Good teachers work hard to get their students through the school year. Great teachers adapt to the unexpected and spark a love of learning that their students will cherish for a lifetime.
Mount Saint Mary College senior Kerry DeFelice of Ansonia, Conn. is going to be a great teacher.
DeFelice, an English major on the Childhood and Special Education track, is completing her student teaching this semester. Her first placement was in Little Britain Elementary School in New Windsor, N.Y teaching second graders under her cooperating teacher, Ashley Scelia, a 2004 Mount graduate. Her current placement is in Cornwall Middle School, where DeFelice is teaching fifth graders under the tutelage of her cooperating teacher Jane McDonald, a 1993 Mount grad.
At first, student teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was "a little difficult," DeFelice explained, adding, "This was definitely not like any fieldwork I've ever done before." But while COVID-19 has created educational hardships, it has also provided an opportunity for some very unique on-the-job training.
At Little Britain, some of DeFelice's students were attending classes virtually, while others were attending in person. It was a challenge to make sure each set of students was getting the same amount of attention, she explained. But regardless of modality, keeping up with every students' social and emotional needs is always a priority: "I always want to make sure my students are OK," she explained.
Thankfully, DeFelice's Mount education had prepared her well for the trials COVID-19.
"Student teaching in a pandemic is something everyone had to adjust to," she said. "But my professors at the Mount always said [teachers] have to be flexible. If you walk in with a plan, but you're able to change it and tweak it, that's the key to becoming a successful teacher."
She added, "The Mount taught me how to be a good teacher, but it also helped me realize I have the ability to do it by myself. I had it in me to do all of this, but the Mount was there and a really good resource to get that 'go get 'em' attitude out of me. The Mount isn't just a college, it's a place that helps you find what you're passionate about."
Student teaching isn't the only way that DeFelice is putting her education skills to use. Throughout this semester, the Mount's Student Council of Exceptional Children (SCEC) has been offering virtual American Sign Language workshops for Mount students. DeFelice, an SCEC member, has been heading up these classes.
DeFelice became interested in sign language when she observed a high school classmate using it. Later on, she learned some signs through her cousin, who was an audiologist, but she wanted to take the next step and began teaching herself via YouTube video tutorials.
As more and more students are being taught in general education classrooms, the need for communicating with deaf or hard of hearing students is rising, DeFelice explained. For Mount students who are unable to take the college's American Sign Language course before graduating, DeFelice's virtual workshops help them to start utilizing basic sign language in their classrooms right away.
"Even if there aren't any students who are deaf or hard of hearing in your classroom, you can use signs as a way to acknowledge students without interrupting the lesson," DeFelice explained.
For example, some of the common signs (properly written in caps) DeFelice uses with her students at Cornwall Middle School include THANK YOU, YOU'RE WELCOME, WATER, and BATHROOM. These signs help the lesson to keep moving at a brisk pace – students can be given permission to head to the restroom with a single nod, side conversations are cut down to a few hand gestures, and so on.
It's a technique DeFelice will bring with her to her own classroom after graduation, she said.
As she looks towards the next steps in her career, DeFelice is also reflecting on what made her time at the Mount special. In addition to being an active member of the SCEC, she was proud to join the Mount's Habitat for Humanity and Aging United clubs, serve as the VP for Communications in the Mount's Student Government Association, and be inducted into the education honor society, Kappa Delta Pi.
"I love the community feeling of the Mount," she explained. "I come from a small town and a small high school, so I enjoyed the fact that all the professors know you, the administration knows you, and you get to know everyone in your class. It's a very tight-knit feeling."
It was that same community feeling that made her want to attend the Mount in the first place, she said: "When I talked to professors at open houses, they really cared about what I had to say. They really wanted me to succeed throughout my time here."
DeFelice credited her Education professors at the Mount with helping to mold her into the professional she is today, including Sonya Abbye Taylor, associate professor of Education and SCEC advisor; Janine Bixler, professor of Education; David Gallagher, associate professor of Education and division chair; and more. She also thanked her English professors, including Marie-Therese Sulit, associate professor of English and Director of the Mount's Honors Program; Rob Wakeman, assistant professor of English; and Peter Witkowsky, associate professor of English and Division of Arts and Letters chair.
"They've all helped me in different ways, like thinking about things in a broader way and digging deeper," DeFelice noted. "They also showed me how I can take the skills I've learned and apply them in my own classroom."
The future is looking bright for DeFelice, who has fallen in love with the Hudson Valley and is planning on finding a teaching job in the area before she begins work on a master's degree.