A lesson in teaching

April 10, 2012

Newburgh, NY -

Left to right: Mount alumna Julie Hahn (left), a teacher at Cornwall-on-Hudson Elementary School, works with a student during a lesson led by Claudine Cottini. Mount student teacher Justin Lewis, an information technology major, prepares to read a story to a class of first graders at Fostertown Elementary School in Newburgh, NY. After graduating last May, Urszula Wyluda was trained by Teach For America on how to help close the achievement gap within inner city schools. The honors English major then fulfilled her “life-long dream of teaching within my own classroom,” when she was hired by Milner Core Knowledge Academy in Hartford, CT. The best aspect of her Mount education, said Wyluda, was “all the field work and one-on-one experience.”

In a small, cheerful classroom with colorful posters and lots of books at Cornwall-on-Hudson Elementary School, nine boys and girls settled into their seats as Claudine Cottini prepared to teach a lesson in counting.

Supervised by Mount Saint Mary College alumna Julie Hahn '05 MS '08, Cottini is pursuing a master’s degree in education at the Mount.

She worked as an accountant in New York City for 13 years. Wanting to “make a real difference in the lives of children,” the mother of two abandoned her business career and went back to school.

Learning to differentiate instruction for kindergarten and first grade students with wide-ranging abilities has proved “very challenging, yet rewarding,” said Cottini.

Student teaching is preparing Cottini for her own classroom by allowing her to practice different strategies to help students refocus. For example, with link behavior management, students earn plastic links for making good choices, or exhibiting appropriate behavior, that can be traded in for stuffed animals.

Hahn, her supervisor, has been teaching the special education self contained class since she started working at the elementary school six years ago.

And Hahn loves to have Mount students in her room.

“I try to give them a positive experience in my classroom. I enjoy sharing strategies I’ve learned on the job, and equally enjoy learning new ideas from them,” she said.

Long before they stand before a classroom of their own, Mount students practice what they’re learning by serving in the community through hours of supervised classroom experience.

“Fieldwork -- embedded in coursework -- starts in the sophomore year,” said Dr. Reva Cowan, chair of the education program. “This is a distinctive feature at the Mount. We start earlier than many other colleges getting our students in actual classrooms. We provide a very supportive environment, though, with students, their professor and their peers in the classroom together.”

Senior Christina Campisi was placed at Valley Central High School in Montgomery, NY, working alongside Valley Central teacher Anna Leo ’02.

Valley Central also boasts recent New York State Teacher of the Year Debra Calvino, who graduated from the Mount with a mathematics degree.

Campisi plans on certification in adolescent/special education and graduate studies in speech pathology. And she chose Mount Saint Mary College because a degree from the Mount, she said, would help her “stand out above other candidates when I look for a job.”

Campisi learned that “teaching is definitely a lot more work than most people think, but being surrounded by kids all day makes your job a lot more fun.”

At Fostertown Elementary School in Newburgh, student teacher Justin Lewis noted that to work with 22 first graders, planning is key, “but so is improvising.”

“Even though I may have spent a great deal of time preparing a lesson plan,” explained Lewis, “sometimes I need to change it up because it takes less or more time than expected. Sometimes students will ask lots of questions and that leads to going in a slightly different direction. You need to plan, but also be prepared to respond in the moment.”

The rigorous, nationally accredited education program at the Mount has helped him to learn self discipline, he said, adding that “all the education professors are great. I really like Dee Berlinghoff, Reva Cowan, and Ludmilla Smirnova.”

Deborah CarrollHistory major Deborah Carroll (right) said the program has prepared her well with a strong foundation of textbook situations, tests she needs to take, and methods of teaching.

Her classroom experience, however, guiding 23 second graders, presents “different situations that you may not have learned about. You just jump into them and see.”

The busy student teacher added that “it's a good feeling knowing that you are having an impact on these children's lives” even though there “isn't enough time with so much going on throughout each day. You don't ever get a second to breathe.”

By the time they finish their senior field experiences, they’ve grasped skills needed to manage their classroom time and course work well. And they’ve received strong examples of excellence in teaching from Mount faculty. Carroll observed that Reva Cowan is compassionate and caring as a professor, and she “learned so much from Dr. Cowan in just one class.”

Other student teachers working with area Mount alumni this spring include: Granger Lobb, at Gardnertown Elementary School, Newburgh, with Jane Greiner `00; Veronica Freeman, Dutchess BOCES, Poughkeepsie, with Maria Sita `99; Kathleen Kienzle, history, Bishop Dunn Memorial School, Newburgh, with Pat Greico `92; and Nicole Busch, Glenham Elementary School, Glenham, with Jaime Poulin ’99 MSE ‘03.

Alumna Julie Hahn noted the Career Center helps with resumes, and involvement with Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society, is another boost.

“Student teaching provides the future educator with valuable insight into many facets of teaching, most importantly leadership and classroom management,” emphasized Hahn. “Without it, there will be little or no learning.”

And when it’s time to start looking for a full time position, she offers this advice:

“When interviewing for a teaching position, put your whole heart into it. Don’t feel that your passion will get in the way. Quite the opposite. Be yourself.”