today, Garner has her sights set on three major goals. One is to earn her doctorate from UTA in educational leadership and policy studies. She begins that journey this fall, which puts her well on her way to her second goal of taking on a leadership role within the DeSoto ISD.

The third goal is one she has maintained since she realized her calling to be a teacher way back when she herself was a student at DeSoto High.

“I want to empower and inspire students, but I want to do it my way,” she said. “Students’ lives matter, and if I’m needed on the front lines, you’re going to see me there in my face shield and mask. Whatever it takes to help them succeed.”

- Written by Amber Scott