INTERVIEWER: Let me start by saying congratulations on your recent graduation and good luck on your current job search. I know you completed your undergraduate degree as a Secondary Education English major; being from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) myself, I always felt that the elementary education students are much larger crowd than secondary. What drew you to secondary education? And why English?
KALIE MEHAFFY: I agree with you that the elementary education program is much larger than the secondary! To be honest, high school was difficult for me, but I had teachers that treated me as an adult. They made my struggles and emotions feel validated and pushed me to succeed and reach my fullest potential, which was exactly what I needed at the time. Having so many teachers in high school that positively impacted my life made it obvious early on that for me secondary education was the correct path. I want to be the supportive teacher for my future students – students that may need that extra push and understanding.
As to why I decided on English, well, I just love literature! I love examining characters, analyzing the text, discussing different moments in the plot, and enjoying a good piece of literature with others. There is so much someone can learn from literature, no matter the genre, and it can give us new ways of connecting and understanding the world. If I can give even a fraction of the joy that I get from literature to my students then I will be happy.
INTERVIEWER: As I share being an English major, I agree that literature can bring so much happiness, curiosity, and knowledge to anyone at any age and that is the beautiful thing about it. In fact, much like you, it was my teachers in middle and high school that inspired me to join the profession, but I digress. As I mentioned before, you recently graduated, which means you completed your student teaching just last semester. What was one of the most important pieces of information or an aspect you took away from student teaching?
MEHAFFY: I think one of the most valuable pieces of information I took away from my student teaching experience was being adaptable because no matter how much you plan something will always go off script. You could have the perfect lesson plan, but something can easily occur that will require you to make a change last minute. So, you just have to learn to be flexible; although, I will admit that even with trying to be as flexible as possible, it can be very frustrating to know that there are instances that you cannot plan for, and it takes a lot of determination and perseverance to continue to show up with a smile and positive attitude – not letting the alterations affect you. Student teaching was definitely eye opening in that respect, and I have great respect for educators that seemed to have mastered deviations and teachable moments while managing to get back to the focus of the lesson. It is an aspect that student teaching has really shown me I can improve upon as I grow in the profession.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, those moments that aren’t on the lesson plan can be a bit jarring in the beginning of your teaching career, especially as a preservice educator that is just garnering experience, so other than juggling those deviations from the lesson plan, what was your toughest moment during student teaching and how did you handle it?
MEHAFFY: The toughest moment I had happened during my last observation. There was a lock down that occurred, and it caused the students to not have instructional time for an hour and a half. After the lock down, the students went to their fourth period class, which was the class right before lunch. The combination of waiting for lunch and the lock down caused the students to have a very difficult time focusing. My class became so loud that my supervisor had to step in and help me regain their attention. The next day my cooperating teacher and I took the beginning moments of class to discuss with the students what happened and their behavior. It was the worst day that I had in my entire student teaching experience, but from that experience I learned what to do when a class gets out of control and how to handle it the next day.
INTERVIEWER: Wow! Likewise, on my first official day teaching, we had a fire drill. I had to scrap a majority of my lesson and rewrite subsequent lessons, so I understand the frustration. We’ve spent some time talking about struggles faced in student teaching, but I want to bring the mood up a little because, as we both know, student teaching holds wonderful moments with the students. What was the best thing that happened during student teaching?
MEHAFFY: It was actually a very small moment. I had a student that always seemed terrified and didn’t speak much in class. One day, I had the students doing group work, and I noticed that this shy student was lingering on the outskirts of her group. I walked over and suggested she find the quotes for textual evidence so her group could write them down. As I walked away and began circulating the room to observe how other groups were doing, I saw her grab her book and start talking to the students in her group. I was so happy that she was actively participating in her group because that was rare. Even though it was a little moment, it made me feel like I made an impact.
INTERVIEWER: I had a shy student that struggled in groups as well. It is always nice to see the moments when they finally begin to break out of that shell. Now that you’ve completed student teaching and are on the search for a job, I must ask how has NJSEA helped you prepare for teaching?
