When you were 17, what did you want to be?
That's probably when I first started to think about it. I liked science a lot, but I knew the doctor thing was not for me, that was not what I wanted to do. At the time, I taught religion classes and Sunday school so I wouldn't have to go to church (my mom made me go), and I taught dance as well. Those were some of the experiences I had already had teaching children. So when I started to think, “What can I do? What do I think I'd be good at?” those popped into mind.
And then I started to think about the teachers I knew. My family friend, Patty, is a teacher, my Aunt Colleen is a teacher, and I thought they had pretty nice lifestyles.
So I started thinking maybe I could be good at this, and that it would give me the flexibility in my life that I wanted. I wanted to be challenged and have a good career, but I really didn't want to be a workaholic.
How did you decide to attend Canisius College?
I applied to a bunch of places, mostly in the northeast, because I didn't want to go super far away, but I also didn't want to stay in Rochester. My final two choices were Canisius College and University of Vermont. I really liked Canisius’s campus, first of all; it was beautiful. It’s a private school, so they can spend a lot of money on that kind of stuff. But I decided on Canisius because it was in New York State, and getting my New York State teaching certification would be more beneficial than an out-of-state one. New York’s is one of the top tier certifications that you can get, and it’s accredited in a lot of different states.
How did you choose your major?
I went in as an education major, but when you’re in education you also need to pick a concentration. That could be science, history, literature, math, any of those subjects. I started as a science concentration, but I realized I was really interested in the history classes I was taking. I switched to history after taking a few science classes.
There are also a lot of different certifications you can get for teaching. I got two different ones in my undergrad, early childhood and childhood. I decided I wanted to teach all of elementary school, and the childhood certification only covers grades two through six. The early childhood certification covers kindergarten through second grade. So if you're not certified in early childhood, then you can't teach kindergarten or first grade; teaching early literacy is very different from teaching older students.
I considered tacking on a middle school certification as well for seventh and eighth grade, but I decided I liked the younger kids better. They’re really sweet, really cute. They love you for no reason. They still like school and want to please you. I really like when they're still sweet and innocent.
There's a lot of different coursework that you have to do, starting with observations and then going into classrooms two days a week. And then the further along you get in your education, the more you do in your classroom. And then finally, your last semester's all teaching. And then you do student teaching, so you basically take over the classroom. You ultimately have two classroom placements, and they try to get you into a mix of rural, suburban, and urban, different age levels, etc.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and then I had to do a bunch of tests and submit portfolios and stuff like that, and then I got my initial certification. After that, to get professionally certified, you need to do three years of mentored teaching and workshops, and you also need to get your master’s degree within five years. Then you can apply for your professional certification.
So I got initially certified, and then I was like, “Shoot, I don't feel like I can teach.” I was just nervous, and I didn’t know if I could teach by myself in the classroom, so I applied for grad school and I got on a bunch of substitute teaching lists. And I'm really glad I did it that way because I was still in school mode. I powered through my master’s faster than anyone else I know, taking six classes a semester and working all summer long. And I subbed full-time, but it was really manageable. A lot of times they gave me study hall, so I could do my school work when I was there too.
I got my master’s done in a year and a half. And I got it in special education, so that was a new certification. I took my graduate degree very seriously. I aced all my classes, I did all my work, I put my best effort forward. I also was in more of a professional mindset at that time compared to my undergrad, and I just felt more confident in myself.
After that first year of grad school, I started applying for every single job out there. Every suburban school, every catholic school job, every private school job, every city school job, and radio silence. It was a really tough time to get a job. And all of my friends were having similar experiences. I looked from spring to February, and I got my job in February. So, it took a long time.
I got hired at the Uncommon School, which is part of a pretty big network of charter schools in the northeast. There are a lot of misconceptions about charter schools because there are so many different kinds. All charter schools are free, and every single charter school is based on their charter. Our charter specifically states that we will service students under the poverty level, so we have 100% freedom to do that. So we take those kids and address that gap. We do long school years and long school days, and we have a very rigorous curriculum and very high expectations of our students.
They offered me a job on the spot, and I started working a week later. I got hired at the end of the school year, and I started as an apprentice teacher. I subbed for teachers, I did small groups, I co-taught. Then the next school year, we opened a brand new elementary school and I started a kindergarten classroom. And when we went to open the third grade, they asked me to run that grade level. So I manage all the teachers in the third grade. I coach new teachers, I travel for professional development and then I bring it back and then teach the other teachers.
I’ve been there a little over five years now. Because I'm a founding teacher at this school, I've been given a lot of support and a lot of opportunities to advance my career. And it's really nice that they invested in me. I feel like if I was at a more established school district, I wouldn't have had so many opportunities to move up, so I am appreciative of that.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
This is advice that I got from my sister, Kailly. During that time when I was searching for a job and coming up empty-handed, it felt so terrible and I stressed so hard about it. And she told me "You will find a job. Enjoy this time. Keep doing what you're doing, don't stop looking. But don't be so hard on yourself. Enjoy this time prior to when you enter the workforce because this will never happen again.”
Also, start every day new. This is always what I tell myself if the day before was bad or stressful for whatever reason, just start with your fresh, best self every single day and don't be too hard on yourself or others.
And I would say, think about what you think you'd be good at, and then think about what would make you happy. It's one thing to be happy with your job, but it's another thing to be happy with your life outside of your job. I love having time off with my job, always having Christmas off, having time off in the summer to spend with my family and friends. And I knew that teaching would give that work-life balance to me.