[SPOKANE, Wash.] When asked about her 56-year career as an educator, without pause Linda Seppa-Salisbury said teaching at Spokane Community College was the most rewarding experience.
“It’s been an honor and a blessing to be here with the students and to work with my colleagues,” said Seppa-Salisbury, who is retiring from her position as SCC’s senior member of communications studies in June.
Seppa-Salisbury is also a co-advisor for the college’s Speak Out! Communications club. She will be the keynote speaker at the club’s Spring Communication Conference, “Multigenerational Communication,” on May 17 at 8:30 a.m. at SCC’s Lair Auditorium. Her talk, “The Last Lecture: Life Lessons from the ‘Older’ Generation,” will be on her many years as an educator.
“I take teaching really seriously and so do my colleagues,” she said. “I always think of SCC as an on-ramp freeway for students for life.”
But Seppa-Salisbury is not just an instructor. She has been helping her students survive as well as thrive. Many students are struggling with food insecurities, she said, which is why she has had food in her classroom for the 46 years she has taught at SCC. Before starting her day, Seppa-Salisbury wakes up early and heads to the store at 5:00 a.m. to pick up snacks, like oranges, apples, cookies and muffins.
“They are splitting their life between working, family and school. A lot of them only have X amount of money, and you can tell which ones are starving. You can’t be in a classroom and work and be hungry,” she said. “It takes courage for most of our students to come here. Who these students are is so inspiring.”
Likewise, it took Seppa-Salisbury an immense amount of courage to go to elementary school every day. She was born with a congenital amputation. Her left hand was not fully formed so her only finger curves, appearing like a hook. As a child, Seppa-Salisbury kept this hand tucked tightly in her pocket. In first grade, she was assigned to do the Highland Fling, a Scottish dance where you raise both hands. Seppa-Salisbury was terrified. Her first-grade teacher went around the classroom and told the children, “I love you. You’re spectacular just the way you are, and you will do amazing things.”
“When she got to me, she squeezed my left hand, and I thought, ‘I want to do what she does,’” Seppa-Salisbury said. “I wanted students to love learning the way that I loved learning in her class.”
The support of that teacher and her parents gave her the confidence that she could do anything and that her disability did not need to hold her back.
“Most people look at you and see what you can’t do, but my dad’s point-of-view was to look at what you can do,” said Seppa-Salisbury who now calls her hand her “lucky fin.”
When she was 10, there was a class assignment to climb a rope in the school’s gymnasium. Unlike her first-grade teacher, that instructor would not allow Seppa-Salisbury to climb the rope and told her to sit out on the activity.
Disheartened but determined, Seppa-Salisbury and her father went to the school to practice. When the class had to climb the rope, she was ready. Despite her teacher’s continued refusal, Seppa-Salisbury grabbed the rope.
“I worked like a trooper to get up that darned thing, and I used my right arm and elbow and pulled myself up with my knees. It was real raw on my legs, but I knew I could do it,” she said. “I pretty quickly got to the top of the gym. My friends went nuts, yelling and clapping. You’ll never know if somebody can do it, unless you let them try.”
Once she came down, she saw the shock on her teacher's face.
“She walked over to me, gave me a hug and told me that I was an amazing little girl who would probably break lots of barriers when people thought I couldn't do something.”
Last February, Seppa-Salisbury told this story to a class of 3rd graders from Stevens Elementary School during Spokane Community College’s 3rd Grade Poetry Slam, a collaboration between the elementary school and Speak Out! The poetry slam’s theme was “Be Brave.” When discussing the theme, Seppa-Salisbury held her hand high for the students to see. When asked by the children if she would rather have been born with a fully formed hand, Seppa-Salisbury said that her disability has given her empathy for people’s differences.
“Every single person has something that they’re carrying. If I can find the courage to put out what I’m carrying, then they can find the courage,” she said. “When I see students with physical disabilities or disabilities that you can’t see, I believe in them and encourage them.”
In 1968, Seppa-Salisbury got her Bachelor of Arts in speech communication and education from the University of Washington. She also has a Master of Arts degree in speech communication and education from UW and a Master of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science for organizational consultation from Whitworth University. Over the following years, she taught at various schools and universities, including UW, Eastern Washington University and Whitworth. She started at SCC in 1976. There, she taught communications in a variety of departments, like cosmetology, automotive and heavy equipment.
“(In heavy equipment), I went under big trucks and did communications assignments that way,” she said. “Being able to see the campus from that perspective made me just fall in love with this place because I have people from all of those arenas trying to figure out how communications is going to be useful to them. When they get it – when the light bulb goes on – there’s just nothing better in the world than that.”
Seppa-Salisbury has won several teaching awards, including 1st place in the state for the CASE Award of Excellence for outstanding educator and 2nd in the national category. She was twice awarded the Burlington Northern Outstanding Faculty Award as well as the student-selected Outstanding Educator at SCC.
For these honors, Seppa-Salisbury credits teaching “gems” from her first-grade teacher.
“Connect with your students. Have your classroom be an exciting place where people want to learn,” she said. “Believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves. Don’t ever, ever, ever say something to a student that destroys their spirit.”
Due to her teacher’s inspiring words, Seppa-Salisbury has, in turn, inspired other teachers.
“Linda was the inspiration for my doctoral dissertation on the impact of charismatic teaching on community college students’ motivation,” said Amy Anderson, a co-advisor for Speak Out! and a SCC communications studies instructor. “I saw how students responded to her teaching style, and I wanted to learn more.”
Seppa-Salisbury also runs a consulting business that trains organizations how to better communicate. In more than 30 years in operation, Linda Seppa-Salisbury and Associates has worked with regional, national and international companies like UW, Boeing and the City of Spokane Police Department.
Teaching is her passion, but, particularly, in the classroom. As CEO of her consulting company as well as a teacher, Seppa-Salisbury has given numerous presentations and workshops, including a TEDxSpokane on “The Gift of Teaching.” Anderson said Seppa-Salisbury will leave a “lasting legacy” at SCC.
“Linda has a wonderful way of connecting with students in every role that she plays,” Anderson said. “She goes above and beyond in the classroom to individualize her instruction, build rapport with students and demonstrate her passion each and every day.”
“I wanted to be an encourager instead of a discourager. I wanted to be a dream-maker, not a dream-breaker,” Seppa-Salisbury said during her TEDx talk. “Teaching is sacred work. Teachers touch the heart and soul and mind of a student. It’s a gutsy job and a job that takes all kinds of courage.”
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Strategic Communications Manager Rachel Román at Rachel.Roman@ccs.spokane.edu.
CCS provides education and services in a six-county region of Eastern Washington, operates Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Childhood Education in the region. Each year, nearly 30,000 people – from infants to senior citizens – are provided educational services by CCS.