MEHAFFY: NJSEA has introduced me to so many amazing people and useful resources. Through being an ambassador over the years I have been able to attend various conferences and professional development events, which has given me an edge early on in my career that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Not only did I gain a ton of information but also, I’ve been able to network with full-time NJEA members that are currently teachers or administrators from districts all over New Jersey. Going to these events have even helped me learn about openings in various districts and get a feel for those districts by talking to educators that work there. This is definitely helpful to see how education is moving forward in a multitude of districts as well. A final point is that NJSEA and the events I’ve gone to, such as the “How To Land Your First Job” event at the Atlantic City Conference, have aided in my knowledge of how to tweak my resume and cover letter so I stand out in a sea of applications.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I think NJSEA provides great avenues to develop professionally, but, as a closing question, what has been your favorite event or moment you’ve experienced through NJSEA and why? This doesn’t necessarily have to be anything in a professional sense, such as resumes or professional development, though it certainly can be!
MEHAFFY: If I had to decide, my favorite event would have to be the NJSEA Orlando Summer Leadership Conference. This conference had a vast amount of professional development sessions that held information I plan to transfer into my own classroom, but this conference was more important for a personal matter. It gave me the opportunity to visit my grandparents one last time before they died. The conference was held about thirty minutes from where my grandparents lived, so I visited them before the conference began. The day the conference ended was the day my grandfather passed away, and my grandmother passed a month after. I was so grateful that NJSEA unintentionally gave me the opportunity to go visit them one last time by offering this conference. You honestly never know what can happen when you travel, and it taught me that every moment with family should be cherished. So, in some ways, this was my favorite event for the professional development, but the time spent with my grandparents outshines that. Even though they passed, I can look back on this experience in a positive light.
To be entirely honest, my decision to attend the Women’s March in Washington D.C. was one filled with some doubt and great deliberation. Part of this hesitation stemmed from the citizens protesting the day prior at President Trump’s Inauguration, but in the end, I am happy and grateful that I attended the Women’s March as it is an event I will fondly remember years later.
The Women’s March was a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience. As of late, the news had been so negative that it seemed at times easy to forget the good in the world, and being surrounded by the incredible, positive energy at this event was exactly what I needed. We marched over a staggering ten miles, and the entire time everyone I encountered was friendly, which was welcomed because nowadays we often see people absorbed on their phone and forget how powerful a simple smile or greeting or remark from a stranger can be. Even the residents of the area were generous by setting up coffee and water stations outside their homes. Some even opened up their home to let marchers use the restroom. Police were cheering on the marchers, as well, which added to the positive, energetic atmosphere. I was happy and pleasantly surprised to see that no arrests were made in the Washington D.C. march. In fact, I was substituting in a class the other day that contained a “Good News…Good Vibes” bulletin board; this bulletin board displayed upbeat and optimistic events like this one, and I think more people should begin showcasing the good in these events.
I, personally, marched for numerous reasons. I marched for equality for all groups of people – not just women. I marched for my students because I do not want anything to hold a child back from reaching his or her full potential as these children are our future and could have the ability to change the world one day. As an educator, we fight for all students – no matter gender, race, religion, etc. That is why I chose to march. Whether you supported the issues presented in this march or not – and no matter which political party you lean towards – the Women’s March was, in my opinion, an incredible experience. It brought such an immense and diverse crows of people together in a peaceful way to make their voices heard. Without a doubt, I am grateful to NJSEA and NJEA for encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and take part in that historic day.
- Samantha Selikoff, NJEA Relations Chair, The College of New Jersey
Did you attend the Women's March? What was your experience like and why did you march?
INTERVIEWER: To begin, how did you become involved with NJSEA? And, further, what led to your acceptance of the Social Media Chair position?
MARIAH BELBER: I got involved on the state level during my freshman year. I volunteered at the NJEA convention in 2013 and afterwards joined as a state ambassador. I started the NJSEA Pinterest page two years ago and worked with other members to build resources on the site and get the Pinterest page to become more well known and visited. When the position for Social Media Chair arose, I took what seemed like a logical next step for me.
INTERVIEWER: I remember you really spearheading that Pinterest page when I first started working with the organization, and I commend you for all the work you’ve put into it. It seems that working with social media comes naturally for you, so what is the best thing about your chair position?
