Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja: Reaching the World through the English Classroom
Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja
In 20 years of teaching English at Pensacola Christian College, Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja (’98) has helped change the minds of students who are unenthusiastic about taking the English grammar classes.
Dr. Vinaja’s first classroom consisted of a small room of EN 101 (now EN 121) students. “I am positive that my knees were actually shaking as I stood at the podium watching my first students enter the classroom,” she said, describing how it felt teaching as a Graduate Assistant (GA) in the Secondary Education program.
“Having an English major as an undergraduate gave me a good foundation in both grammar and literature,” she said. “Going on to study education in PCC’s graduate school allowed me to practice turning that raw subject matter into practical lessons.”
Learning that she would be teaching while being a GA was unexpected for a young Vinaja, but she worked diligently to prepare for her first lesson—so much so that she finished with over half of the class time still remaining. After a brief moment of panic, she took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and started from the top of her lesson again.
“I honestly think it was at that exact moment I became a teacher,” she said. “From that moment on, my nervousness completely disappeared; in its place, the Lord has filled me with a passion for my subject, but, ultimately, for my students to get the best education possible so that they can go on to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He sees fit.”
A student’s moment of understanding a lesson is one of the best rewards a teacher could ask for, and it’s an exciting moment for teachers to share with their students. “It’s really satisfying to hear muffled exclamations from various students around the room as the concept sinks in,” she said. “It makes me smile to hear a student’s excitement about receiving a Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary as a gift! Probably that’s the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher—hearing my students get excited about the things that I have taught them in class and watching them go on to spread that excitement to others around them.”
One of Vinaja’s favorite classes over the years was Conversational English, which focused on helping international students improve their skills with the English language. Along with teaching the class, she met with international students weekly to check in with them about how their classes were going and their overall experiences at PCC. “I really got to know those students quite well, and I was able to stay in touch with them throughout their four years at the College,” said Dr. Vinaja. “After a while, new freshmen international students would come to PCC, having already heard about me from older siblings or other friends who had studied here.”
Dr. Vinaja currently teaches two advanced English grammar classes, a class on the history and trends of the English language, and a graduate-level American literature class, spending down time in her office with grading or preparing for a lesson. Even so, after she gets home, Dr. Vinaja has a couple of furry family members who do their best to try to pull her away from her work.
“When I am working at home, my two dogs always impatiently wait for me to finish working so that I can play with them. They usually don’t let me work for too long before they convince me to pay attention to them instead,” she said. But having her husband, Dr. Sean Vinaja (’98, M.A. ’00) of the PCC science faculty, as an office mate is a blessing to her. “He knows when I have extra grading to do, so he’ll cook dinner or keep the dogs occupied so that I can keep grading without distractions,” she said.
Throughout her teaching career, Dr. Vinaja has understood how great a role she can play in her students’ lives as they go out into their respective fields after leaving her classroom. “Although I might never make it overseas on a missions trip, or into the government as a politician, or into a hospital as a nurse, I can influence my students who will go around the world, communicating effectively as they serve the Lord in various capacities,” she said.