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Distinguished Educator, Parsons Recognized as ‘Model Teacher,’ ‘Inspiration,’ ‘A Blessing’

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
A man stands facing the camera, smiling with his arms crossed over his chest
Dr. Chris Parsons, recipient of the 2023 Distinguished Teacher Award

Dr. Chris Parsons, associate professor of English education and the coordinator of secondary English education, is the recipient of Keene State College Alumni Association’s 2023 Distinguished Teacher Award. A Keene State educator since 2017, Parsons was honored recently during a Faculty Excellence and Appreciation reception.

The award recognizes excellence in teaching; encouragement of independent thinking; rapport with students in and out of the classroom; and student advising. Parsons is the 53rd recipient of this high honor. The previous five honorees are Julio Del Sesto, journalism; Katherine Tirabassi, English; Vince Ferlini, mathematics; Denise Junge, chemistry; and Hank Knight, Cohen Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.

Student-nominated candidates must be full-time, tenure-track faculty with at least three years’ teaching time at Keene State.

As part of his faculty role, Parsons teaches courses on the methods of teaching English in secondary schools, English grammar, secondary education, and field instruction for teacher candidates.

“The award is a huge honor,” Parsons said. “It was also very surprising.”

“I heard through the grapevine that former students initiated the nomination process, and I know now that some of the people who wrote letters on my behalf were faculty members. Usually, I think teaching is about as much fun as you can have on two feet, but there is this old saw in education that you can just close your door, ignore everything, and teach. I don’t think that is wrong necessarily, but, in my experience, teaching is always more fun — and probably better — when you get to do it together with colleagues you adore and respect. I’ve been so lucky to teach with so many skilled teachers and generous colleagues at Keene State.”

Keene State’s secondary English program is the only secondary English program in the University System of New Hampshire system to be nationally recognized and accredited by the National Council of Teachers of English.

In that spirit, Parsons is regarded as a champion for student-centered instruction and learning environments while also supporting teachers as they work to enhance their instructional practice. Students and colleagues who nominated Parsons describe him as innovative, caring and creative, a teacher that “puts his students first in all that he does.” “Perhaps most importantly,” another nominator wrote, “Chris creates a safe space for all students to feel supported, heard, and respected and acknowledged.”

English Department colleague Dr. Brinda Charry said Parson’s “scholarly work keeps him engaged with the evolving needs of pre-service teachers and contributes directly to him continuing to be an effective teacher of this new generation of teachers-in-training.”

She said course evaluations only serve to further reinforce Parsons’ “skillful engagement with his students.” Kindness, professionalism, expertise, and innovative pedagogy are familiar refrains of positive feedback, Charry said.

She added that one student noted that Dr. Parsons is a “blessing to this (college) and we should feel honored to have him.” Another student, she said, shared this sentiment: “He is an inspiration to me and who I want to try and emulate as an educator. I cannot say enough kind words about this man. His teaching experience is more of a feeling, but I can assure you that it is one that brings tears to my eyes and motivates me to be my best self.”

Parsons was quick to credit a former colleague, Dr. Jan Youga, from whom he drew inspiration and modeled approaches after. Youga, professor emeritus, was the coordinator of secondary English education at Keene State for more than 20 years and is the 2003 winner of the Distinguished Teacher Award.

“Our alums are everywhere in schools: most were prepared by Jan,” Parsons said. “Jan is a local legend – and she has been an amazing mentor to me.”

“Jan and I know that our alums are incredible teachers and humans. I wish everyone could see them work with our children and in our communities. It is breathtaking. … These English teachers find meaning and purpose in their work; they support our children through anything and everything. I am in awe of them; there ought to be a parade. So, to hear from these teachers that I have played some role in preparing and supporting them is meaningful – and inspiring.”

Kaitlyn Wilson ‘22, now overseeing her own classroom, called Parsons’ classroom instruction “flawless and inspiring.”

“He secures the respect and confidence of his students by maintaining the same positive and approachable decorum out of the classroom as he does in the classroom. All interactions with Chris are positive and productive; he has an incredible ability to continuously provide support without ever appearing tired, stressed, or unfocused.”

Parson’s wife, Molly, is the assistant director at the Center for Research and Writing at Keene State. When Molly told their sons that there would be a big picture of their father in Mason Library — a tradition bestowed upon the recipient of this award — the boys immediately recommended some aggressive fashion and hair choices, Chris said. “Most of them involved shaving half my head or growing half a mustache.”

As part of the award, Parsons will address students at the College’s 2024 Commencement.

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