BELBER: Well, social media is really fun! It is great being able to use my position to connect all local chapters and the state level organization through sharing our awesome accomplishments, upcoming events, or articles and videos that members from different areas and ranks can comment and have a conversation about. I also really enjoy that through my position I have been able to connect with a lot of the active local chapter presidents and NJEA staff because I have truly learned so much from them.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say there are any downsides and tough aspects to your position?
BELBER: The toughest part would have to be how much it drains my phone’s battery! I had to charge my phone two or three times at the Convention this year! But, there are so many worthwhile moments to capture and share from various events, so in the end it’s all worth it – no matter how taxing it may be on my device.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds like you could use one of those portable chargers! I know your chair position encompasses many aspects – updating, making connections, informing, engaging a wide audience, and so on – but what do you hope to give back to NJSEA through your position as Social Media Chair and ambassador at state and local chapter levels?
BELBER: I hope that I can help grow NJSEA membership and inspire student members to get involved. I share information about specific local chapters, especially if it is an event that is open to other NJSEA local chapter members, and I create posts that aim to create conversation to show our great, diverse, and supportive community. Being involved with NJEA and the National Education Association (NEA), as this past October I accepted a national position on the NEA Student Advisory Committee of Student Members, has taught me so much, and I hope that all aspiring educators can experience what I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. My goal is to express this feeling and inspiration through what I do in my chair position so I can leave NJSEA with ready, excited, and willing members that will help the organization rise strong.
INTERVIEWER: A great goal, indeed, and as I view your posts, I do get the sense that you want to show how much of a community NJSEA truly is. So, I must ask as you have such a passion for your chair position and the organization as a whole, do you have any plans to continue with a chair position or attain a different leadership role within NJSEA next year?
BELBER: As long as the next officers let me, I would love to continue as the Social Media chair next year. I have learned so much while working with the Communications Department at NJEA. This past summer I was able to attend the NJEA Summer Leadership Conference workshop “Social Media for Organizing,” which taught me a ton about the different tools available to me to help organize, engage, and grow NJSEA. I can’t wait to implement the ideas I have come up with.
INTERVIEWER: I know you are able to continue with NJSEA next year because it will be your graduate year, much like I am doing this year. I noticed for your undergraduate degree you have a minor in Environmental Sustainability Education, which seems timely as of late. Why did you choose this minor?
BELBER: I chose the Environmental Sustainability Education minor because of how relevant sustainability has become, so, as you mentioned, it is very timely and urgent. As an educator, my job is to teach my students to be productive members of society, and to do so, they need to know about and how to be responsible when it comes to the environment. As a human race we have taken advantage of all that we have been given, and teaching sustainability is so important because some of these students will go on to become engineers, activists, and lawmakers of the future that could make a difference. Unfortunately, we are seeing that many influential politicians do not believe that climate change is real. Teaching students to be sustainable will help demonstrate to students the kind of change and impact they have the power to create. My goal is to implement sustainability teachings in my classroom in STEM lessons, such as using upcycling, and in the classroom culture by modeling being a sustainable citizen myself.
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INTERVIEWER: I know you are very involved in your local chapter at Montclair State University (MSU), so what led to or inspired you to join NJSEA? At the state level you’re also Outreach Chair, so what led to you accepting your chair position?
LIAN REFOL: A fellow state ambassador at MSU, Allison Plishka, told me about the 2015 NJSEA Leadership Conference. Not knowing anything about this organization at the time or what this event would entail, we decided to take a chance and see what it was all about. After attending our first professional development events on “How to Land Your First Job” and “Setting Student Growth Objectives,” we were immediately interested in joining NJSEA and becoming active members. Since that first conference I attended last year, I am now serving as Montclair State University’s NJSEA President, and Allison is the Vice President. From a personal standpoint, NJSEA stood out to me amongst other organizations because it was dedicated to preservice teachers and offered access to events like the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City.
