Professor Spotlight: Dr. Polly Haselden


Photo by: Contributed Photo

Haselden said that the Thai teachers mentioned several times wanting to recreate the photo “Abbey Road” originally portrayed by the Beatles in 1969. Haselden is the fourth person from the left.

Dr. Polly Haselden led a group of eight Thai teachers from the Nakhon Sawan province during Summer 1 sessions as they came to FMU to learn about project-based learning and to get hands-on experience.

Since Haselden had just finished taking a course on project-based learning, she was the first to be asked to help escort and teach the Thai teachers.

“Since I had just completed that course and had been certified, it was kind of a natural fit for me to take the reigns and make this an experience,” Haselden said. “Nine out of 10 of them had never been to the United States before. Everything about this experience was what we made it here at Francis Marion.”

Even though two of the teachers could not come on the trip, Haselden taught the Thai teachers and traveled with them on the weekends to explore the South. Haselden travelled with the visitors to see all of campus and downtown life, as well as visited Brookgreen Botanical Gardens and toured Charleston. The group also got the opportunity to work with the Writing Center, the Rotary Club of Latta and presented the work they accomplished to the Provost and other university officials.

Haselden said that there were a few challenges associated with leading the group, including teaching them a little about American culture and overcoming language barriers.

Haselden asked eight teachers from Thailand what the worst, most offensive thing she could do to insult somebody in Thai to make sure she didn’t offend accidentally. Their response: make a face that Americans consider to be funny, and say, “Nah.”

“We’d have to figure out what to say to each other at times,” Haselden said. “I spoke no Thai. They spoke very good English. But I learned that I could also teach through action.”

So when faced with a language challenge, Haselden did what she could to spend extra time and use action to help.

“The very first thing I did was try to help them come up with a driving question for their projects,” Haselden said. “I thought that may take about 10 minutes, at most. It took all four hours, not because they were unable to come up with a question, but because they put so much heart and soul into what would be the perfect driving question.”

There was more to the experience that Haselden learned than only what not to say to a Thai person to offend them. The actions she learned to help the teachers are actions and mentalities that she could apply to the teacher cadets she works with.

“The ultimate product of what [the Thai teachers] do with all of their projects is to give back to the state commerce, to share their results,” Haselden said. “With the teacher cadets, they too have service learning projects, but their service learning is going into different schools. They’re giving back and sharing.”

The Thai learning program is one that has affected Haselden personally and professionally, she said. When she traveled with the Thai teachers to places such as Charleston, she would bring her two daughters with them. As they broke into groups to explore the city, Haselden said that often her daughters would go in a different group than the one she was in. In a way, the Thai teachers became like family, Haselden said.

A lot of the experiences Haselden had with the teachers and that the teachers had while they were in the country couldn’t have happened without the help of other faculty. Haselden said she hopes it is a program that continues to grow and be present at FMU.

Haselden has been teaching for 23 years. She’s originally from Latta, but received her undergraduate degree from Converse College and her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from University of North Carolina Charlotte. She worked for a few years at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., but eventually made her way back to the Pee Dee. Before her time at FMU, she spent 10 years teaching special education and science in high schools.

This is Haselden’s 10th year at FMU teaching special education learning disabilities courses on the graduate level. She’s the coordinator of the master’s of education program. Haselden won “Teacher of the Year” from FMU in 2015. Haselden also won a service-learning award from the Commission on Higher Education for things that she did in her classroom.