From the water to the classroom, Marie Haughton Flocco has dedicated much of her life to teaching others.
After spending childhood competitively swimming alongside her five older siblings, Flocco had her first job at age 15 by becoming a lifeguard. After doing this job for several years, she became a swim coach. She provided swimming lessons to children throughout her time in college, graduate school and during her first high school teaching job. She has tried to provide a welcoming environment in teaching both swimming and writing, which she says have similarities.
“Kids are scared of the water, and they are scared to swim. It is really relatable to students who are scared to write,” Flacco said.
She went on to explain that many of her students in both subjects enjoy it once they get the hang of it, and that swimming and writing are both life skills.
Flocco’s interest in teaching writing began in her own educational background, with her being inspired by the “wonderful” English teachers she had throughout elementary school, high school and college. In particular, Sister Lisa, her high school English teacher at Saint Hubert’s Catholic School for Girls was her inspiration.
“I was always amazed at how she was able to ask questions that prompted incredible conversations amongst myself and my classmates,” Flocco said. “And I was always wondering, ‘How does she know how to do that? How does she know how to get us talking in constructive ways?’”
Following the positive high school experience, Flocco enrolled in Saint Joseph’s University in her hometown of Philadelphia to pursue her Bachelor’s Degree. After touring schools, she believed she felt the most “at home” at Saint Joseph’s, in part due to being a third-generation student. She later went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which was a “much harder work environment,” but it paid off in the long-term with her receiving her Master’s Degree in Rhetoric and Composition.
Upon leaving graduate school, Flocco taught writing and public speaking in her own backyard at Saint Joseph’s University for 16 years. he has spent the past 11 years teaching first-year writing at Rowan University, meaning there was some overlap in which she taught at both.
In terms of teaching style, Flocco says she believes her students would describe her as a “very down-to-earth professor.” She focuses on building a “friendly rapport” with students and creating a supportive environment and “safe space” for writing, as many students are intimidated by writing.
“When they get to my class,” Flocco said, “I want them to know that my class is a safe space to be a writer, and I will support them as they work and grow as writers.”
Flocco also attempts to implement writing assignments that are directly relatable to first-year students’ lives and experiences. A recent example is one focusing on rights of passage that students missed out on due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as prom and graduation, and the lack of closure from missing those experiences.
In addition, Flocco is committed to helping neurodivergent students with autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. She views neurodivergence as a social justice issue and feels it’s a professor’s responsibility to provide an education that reaches diverse students.
“I’ve always committed my teaching to teaching all students and all brain functions and natural brain variations,” Flocco said. “And that’s very important to me to make sure that all students, regardless of natural brain variation, can succeed in my writing class.”
Flocco has also mentored neurodivergent students, specifically recalling one she met on his first day at Rowan and met with for lunch every day for four years. He graduated from the business college and asked Flocco to give him his diploma. As she recounted this story, her smile grew.
For her work with neurodivergent students, working with them directly and with the Office of Accessibility Services, Flocco was named 2018 Rowan University Autism Ambassador.
Teaching has played a significant role in Flocco’s life. She and her husband John Flocco met on her first day teaching at a high school and recently celebrated their 22 wedding anniversary. He’s still a biology teacher. Together, they have two children: Grace, a 19-year-old college freshman, and James, a 16-year-old high school sophomore.
When she isn’t teaching, being a mother, or pursuing hobbies, such as reading books or watching shows on streaming services, Flocco is working to achieve her doctorate degree. This has “always been her personal goal,” but life got in the way and she hadn’t received the opportunity.
Now, at 48 years of age, she has entered Rowan’s Doctorate of Education program and is balancing that workload alongside being a mother and teaching her students. Often locking herself in her basement with do not disturb signs, her family has taken to calling that room the “Dissertation Station.”
She shares her experiences working on her doctorate with her students, allowing them to know she too is a student and has frustrations with her own workload.
An interesting note is that Flocco later learned that mentor Sister Lisa spent the summers working on getting her master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame.
One of Flocco’s main inspirations for pursuing education was the teaching style of Sister Lisa and now she continues to follow in her footsteps by pursuing her degree while teaching. Whether intentional or not, the impact a quality educator can have clearly goes a long way.
“She wanted to continue, go on, and become a college professor, and that stayed with me,” Flocco said.
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