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Alumni Spotlight Q & A
Featured Alumni: Tonja L. (Allen) Bell
Profession: Business Technology Educator
RMC Social Class Year: 1984
RMC Activities: Basketball
Hometown: Big Piney, Wyoming
Current Residence: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Family: Daughter, Lisa (24); son, Lance (23); mom, Sandy Allen; father, Chuck Allen; brother, Lance ('83)
Favorite Billings Hangout: Lucky's
Last Visit to RMC: 1985, for a friend's graduation
How did you choose Rocky Mountain College?
My brother played football there, and I came on a visit and it was a good fit for me.
What does your timeline look like since you left RMC?
I was RMC class of '84, and then I taught in Thermopolis, Wyoming. I started at Big Piney in '85, which is where I'm from. Then I came to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2000, taking a position at Morris High School until '08 when I moved to Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City.
What stands out in your mind about your time at RMC?
I have fond memories of the faculty, specifically Doc McDowell, Sandy Barz, and Clifford Clark. They cared about the students. They were fair with high expectations. They were very real people.
I value the importance of quality time with professors. You do not get that from larger universities. At RMC, you're not just a number. I felt like people really cared, especially Doc, who had the business students over to his house for wildlife BBQ. Who has the students over for a wildlife feed?
Was there one professor more than the others who you try to emulate?
I modeled myself after Doc. I was impressed that Doc was always in the know. He knew what happened the previous night before I did. He took a personal interest in his students. I learned the importance of providing a great learning environment and showing that the teacher cares.
How did you choose to be a teacher?
I had to make a choice my senior year. I could student teach or study for the CPA. I graduated in business administration and accounting and had some options. I was a business major who took a few education classes and then student taught. Who would've know how things would work out?
How did you get your first teaching job?
I head a teacher was leaving Thermopolis because the school was going to cut the business program in a year. I needed experience, so I went for it knowing I would be out of a job at the end. I was fortunate to get hired by Big Piney at the end of the year.
Describe an early success in your teaching career.
I had a student in Big Piney who I am particularly proud of. There were a lot of doubters in town. He didn't have strong guidance, and people figured he wouldn't amount to much. I encouraged him to go to college. He did well and graduated. He's done very well for himself in business in Big Piney. I smile at the thought of his success.
In what ways have you continued your education?
Once my children were in college, I decided to pursue some of my own personal goals. I moved to Oklahoma City and started work on my master's and National Board Certification while I taught full-time. I received my master's in 2011 from Southern Nazarene (where my son attended), which is very similar to RMC. The program was in curriculum and instruction, and it was designed for working teachers. I went one night a week for four hours, one class at a time for 18 months year-round.
When I moved to Oklahoma City, I also started working on the National Board Certification process – very few teachers are board certified. I received notice that I was board certified in 2010.
What does it mean to achieve National Board Certification?
National Board Certification is an advanced teaching credential. Approximately only three percent of the teaching workforce has achieved this standard. Research shows that teachers who have completed this certification process have students who consistently achieve higher gains in school.
The program allows you to teach in any state. There is a stipend for being nationally board certified. The process includes 400 hours of writing and recording. It is the pinnacle of the teaching field. It's comparable to an accountant getting their CPA.
Brag on your family a little.
I have two children who are active, athletic, and the best children a mom could have. My oldest, Lisa, was homecoming queen, an all-state softball player, and all-region in basketball. She had offers in both basketball and softball to further her education. She chose to attend a small school called Saint Gregory's University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She played softball and pursued a double major in social science and natural science. My youngest, Lance, was a tough kid; he led the state of Oklahoma in sacks and fumble recoveries his senior year. He had several options for his education. He chose to attend Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, where he played football and majored in business administration. Both kids graduated on the same day in May 2012.
Will you brag on yourself a little bit?
The most important award I have ever received from my students or peers is knowing that what I have done or am doing makes a difference in their lives. I was Wyoming teacher of the year finalist in 1999. I was recognized by my peers as coach of the year three times in volleyball. I was recognized for accomplishments at Morris as a "Teacher of Today" from the Masonic Lodge in 2008. I was recognized by my peers at Western Heights High School as building teacher of the year and later received the district teacher of the year at Western Heights Public School in 2012. Later that year I was named as teacher of the month for Oklahoma City in May of 2012.
What does the future hold for you?
I want to keep having fun. I like being in technology because it's always changing, always challenging. Technology is new; staying on top of the changes in fun. I'm learning Illustrator now. I teach the whole Adobe line – Flash, Dream Weaver, etc. A big emphasis of my job is in graphics design and web page design. I teach with an online environment, which many of my students have never been exposed to. I enjoy that.
- "You just don't know the impact you have, kids remember things I don't recall."
- "I truly believe I make a difference."
- "I want kids to be lifelong learners. When you stop learning, you stop advancing; never settle for where you're at."
- "I am responsible for giving each student the tools they need to continue learning."
- "I want to light that fire in students so each can tap into their curiosity and never settle for average."
- "There are some kids who make it through life on their own, but the majority of kids need some kind of guidance from people who care. That is where teachers who care make a difference in the life of a child."