“Take good notes in class during your last year at Neag. They will not only be helpful for you, but for your team members and colleagues when you start teaching,” advised Arianna Aquilino, a fifth-grade teacher at West Woods Upper Elementary School in Farmington. She was speaking to 60 students who will graduate from the Neag School of Education’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Teacher Education Program in May 2014.
Aquilino was one of seven recent Neag alumni who returned to Dr. Richard Schwab’s Teacher Leadership and Organization course to take the podium and share their first-year teaching experiences.
The event marked the third year Schwab, UConn’s Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Educational Leadership, has invited former students back to campus.
“When my students graduate, I remind them I’ll be asking them back to talk with the next cohort of new teachers,” said Schwab, also Dean Emeritus. “Every time I do this, I enjoy watching alumni and current students laugh and learn together. The advice alumni give is always helpful, and they learn a great deal from reflecting on their first-year experiences.”
Job hunting and job interviewing tips were the two areas current Neag students were most interested in learning about. Each alumnus shared advice, which included the importance of attending career fairs, rehearsing for interviews, building a portfolio, and utilizing Neag connections.
“When you prepare answers for the interview, don’t forget to also prepare questions about the school. It shows how prepared and serious you are about the opportunity,” said James Dinnan, now teaching social studies at Farmington High School.
“And be prepared for anything,” he added, noting that the part-time position he was hired for turned into a full-time one on his first day of work.
Marissa Boucher, currently teaching seventh-grade mathematics at Ellington Middle School, shared what she did after getting a job offer: “If you have an opportunity, try to observe other teachers or substitute at the school before you officially start working there. It helped me to be better prepared with the school’s routines and get to know staff before the new school year started.”
Ranked as one of the top teacher preparation programs in the United States, the Neag School’s five-year Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s (IB/M) program provides students with both extensive classroom learning and intensive field experience. Students are admitted to the program as juniors after a competitive admissions process.
The IB/M program is a rigorous, well-planned program designed to provide students an optimum combination of experiences in which they can build content area knowledge, knowledge of teaching and learning, and the practical knowledge required to be a successful and effective teacher for all students.
Once admitted to the IB/M program, students generally complete two years of subject area major studies and professional education in teacher education leading to a Bachelor’s degree in education. The undergraduate years are followed by one year of graduate level professional education leading to a Master’s degree in education. Completion of all program requirements results in the recommendation for certification as a teacher in the State of Connecticut.
“I was so nervous to start my first year of teaching, but the program prepared me in more ways than I thought,” Aquilino recalled. “Just having all the background knowledge of classroom management and lesson planning was so helpful.”
Meloney Bailey, a fifth- and sixth-grade social studies teacher at Jumoke Academy at the Hartford Conservatory, also assured the soon-to-be teachers: “The program has equipped you with all the tools you need to be successful. Just make sure you utilize those tools. They may be time consuming at times, but will definitely alleviate a lot of stress.”
The visiting grads also agreed that the Neag School had prepared them well for the significant changes to education that came with the start of this new school year, including the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. “The knowledge we gained at the Neag School made me less apprehensive about issues than some veterans,” Boucher said.
All alumni agreed, however, that being a first-year teacher is a challenge. “The field experience I received in college was essential, because classes can only prepare you so much,” said Shannon Bostiga, a fifth-grade teacher at Windermere Intermediate School in Ellington. “There are so many things I encountered that I would never had been prepared for without the Neag School.”
Managing time effectively, staying organized and prioritizing tasks were among the greatest challenges discussed by alumni. “The most challenging thing about the first year of teaching is finding time to do everything. Sometimes I wish there was an extra hour in the day to get everything done,” Bailey added.
Dr. Michelle Femc-Bagwell, who co-teaches with Schwab, had some advice for both the upcoming graduates and alumni: “Try to shadow other teachers and observe their work routines. There is never a best routine out there, but you can apply what’s best for you and your kids by taking a little from everyone.” A former public school educator and middle school principal, Femc-Bagwell also encouraged them to always seek help. “You will be surprised how people are more than willing to help,” she added.
Reflecting on the almost three-hour experience, Schwab said: “I hope all my students can model support, not only for each other in class, but also carry that into their teaching careers in the future.”