The Professor Is In: Q&A with Joan Walker

Find out how Joan Walker came to realize her passion for teaching, the wisdom of pig wrestling, and her opinion on Game of Thrones.

When she isn’t grading piles of papers, Joan Walker, PhD, is exemplifying what it means to be a trailblazer in her field—education. This year, the School of Education associate professor won a prestigious award for her research developing an online course on parent-teacher interactions that is innovating the way teachers learn how to communicate with parents. The Outstanding Journal of Teaching Education Article Award is given every year to pioneers in the field of education who have exhibited strong leadership by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the leading professional group for American teacher education. You can learn more about her research, which focuses on a key component of education that is often overlooked, by watching a video about the project, reviewing the JTE article, or accessing a sample case study from the online program.

Now, she’s taken some time away from her hectic life as a professor to talk about everything from her love of men’s basketball to opera singing.

What was your favorite class as a student? Least favorite?
I didn’t like high school very much. The only things that got me out of bed were music class and getting a free ride into town—I am from rural Kentucky and lived on a farm far from the nearest town. Math was always my least favorite because it was the class I felt least successful in.

What one thing or person made you passionate about your current career?
I’d define my current career in two ways: Research and teaching. As a researcher, I am a psychologist. Psychology feels like a natural fit. People are fascinating. To me, one of the most interesting questions in the world is, “how do people learn?” As to what made me a passionate teacher? I’d say good role models and DNA. I come from a long line of teachers.  My first career was as a music teacher. Then I was a day care director. Later I worked at a biomedical engineering research center. That may sound pretty discursive but they were all related to education. I like looking at learning through different lenses.

What quality do you most value in your students?

What’s your advice to students to make the most out of their time in college?
Work hard and enjoy yourself.  Try not to worry about the future.

If you had to do it all over again and took another path, what profession would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
Opera singing. I would NOT make a good physician. I’m a Dr. Pepper kind of doctor and that’s fine with me.

What is your favorite book/TV show?
Right now I am devouring Game of Thrones. On book three. It’s exhilarating and brutal and makes me lose a lot of sleep because I can’t put it down. From November to March my favorite TV show is any Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball game.

What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?


What is your favorite journey/experience?

My time in doctoral school was transforming. In terms of more local recent journeys, the Hudson train line from Croton-Harmon into Grand Central is exquisite.

What is your favorite saying/words to live by?

When working with difficult people, I like to remember this Kentucky adage: Don’t wrestle that pig. You get dirty and the pig has fun.

If you could have any five people, living or dead, imagined or real, as guests at a dinner party, who would you choose?
People who’d help do the dishes.