Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Sara Nelson

Renita Schmidt (PhD ’05) has dedicated her life to inspiring a love and appreciation for literature, especially for children.

Renita Schmidt, associate professor in Language, Literacy, and Culture, is retiring in May 2019 after eight years as a University of Iowa College of Education professor and more than 30 years as an educator.

“Teaching is a creative endeavor, and because every teacher brings something different to the classroom, it’s really important for teachers to figure out every single individual reader in their classroom, since we all learn to read in different ways,” says Schmidt. I want teachers to embrace all the possibilities of what teaching can be.”

After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Iowa State University, Schmidt spent 15 years as an elementary school teacher, taking time off to raise her children. She received her Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Morningside College.

In her mid-40’s, Schmidt decided to go back to school and receive her doctorate in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Iowa College of Education. She began her doctoral program while she had two children in college and one child starting high school.

After earning her doctorate, Schmidt took a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at Furman University, working with new teachers and pre-service teachers. In 2011, she returned to the UI College of Education to become an associate professor in Elementary Education and Language, Literacy, and Culture.

Throughout her time at the College of Education, Schmidt studied critical literacy, examining ways to bring diverse literacy to children, why teachers resist exploring challenging topics, like race and sexuality in literature, and the negative effects of basal readers, textbooks that are used to teach reading and comprehension.

As an associate professor, Schmidt instills the importance of literature and reading in pre-service teachers.

“I think my students know that books are the tools of teaching, and that they should always be reading children’s books when they are teaching,” says Schmidt.

Schmidt spent six years redefining what it means to be a strong girl through the Strong Girls Read Strong Books initiative, a program she directed with Associate Dean Amanda Thein, that brings fourth through sixth-grade girls together to read books with strong female protagonists.

Others recognize Schmidt’s contributions to the field of education. She has won the College of Education Collegiate Teaching Award and the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates Distinguished Mentor Award.

Schmidt is excited to have more time to spend on her hobbies, like reading, weaving, and knitting. She is also looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, and being able to travel. However, she says that she will still miss teaching future educators.

“I hope my students know that I just love teaching, and I want everybody who is a teacher to love it as much as I do, because if you don’t love this job, you won’t ever be a good teacher. You have to have a lot of passion and eagerness for learning to be a good teacher,” Schmidt says.

Read more from the 2018-2019 Alumni Magazine.