Prior to accepting my chair position as Outreach Chair and becoming MSU’s President, I was MSU’s Vice President and an NJSEA state ambassador. My responsibilities consisted of holding general body meetings and professional development events at MSU and contacting faculty at other colleges and universities to help establish new NJSEA chapters. Talking to staff and faculty from other colleges and universities while Vice President undoubtedly helped in readying me to become Outreach Chair, and through these experiences, I was lucky enough to work alongside the previous NJSEA Outreach Chair, Ellen Bonitatibus. Working with Ellen also helped me gain early insight on some of the responsibilities held by the Outreach Chair, such as facilitating communications among current and potential NJSEA members and finding ways for NJSEA to be involved within local communities. I was honored when asked to become the 2016 – 2017 Outreach Chair.
INTERVIEWER: NJSEA is lucky you and Allison took a risk in attending that conference last year because you two have been extremely dedicated and hardworking members of the NJSEA team! The work you have done thus far as NJSEA has been impressive as well. So, what are the best things about being Outreach Chair, and what are the toughest aspects? How do you hope to conquer any obstacles that may occur?
REFOL: The absolute best parts of being Outreach Chair is meeting preservice teachers from all over New Jersey and getting to share all of the incredible opportunities NJSEA has to offer. From traveling to National Education Association Summer Leadership Conferences (NEA-SLC), such as last year’s Conference held in D.C., to volunteering within our local communities, I want to help other preservice educators to be a part of these invaluable opportunities. These are amazing experiences and every preservice educator should get a chance to create his or her own special memories. This year’s NEA-SLC is going to be held in Boston, so I hope through my position I can help preservice educators get informed about the event and take advantage of the travel opportunity.
I feel that the toughest aspect of being Outreach Chair is not being able to be everywhere at once. If it were possible, you would find me at every college and university in New Jersey holding information sessions about NJSEA and helping other students find their home away from home within this organization. Luckily, I work with a state leadership team and an executive board at MSU that does an exceptional job of representing NJSEA and hosting a variety of events. I have found that being in constant communication and acting as pillars of support for each other are the methods we’ve established to help us achieve our goals and make being a part of NJSEA so much fun.
Below are pictures of MSU's executive board from over the past year.
INTERVIEWER: It’s great to hear that the chapter at MSU is so strong. Teamwork definitely makes a huge difference. Now to switch topics a bit I’m going to ask the clichéd question every education major hears multiple times in their career: what made you want to be an education major?
REFOL: I want to become a teacher because I want to play a pivotal role in children’s lives and make learning in school fun and worthwhile. I strive to help students establish a love for all subjects and foster his or her confidence to pursue personal ambitions.
Within my undergraduate experience at MSU and my time spent as a member of NJSEA, my passion for teaching has only grown. During my time at MSU, I had the pleasure of being mentored by incredible faculty who personally ensured that I understood the content I would be teaching in the classroom and furthered my abilities to become a culturally responsive teacher. Through NJSEA, I was able to become part of an organization not only on my local campus but also, an association that is connected statewide and nationally. Reflecting on my involvement with NJSEA, I believe it enhanced what I learned in my undergraduate classes and fieldwork and made my preservice experiences that much more relevant and meaningful.
INTERVIEWER: As cliché and redundant as that question may be, I always find it nice to hear why other education majors got into the major and what their hopes are as a future teacher, so thank you for sharing. This next question can pertain to education or just in a general sense; who do you look up to for inspiration and why?
REFOL: In my eyes, my mom sets the standard for what it means to be an educator and an all around incredible person. As a teacher of children with disabilities and a career consisting of over twenty-five years of experience within the education profession, I admire the milestones my mom has helped her students achieve and the energy that she brings into her classroom each day. Compassionate, caring, and exceptionally hard working – she demonstrates vast knowledge and a responsive teaching disposition that I hope to achieve someday in my own career as an educator. Growing up I always thought, I hope to be just like my mom when I get older, and I’m proud to say that I am fulfilling that dream. As I enter student teaching and the final months of my undergraduate career, I recognize my mom as the inspiration behind my own path toward becoming a teacher, and I thank her for always being there for me.
Morgan Ivich and Chelsea Hahn examine their experiences with traditional and holistic grading, share their opinions, and consider their future classrooms.
What are your experiences with and opinions on these two grading systems?
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