By Katie Zeck
When Angela DiFranco, ’11, was presented with her first classroom as a full-time teacher she walked into a barren room.
“The principal said, ‘Here’s your classroom,’ and it was completely empty,” DiFranco said. “I thought to myself; ‘Thank goodness I’ve been saving some books.’ So here’s some advice: yard sales. Districts aren’t going to give you a lot of money, so be a bargain shopper and go to yard sales. Anything that can be applied to multiple grade levels will be very useful.”
Advice, tips and insightful anecdotes such as DiFranco’s story were plentiful at the School of Education’s 100- year Anniversary event, New Jersey Distinguished Student Teacher Award Panel.
DiFranco, as well as Emily DiPaolo,’10 and ToniAnne Mizzi-Hall, ’12, have all been recognized as New Jersey Distinguished Student Teachers by the Department of Education. This award recognizes the 15 most outstanding student teachers in the state.
The event was facilitated by Dr. Sharon McKool, an associate professor in the School of Education, who questioned the panel on topics relating to being successful while student teaching and the process of landing a teaching job after graduation. Each panelist told stories of their personal experiences and provided advice to the audience of undergraduate education majors.
DiPaolo, who is currently an eighth grade math teacher in Wall Township, N.J., said that one of the main reasons she was able to be successful while student teaching was because of her reception of the constructive criticism provided to her.
“I student-taught second grade and I remember reflecting on every lesson,” she said. “Not only with myself, but with my cooperating teacher and my supervisor, Dr. Carol Brown. I used that feedback for my next lesson and I think that’s really what your supervisors and all your cooperating teachers are going to look for. Be receptive and try to change what you’re doing by using their suggestions.”
Mizzi-Hall’s approach to student teaching was slightly different. Before becoming a teacher, Mizzi-Hall was a microbiologist.
“My student teaching experience was in an eighth grade earth science class,” she said. “While some of my background prior to teaching was in biology and chemistry, it certainly wasn’t in earth science, so I had to really re-familiarize myself with the content. So for me, that was really stressful even though I was a scientist.”
DiFranco is now a contracted second and fourth grade special education teacher in North Hanover, N.J. — a position that, according to DiFranco, received 3,000 applications.
She provided specific tips that she attributed to her success during the application process.
“I researched every single district that met my teaching philosophy, and I did not apply to any district that I didn’t think was a good match for me,” she said. “After that, I applied online. Not only did I apply online, but I also printed everything on résumé paper. I included all my certificates and awards — anything that would help me stand out — and I put it in a résumé folder, and sent it out to the district. The districts said they had never seen anything so professional.”
For DiPaolo, the job hunt did not result in an immediate full-time position.
“When I was applying, I saw more openings in middle schools and since I had a minor in middle school math, I went for those,” she said. “For my first two years, I was hired as a replacement teacher. So don’t be discouraged if it takes some time getting your foot in the door. This is my first year teaching and I have to say that one of the biggest helps has been my colleagues. They’re your biggest and greatest assets.”
The education majors in attendance felt that the event was extremely beneficial.
“I loved that I was able to hear firsthand what student teaching and the first year of teaching was like from very recent graduates,” said junior elementary education major Katie Freier. “Their tips were all incredibly helpful. Applying for jobs next year will be stressful, so this type of forum really helped to put some of my worries at ease.”
Lindsey Hegenauer, a junior elementary education major and president of Rider’s Student Education Association, was pleased with the event and its educational value.
“This event was very important to me because it shows the dedication and passion that Rider students have for education,” she said. “I am proud to see such strong leaders attend this fantastic event.
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