At first, Joy Prothero’s career choice surprised her. Coming from a family with 16 teachers, she wasn’t interested in teaching. “I was steeped in teacher behaviors and expectations,” she says. “But I realized after my first year in college that of course I wanted to be a teacher!”
Prothero has now taught for 41 years. She surprised herself again after 11 years teaching elementary school, when she was invited to teach at William Penn College. Prothero, a graduate of William Penn, was completing a master’s degree from Drake University but not looking for a new position. “I said no, I’m happy in the classroom,” Prothero says. But when the dean persuaded her to consider it, Prothero decided to take the new opportunity.
At William Penn, Prothero spent nine years strengthening an education program that won several national awards. She secured National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation for that program, and she started a literacy project in Des Moines that sparked national interest. She has an Ed.D. from Drake and was associate professor of education at Grandview University and curriculum director for Pella Community Schools before coming to Central in 1998. “I’m always amazed at how careers take twists and turns,” she says.
One of Prothero’s strongest contributions to Central is her involvement in education outside the college. She leads Area Education Agencies (AEA) at the local and state levels, serving as governing board president and director for Pella’s district. These connections bring advantages for Central students, such as early access to AEA online resources. Central Teacher Academy also connects students to AEA opportunities, which Prothero says help Central’s future teachers receive the best research-based training available.
Prothero’s broad involvement has also helped her prepare students for changes and challenges in Iowa and throughout the U.S. “That’s important for them, because our graduates go everywhere,” she says. Even within short distances, Prothero says educational settings vary tremendously. “There’s a lot of variation in cultures and languages and learning styles — all of those things that impact how effective teachers are,” she says, “so students need to be exposed to as much of that as possible.” Prothero says graduates face more diverse issues than ever before. “Schools are a reflection of society, and so many things have changed,” she says. “I think it’s become more complicated.”
Mary Stark, professor of English, says Prothero’s knowledge and experience have been invaluable to Central. “She is passionate about education and highly involved in professional groups because she wants to help her students excel in their classrooms,” Stark says. “I really admire her commitment and care for our students.”
On campus, Prothero has also contributed to many influential projects. Through intense discussions, she says she discovered the strong friendships that make Central unique from anywhere she has taught. When faculty members dissect important initiatives and share their thoughts, Prothero says they really get to know each other and form a bond of trust. Stark says she will always remember Prothero’s willingness to help, good cheer and creative problem solving. “I think Joy embodies her name,” Stark says. “She is a delightful person!”
Central students also cherish relationships forged on campus, Prothero says, often visiting or writing to her after they graduate. She says it’s rewarding to know education classes are continually proved relevant to graduates’ careers and lives. Prothero’s passion for teaching will also continue beyond Central. She plans to continue participating in other settings she loves, making national presentations and guiding AEA initiatives throughout the state.