March 05, 2013
Mount Saint Mary College student teacher Michelle Watch
explains human internal organs to her ninth grade class in living
environment at S.S. Seward Institute in Florida, NY.
On a winter afternoon at S.S. Seward Institute in Florida, NY,
Michelle Watch, a student teacher from Mount Saint Mary College,
led her living environment class in taking interactive notes.
Spread throughout the presentation were engaging photos of frogs
and insects, lively discussions and plenty of class participation
from the ninth grade students. As they split into groups to
complete the accompanying assignment, Watch showcased a model of an
internal organ to answer a student’s impromptu inquiry.
“I love kids and I love discovery,” said Watch, a biology major
from Westtown, NY. “It’s so enjoyable to see them interested in
something, to be able to encourage learning and help them discover
that learning is a lifelong process.”
The placement with longtime science teacher Ernie Vanderkruik
marked Watch’s first major teaching experience in public
Mount student teacher Michelle Watch speaks with her mentor,
S.S. Seward biology teacher Ernie Vanderkruik.
She will remain in Vanderkruik’s class for her second
experience, in which she will lead high school seniors in a college
“Ernie is very knowledgeable in his content area,” she said
about her mentor. “He’s willing to share that knowledge with me and
give me pointers on my teaching. I feel very fortunate working with
Vanderkruik observed that Watch is developing a keen sense of
planning and flexibility, as well as gaining confidence in her
“I cannot wait to continue working with her to see how she will
inform my teaching,” he said.
The Mount’s courses were vital in Watch’s preparation in the
classroom and evolution as a teacher. Chemistry professor Lynn
Maelia “had a great influence” on her, she explained, adding that
all of her natural science and education professors encouraged her
“I got to see those professionals in action, and they really
inspired me,” Watch said, of her Mount education. “They go out of
their way to help you and guide you.”
S.S. Seward Institute principal Michael Rheaume is a 1991
graduate of Mount Saint Mary College with a degree in childhood
education and special education. He credits the college with
preparing him for success: particularly courses with Paul Schwartz
(psychology), Kate Lindemann (philosophy), and Joan Miller
“I owe Dr. Miller a whole lot,” said Rheaume. “She’s an awesome
teacher and a wonderful mentor.”
Watch finds her new environment and responsibilities
challenging. She handles the occasional behavior management issues
pragmatically, explaining, “The only way that you can learn about
that, and prepare for that in your own classroom, is to learn how
to do it during student teaching.”
She admitted, “It’s a stressful time, but there’s so much to
learn. This has been an invaluable experience.”
The blossoming teacher’s successes outweigh her struggles.
Watch’s students often ask her questions that go beyond the
material covered on the tests she administers. That’s a good thing,
she said – in doing so, they demonstrate a higher level of
“You know the teaching profession was made for you when you’re
able to have that kind of discussion with your students,” Watch
explained. “That’s an ‘aha’ moment.”
Watch’s experience has confirmed what she already knew.
“This is what I want to do with the rest of my life. There’s no
doubt in my mind.”
More than 16 percent of current first year students at the Mount
aim for careers in education. The college’s nationally accredited
education program embeds fieldwork in coursework beginning in
sophomore year, and earns high marks in preparing students for New
York State licensure.
It’s not uncommon for Mount alumni to take the college’s student
teachers under their wings.
Kelly Dempsey, a Mount student teacher and history major from
Hicksville, NY, leads a discussion about immigration during a
global studies class at Newburgh Free Academy. Supervising (right)
is Barbara Rubin, social studies teacher and a 1993 Mount
Elsewhere in the Mount’s large network of student teaching
sites, Kelly Dempsey, a history major from Hicksville, NY, was
experiencing her own triumphs.
Working with Barbara Rubin, a 1993 Mount graduate with a degree
in history, Dempsey says the 3,500 high school students at Newburgh
Free Academy can teach her as much as she can teach them.
“I’m really proud of making relationships with the students,”
she said. “The more they feel you know them, the more they’ll give
back to you.”
Mount students often find the college’s many co-curricular and
extracurricular activities useful in becoming a well-rounded
For Dempsey, a Mount basketball player, connecting to her
students through sports is easy. Dempsey enjoys spending time with
students at school basketball games, and in doing so, she learns
more about their academic needs. Additionally, Dempsey and her
father have taught basketball camp classes in their home town for
the last four years.
“You can transfer that experience from the court to the
classroom,” she said.
At the Mount, professors Frances Spielhagen and Dolores
Berlinghoff were instrumental in molding Dempsey into a confident
“Dr. Spielhagen taught a few of my classes, and they were the
most instructional,” said Dempsey. “She’s a great teacher.” And Dr.
Berlinghoff is “amazing. Anything you need, she’s happy to
Dempsey’s classmate, Christina Cruz, a math major from
Plainfield, NJ, also accomplished her first student teaching
experience at Newburgh Free Academy.
Cruz is adjusting to her new responsibilities “nicely,” she
said. “At first it can be nerve-wracking in front of the classroom.
You’re not sure how the students will react to you. But it’s a
worthwhile experience. I’ve grown so much.”
Cruz says she’s learned how to project her voice, handle
behavior issues in the classroom, and command her students’
But perhaps her greatest accomplishment so far is her impact on
the students. After reaching out to those in her class who were
struggling with the material, Cruz noted marked improvement in
“That’s my triumph, when I see the students asking questions,
wanting to learn, and doing well,” she said. “I explain math to
them, saying, ‘It’s not as hard as it looks.’ As soon as that light
bulb goes off in their heads, you can tell that they get it.”
And helping that “light bulb” go off in Cruz’s head is her
cooperating teacher, Joanna Muller.
“Anytime I have a question, she’s always willing to help,” said
Cruz, whose future is looking bright; she wants to teach urban
students who have difficulty in traditional classroom settings.
“Coming from my background, you can do anything that you set
your mind to,” said Cruz, a first generation college student.
“Teachers have it in them to be motivational people in a student’s
At the Mount, Cruz was motivated and inspired by professors
Berlinghoff and James DiLorenzo.
“They’re always finding a better way to teach so that we
understand it,” she said.
For Christopher Vollaro, an English major from Poughkeepsie, NY,
finding great ways to teach has become his passion. At Dutchess
BOCES in Poughkeepsie, Vollaro leads special education students,
under the watchful eye of Maria Sita, a 1999 graduate of Mount
Saint Mary College.
“The experience so far has been really good. I’ve built up a
good relationship with each of the kids,” said Vollaro.
He said that Sita is an excellent educator.
“I’ve been really lucky to work with Maria. She’s been really
helpful to me; she doesn’t make me feel under pressure,” Vollaro
observed. “And Maria has a great rapport with the kids.”
Creating a lesson for fourth through sixth graders which “lends
itself to all of the different academic levels in the classroom”
can be difficult. But Vollaro pointed out that Mount educators like
Joan Miller taught him how to achieve that balance.
“It was worth it to go through the Mount’s teaching program,”
said Vollaro. “Now that I’m getting results in the classroom, it’s
all coming together.”