Dr. Ellen Coatney wins CCC’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ award


courtesy of contracosta.edu

By Asia Butts, Staff Writer

Ellen Coatney, a professor in Physiology and former chair of Biological Sciences at Contra Costa College, received the Contra Costa College school district’s Teacher of the Year award in September. 

After obtaining an undergraduate degree from University of California Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. from University of California, Davis, Dr. Coatney began teaching at Contra Costa College in 2000, but she didn’t become a full-time professor until 2007. Through those seven years as what she called a “freeway flier,” she taught at CCC as well as in Solano, Fairfield, and in Oakland at Laney College. 

“When you’re doing that, it’s really challenging to teach the 8 a.m. class at one school and the 6 p.m. class at another, and not be exhausted because you’re here from six to nine, but you have to be up at eight o’clock [the next day],” Coatney said.

Although she isn’t part-time anymore, she greatly respects the part-timers in the building, as she understands the challenges they face. Other professors, including part-timers, worked with Dr. Coatney, building up the program from the few sections it offered, resulting in two new sections of physiology and three sections of anatomy. 

“Building up the program, finding other good teachers who share, like, my vision of helping students be successful, finding people who look at this and come up with solutions. Because with that many sections obviously, this is not a one-person show.” 

Coatney also notes that the brand new science building, dubbed “a wonderful challenge”, has made it possible to expand the science program even further. 

Describing herself as “old-fashioned,” Coatney mentions that she uses her whiteboard often, interacting with her students and encouraging conversation, along with utilizing hands-on learning in her classroom. “It’s so much easier to learn anatomy when you have that bone in your hand…pictures are so not all there is to be with anatomy.” Coatney also mentioned that she was to receive a grant check, and that “every bit of it is going to be poured into the classroom,” meaning more anatomical models and supplies for students.

Outside of Coatney’s life as a professor, she makes time for some rather intriguing hobbies and is far from a homebody. She is part of and directs the Merrie Pryanksters, a folk dance troupe that performs at Renaissance fairs. During summer and winter breaks, or whenever time allows, Coatney spins yarn on a spinning wheel and a drop spindle, using the yarn to later knit and crochet. She also sews, creating her own costumes, face masks, and lab coats, one of which is completely covered in cats. 

Contra Costa College was Coatney’s first teaching job, and while she had the opportunity to move to Los Medanos College at one point, she decided to stay at CCC, citing her students as her main motivation. Coming from all walks of life, it’s thrilling to Coatney to see them have dreams and aspirations and pursue them.