10 Questions With Kevin Liner, Lifelong Learner

In our recurring 10 Questions series, the Neag School catches up with students, alumni, faculty, and others throughout the year to offer a glimpse into their Neag School experience and their current career, research, or community activities. 

Alum and Current Ph.D. student Kevin Liner
For the past year and a half, Neag School alumnus Kevin Liner ’10 (CLAS), (ED), ’11 MA has been traveling regularly to Rwanda to help train teachers. (Photo Credit: Shawn Kornegay/Neag School)

Current Ph.D. student and two-time Neag School alumnus Kevin Liner ’10 (CLAS), (ED), ’11 MA is knee-deep in his doctoral studies, focusing his research interests on mathematics education. Originally from East Hartford, Conn., Liner was most recently a secondary mathematics curriculum specialist of magnet schools for the Capitol Region Education Council. He has also served as an educational methodologies instructor for the University of Hartford’s Rwanda Teacher Education Program and as a mathematics educational consultant for Common Core organizations in Maryland and New York.

What have been your favorite roles in education and why? Nothing will ever beat being in the classroom. I recently received an email from a former student that is now in college. This student was a great student, but typically scored just above passing, without showing too much passion for the subject. In the email she wrote, “I have some exciting news: I love math. Next year, I may either switch my major or double major.” There is nothing that will beat receiving an email like this. Knowing that you had even the smallest effect on a student’s life is why being in the classroom will always be my favorite role.

Outside of the classroom, I have had some pretty exciting experiences as well, but one definitely sticks out as a favorite. For the past year and a half, I have been traveling to Rwanda every six months with the Rwanda Teacher Education Program. In this program, a team of teachers work with teacher leaders in Rwanda to help train teachers on cutting-edge instructional strategies in English language learning, educational methodologies, and information technologies. We typically train around 400 teachers per session. I work with the educational methodologies team, and it is an understatement to say that this work is life-changing. Not only is the country of Rwanda beautiful, but also the people are the kindest and most dedicated people I have ever met. There is no doubt I return a better person each time I travel there.

“The biggest skill that the Neag School has given me is the ability to be a lifelong learner.”

— Kevin Liner ’10 (CLAS), (ED), ’11 MA, current Ph.D. student

What would you tell others considering a travel abroad experience in teaching?
I would tell them the same thing that anyone I knew who traveled abroad told me: ‘Go.’  Especially working in education, I think it is hard to imagine a situation where it won’t have a dramatic impact on your life. Education is fascinating because although it has inherent universal qualities to it anywhere in the world (people passing along information to the younger people in their society), there can be such wide differences in how that experience happens from place to place. For example, the Rwandan teachers have an exceptional ability to create positive environments for teams that makes the space safe to learn even as a teacher. Being wrong is not criticized or judged, but it is encouraged and supported. This is something I have been trying to improve in my own professional development sessions I offer here home.

How did the Neag School prepare you for this experience?  The Neag School has two qualities that I believe set it apart from other programs. The first is that it creates well-rounded teachers. What I have noticed as I have moved from teaching in the classroom to working as a curriculum specialist, and now in my work as a consultant and doctoral student, the Neag School has prepared me to be successful for each of those roles, not just my initial teaching role. It provided me with leadership skills and the skills I need to continue to learn throughout my career. It has made me a lifelong learner. The second quality that I think sets the Neag School apart is the people. I can say with great confidence that if it weren’t for people like Ann Traynor and René Roselle, I would not be working in education today. These people inspired me, guided me, challenged me to become better, and helped me realize the passion I have for working in education.

What are some recent initiatives that you are most proud of? One experience that I have been extremely proud of is the work I do with Student Achievement Partners. This organization does a lot of work to help teachers and coaches work with the Common Core Standards to improve their instruction. Part of their work is a group called Core Advocates, and I am the team leader for Connecticut for the Core Advocates. This past January, we put on a two-day convening with teachers from across the state of Connecticut to engage in discussions around how we can better support the mathematics and English language arts teachers across the state. The convening itself went well, but what is most encouraging about this work is seeing the wonderful things teachers from across the state are doing in their classrooms. As we continue to work with other state organizations, I am constantly inspired by the high quality of teacher leaders we have in our state. As I continue to improve my practice, I am so glad to be surrounded by such a strong group of educators, and I am proud just to be involved in work with them.

How has the Neag School developed you as an educator? I truly believe the biggest skill that the Neag School has given me is the ability to be a lifelong learner. The professors at UConn make such great relationships with their students, and want them to not only learn in their classrooms, but be able to continue their learning once you enter the classroom. As anyone who has been in the classroom knows, teaching is incredibly hard. Having a static set of skills coming out of a university will never be enough to make you successful. You need to know how to look at your own practice, evaluate honestly, and find solutions to your problems. This is where the Neag School has helped me the most.

What led you to choose to pursue the field of education? I actually didn’t go to college wanting to be a teacher. I started in the field of actuarial science. Although I did love the content of this career path, after working a few summer internships with insurance companies, I knew it wasn’t the field for me. I like working with people. I actually wasn’t really sure I wanted to work long term in education until my master’s year in the IB/M program when I worked with some incredible colleagues at Bulkeley High School in Hartford (Conn.). In fact, having René Roselle as a professor and colleague in the work we were doing at Bulkeley is why I decided to work in education. I owe my passion for this field to René.

Why are educators important to the classroom and students? I think it is important to keep asking what is important to the classroom and students as technology and artificial intelligence become used increasingly more in schools. To me, it comes down to a very simple idea … educators inspire. Teachers work an extremely challenging job that is, in my opinion, underpaid and often under-respected, but they do it anyway. They care so deeply about making a difference in students’ lives, and that is where the inspiration often comes from.

What do you believe makes a great educator? There are many different ways to be a great educator. I don’t believe there is one ‘right’ way to be a great teacher. One thing that I think sets great educators apart from good educators is their ability to leverage the relationships they build to support the growth of their students in their specific expertise area. If you walk into their classroom, you notice a sense of urgency for learning in their classroom that is grounded in the relationships that the teacher has with their students.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I don’t think many people know that I co-authored a paper that was published in one of the AERA’s (American Education Research Association) Special Interest Group (SIG) journals during my first year of teaching with my advisor, René Roselle.  Although I was just a supporting cast in the project, I learned a lot from René through that process, and it is something I am proud to be a part of.

What are your future plans? My future plan right now is to finish my doctorate. Getting your Ph. D. is an exhausting process and really makes you question a lot of the assumptions you have, so I don’t quite know where I want to go when it is all finished. I am still narrowing my research down but I am generally interested in how mathematics curriculum shapes both teachers’ understanding of the content and students’ success. Do different curricula help teachers think about math differently? When teachers give summative assessments to their students, how does the curricula help them understand how their student will do? How do the questions we ask students affect their ability to understand certain topics? These are some of the many questions that are rattling around in my head.

Read other installments of the Neag School’s 10 Questions series.