If you are eager for an international teaching adventure, join us for an informational session at at Mierow House, 1107 N. Cascade Avenue, on Thursday, December 1, 2016.
Shannon Mello is a 2011 graduate of Colorado College’s Master of Arts in Teaching, K-12 art program. She believes that during her time at CC, the student teaching component of the program is what most prepared her for her teaching career.
“It was hard. It was really hard. Of course, within the student teaching we were taking classes at night, so it was very intense.”
Mello was able to attend art shows during her time student teaching, an opportunity which allowed her to truly experience the partnership between the community and arts education.
“I was able to see the community art shows and the involvement in the preparation… I didn’t realize physically how much was involved. The organization, reaching out to parents, sending out letters and news information to communicate with the community; people don’t even realize how much preparation goes into [the art shows]”.
Over the past five years, Mello has been teaching art at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Colorado Springs. As a teacher, she feels she has always been supported by a phenomenal staff and great administration at Mountain Ridge. In her first three years, Mello’s talents were recognized and she was honored with the Teacher of the Year award.
Mello is particularly found of Mountain Ridge because as an IB school, the curriculum is very inquiry focused, much like the MAT program at CC.
“It is very much reflection and process-oriented instead of being focused on the end product. Inquiry is promoted by instructors, and it breeds a safe environment”.
Mellow channels an enormous amount of her energy into building relationships with her students at Mountain Ridge.
“Even if it is just knowing one thing, like the events they do after school, I think building relationships is incredibly important”.
During her second year teaching at the middle school, Mellow wanted to get involved with the community and started the Grizzly Gala: A Night of the Arts. The semi-annual event is a presentation of art, drama productions and musicians. It acts as a showcase and an opportunity to display student work for the enjoyment of the community.
Since she began teaching, Mello’s most memorable experiences are when students tell her that she has inspired them to be art teachers.
“You don’t think of their plans that far in the future, so it totally takes you off guard, but it’s really cool to hear what is inspiring them.”
Mello’s years at Mountain Ridge have taught her to never assume where students come from.
“You never know the back-stories of students, and you never know what they’re going through.”
She emphasizes the importance of communicating, and trying to have them communicate as much as possible. She thinks this interaction is vital to promote a safe environment.
Mello has had an incredible experience at Mountain Ridge, and has truly become an integral part of the school’s arts education program. “I love teaching middle-schoolers because they are still at the point where they are open minded and they are willing to take some risks.”
In recent years, Mello was part of the Colorado Academic Standards in Visual Arts Committee, and really enjoyed the process of teachers teaching teachers. Despite her great experience teaching and learning from adults, she thinks she would miss the kids too much.
While Mello can’t imagine working anywhere other than Mountain Ridge right now, her dream is to eventually build a new art program from scratch.
Jessica Watkins Stuart is the featured Young Professional in the November 20, 2015 issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
Jessica is the first MAT graduate to find employment with the same community partner where she served her specialized interest internship: the Catamount Institute. Congratulations, Jessica!
Emily Alexander is a 2010 graduate of Colorado College with a Bachelor’s Degree in music and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in K-12 music. During her time at CC, Alexander sang in the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, conducted by Deborah Jenkins Teske. During her pursuit of her undergraduate’s degree, Alexander realized not only did she love music and singing, but she also developed a strong appreciation for her courses at CC and loved learning about the math, science and art of music.
Alexander’s favorite undergraduate classes were her technical musical classes, because learning the science behind music “helped deepen [her] love” for the art. Alexander has dedicated much of her time teaching these more technical aspects of music to her own students, because her classes at CC were so influential in her career.
“CC was the perfect place to prepare me for my teaching career,” said Alexander when describing her experience in the MAT program. Working with her cohorts and people who were equally passionate was motivational and constructive. Between student teaching, writing a thesis and attending classes, Alexander laughed, “we were all down in the trenches, and then we all came out together.”
Despite her success and her level of comfort now, Alexander spoke to the transition from graduate school to the “real world”, saying it isn’t as easy as some make it out to be. Alexander said, “your first year as a teacher is going to kick your butt no matter what. There’s no way you’re going to know what is going to happen. Every day there’s something new, and you just kind of learn from trial by fire.”
Since graduating, Alexander has taught choir to sixth, seventh and eight graders at Cimarron Middle School in Douglas County. Alexander chose to teach middle-school students because she believes it is a great time to “help kids find their passion. And if they don’t find that in music, to help them find something they are passionate about.”
Since Alexander began teaching at Cimarron, the choir program has grown enormously to 320 students. With the expansion of the program, she has had the opportunity to implement interdisciplinary lessons—her favorite kind of lessons to teach. She focuses on the meaning and history behind music as well as the scientific and mathematical components of it. By teaching from multiple angles, Alexander believes “kids can take ownership over the discipline.”
Alexander truly thinks that her class is a different place than other classes, because no other discipline “does quite exactly what we do.” She thinks choir teaches life lessons, because “students learn how to overcome fears and work towards common goals.”
If there is one piece of advice Alexander would give to new teachers, regardless of the discipline they are in, it is: “If you are going to be a teacher, make positive phone calls home as much as you can.”
Most parents only receive phone calls when something bad has happened, or parents don’t hear any news from school at all. Calling home to tell parents how well their children are doing “really builds a positive learning community, especially between kids and their parents.”
Today, outside of teaching at Cimarron, Alexander sings with Kantorei, a professional-caliber choral ensemble based in Denver. She is also a member of the Colorado Music Educators Association, where she takes part in professional development programs and attends their annual conference. This organization is incredibly helpful because it creates a network and accessible resources for music teachers, who are so unique in their work.
“I have loved working in education, and right now I would like to stay in the classroom and stay engaged and energized,” said Alexander. As a Colorado native she does not see herself leaving the state anytime soon. In the future however, she thinks she might like to transition into adult education, or teaching teachers.
Buck McKenna graduated from Colorado College in 2011 with a major in Religion and a minor in Education. During his time at CC, McKenna played lacrosse and was known for being great with kids. After receiving his diploma, McKenna moved to San Francisco, where he worked in a two-year internship as a teaching assistant at the Town School for Boys.
“My first year in the classroom was extremely busy, but the greatest take away was the opportunity to work with students, teachers, parents and administration,” said McKenna.
Moving up from the second grade, McKenna’s second year of the internship was spent working as a teaching assistant in the fourth grade.
“These two years allowed me to work with experienced teachers and observe what collaboration between teachers and grades looks like,” he said.
Following his internship, McKenna was hired as a full time teacher in the fourth grade where he was asked to take on many roles at the school.
“It may sound corny,” said McKenna, “but I feel like my whole time at CC prepared me for this job… my time at CC allowed me the understanding of looking at the big picture in a student’s life.”
After five years as a teacher in California, a teaching opportunity opened up at the Colorado Academy in Denver. McKenna eagerly jumped at the chance to return to the Centennial State, this time teaching 5th grade.
“I could not be happier. I have had the chance to teach an incredible group of students and work with amazing teachers and parents… Getting to know students in my class has allowed me the opportunity to involve their passions, strengths and to stretch their goals.”
McKenna is looking forward to his second year in Denver at the Colorado Academy, and he is excited to be living back in Colorado close to Colorado College.