Academic challenges inspire future teacher to connect with all students
Monday, December 15, 2014

"The Student Experience" showcases University of Iowa students who excel academically—inside and outside the classroom. This is our latest entry in the series; look for the next story on Jan. 26.

The fourth-graders bounce into the tiny classroom and find their seats, wiggling into place around a U-shaped table.

It’s a diverse group. Each of the seven students comes from families whose native language is something other than English. On this day, the little English-language learners are all smiles and giggles.

Alissa Bornhoft intuitively knows how to harness the students’ energy.

“How is everyone today?” she asks.

The students bubble with enthusiasm, sharing answers one would expect from typical 9-year-olds.

“Good.” “Great.” “Hungry.”

teacher working with students at table
Alissa Bornhoft will graduate this month from the UI College of Education with certificates in math, English-language learners, and Spanish. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Bornhoft, a University of Iowa senior, is student teaching in an English-language learners’ (ELL) classroom at Prairie View Elementary in Cedar Rapids, and it is clear this teacher-to-be has a gift for connecting with students. This month, she will graduate from the UI College of Education with certificates to teach math, ELL, and Spanish.

Alissa Bornhoft

Hometown: Humboldt, Iowa

Areas of study: She will graduate from the College of Education with certificates to teach math (grades 5-12), English-language learners (grades K-12), and Spanish (grades K-12)

Graduation: December 2014 (by the way, 96 percent of new UI teachers get hired)


University of Iowa Dance Marathon for four years (dancer, morale captain, family representative, family representative committee member, and family representative chair)

Dean's List for six semesters

Robert Noyce STEM Teacher Scholar

Study abroad student with the Iowa Regents Hispanic Institute study abroad program (Valladolid, Spain)

Invitee to President Sally Mason's luncheon at the UI College of Education

Camp counselor for Coralville Recreation Before and After School Program and Summer Program

Paraprofessional coach for a City High cross-country runner

Fun fact: Alissa's mom and sister are both teachers

Bornhoft originally came to UI in 2010 to study math. But her struggles with her chosen subject eventually uncovered her heart’s desire—teaching. And those same challenges with math have shaped Bornhoft’s teaching philosophy.

“It’s important to be able to connect with all students and not just the high-achieving ones,” she said. “I’ve been there, and I won’t let those students down. Everyone can achieve.”

Having grown up in Humboldt, a town of about 5,000 people in northern Iowa, Bornhoft worried the size of the university and Iowa City would overwhelm her. Still, she liked the campus, and her older sister would be a senior at UI when she started her first year.

It didn’t take Bornhoft long to feel at home.

“I felt like I was part of a community,” she says. “It was a big change, moving to a city like Iowa City from Humboldt, but I’ve never regretted it.”

While at the UI, Bornhoft has participated in Dance Marathon, made the Dean’s List for six semesters, and studied abroad with the Iowa Regents Hispanic Institute in Valladolid, Spain.

Nancy Langguth, clinical professor in teaching and learning at the UI College of Education, is confident Bornhoft will be a successful teacher.

“Students know that I put great faith in the power of relating to students with care and respect, establishing appropriate parameters in the classroom and planning for meaningful instruction,” Langguth says. “I certainly envision Alissa being that teacher.”

She adds: “I also believe that effective teachers must be competent in their content area and demonstrate kindness and courage in their work, which also describes the teacher candidate I envision Alissa to be.”

This spring, Bornhoft will teach seventh-grade math as a long-term substitute teacher in the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids, the same district where she is student teaching for elementary ELL teacher Renee Levi.

“Alissa is very prepared and has a wealth of strategies and knowledge to help our students,” Levi says. “I’m going to miss her when she’s gone.”

For now, all eyes in Mrs. Levi’s class are on Bornhoft as she preps the young pupils for a review of prefixes and suffixes.

“Remember, a prefix comes at the beginning of a word and a suffix comes at the end of a word,” she reminds the students who are perched on their chairs like young birds ready to fly.

The class comes up with a list of words that end in “en.” Next they draw pictures of their words and use them in sentences.

“What does a sentence begin with?” Bornhoft asks.

“A capital letter!” the students respond with gusto.

“What does a sentence end with?” she asks.

“A period!”

Or, in cases of enthusiasm found in Bornhoft’s class, they tend to end with an exclamation point.