Faculty member finds calling in education

Richard Kelly

In her childhood, Judith McConnell-Farmer was the eldest sibling and was expected to be a good caretaker. She carried that mentality into a lifelong passion.

McConnell-Farmer, a professor in the Washburn education department, has long worked in school settings teaching children or teaching others to teach children. A facilitator of study abroad trips, including a recent trip to orphanages in Belize and an upcoming trip to schools in Jamaica, she focuses mainly on early childhood and elementary education.

As an undergraduate in the education department at the University of Kansas, McConnell-Farmer was expecting to graduate a semester early. However, a new early childhood education program emerged and kept her there an extra semester, as recommended by her faculty advisor, Evelyn Swartz.

It would eventually give her a direction toward many of her later endeavors.

“I knew she had my best interest in mind and that I would graduate,” said McConnell-Farmer. “So, thank goodness I listened to Swartzbecause it’s been my lifelong work and love. Learning about young children, teaching young children, and teaching others who’re going to be teachers of young children.”

With her direction now set, she went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in elementary education, a Masters of Education degree, and a Doctorate of Education. While she has worked in a multitude of school settings, mainly as a college professor, McConnell-Farmer has now been at Washburn for 17 years.

During her time at Washburn, where she has been tenured since 1998 and has had a professor status since 2001, McConnell-Farmer says the university has given her an opportunity to do many extraordinary activities for herself, including making trips to numerous conferences.

But the benefits of activities such as studying abroad have also reached her undergraduate and graduate students.

Her involvements also include advising roughly 100 students a semester and McConnell-Farmer has also published her own books, including “Adventures, fantasies and dreams in children’s literature” in 2010 through Linton Atlantic Books. She has been a frequent conference coordinator and presenter on topics correlative to early childhood education.

As she attempts to take her topics of interest and apply them at Washburn and beyond, she often works with the knowledge of how difficult student engagement can be.

But, McConnell-Farmer believes she has found the proper formula, for adults and children alike.

“We all know that adults learn very much in the same manner as young children, and that means being involved in their own learning such as talking, discussing, using manipulatives, getting up and doing things as small groups, individuals or pairs,” said McConnell-Farmer. “The least effective way to teach undergraduates or young children is for the teacher to do all the talking and for them to sit there and not move.”

One of the biggest assets to the learning of the students she teaches at Washburn outside of the classroom is through studying abroad. She consistently sees it open eyes on the value of education.

“Most people in our country have the opportunity to go to college,” said McConnell-Farmer. “That does mean taking out financial aid and it means working two or three part-time jobs, so it’s not without effort, but at least the opportunity is there. In many of the countries we visit, the opportunity is not there for a vast majority of the children.”

Through all of her travels abroad, which began in her late 30’s, she has been to China, Spain and the Czech Republic, among other countries.

These opportunities to see the difference of educational settings in different regions have only helped to continue her interest in helping children.

“I will always do something that involves children,” said McConnell-Farmer. “Whether it is teaching teachers to teach children or whether it’s directly working with children in some manner, my occupation will always revolve around children.”