In our interview with Alyssa Polito, '13, Alyssa describes how NU’s undergraduate and graduate programs in education helped her to succeed as a math teacher. She urges teachers and teacher-candidates to continuously reflect on the ways that they can improve their teaching practice.
College of Education: Hi, Alyssa! We heard that you landed a teaching job. Well done! Where are you working?
AP: I am currently working at Greece Olympia Middle/High School in Rochester, N.Y. as an 8th grade math teacher. I teach one regular 8th grade math class, one integrated co-teaching (ICT) math class, and two support classes for 8th grade math as well.
COE: What degree did you receive from NU and when did you graduate?
AP: In May of 2013, I received my undergraduate degree in mathematics education for grades 5-12. I also received my master’s degree in special education for grades 7-12 through NU’s online program in December 2014.
COE: How did NU prepare you for the job search?
AP: Niagara helped me prepare for the job search in many ways. Not only was I able to receive one-on-one assistance in creating my resume, cover letter, and other application materials, but I was also able to get firsthand experience with the interview process both in the classroom as well as at the Buffalo/Niagara Job Fair. This made me much more comfortable interviewing for jobs and helped me land my current position.
COE: What did you find difficult about the job search and how did you overcome any obstacles you faced?
AP: During my job search, I was fortunate enough to have held several long-term substitute teacher positions in high school math classes. However, most of the job interviews for permanent teaching positions that I applied for were scheduled during the school day, which made juggling all of my responsibilities difficult. Niagara prepared me for this juggling act. During my time at NU, juggling multiple assignments and experiences at once was a necessity. Without actually holding a class on this “skill” alone, the professors at NU made time management and planning a necessary part of the daily routine. While I did not appreciate my workload at the time, I am now grateful for the opportunities to develop the ability to handle multiple tasks at once, especially because this ability has helped me to ease into and manage the responsibilities of a full-time teacher.
COE: How did NU prepare you for success in your current position?
AP: Niagara University thoroughly prepared me for success in this particular position, as the education program provided opportunities to work in different classroom settings even during the first semester of undergraduate study. This is the biggest reason that I wanted to attend NU in the first place. NU was one of the only schools I applied to that immediately placed students in the classroom to observe and assist in the fields they were interested in pursuing for their career. Through these multiple opportunities, I was able to spend time in various middle school math classrooms, gathering ideas from the teachers that I was fortunate enough to observe and work alongside.
COE: What is your favorite part of working with your students and why?
AP: My current students come from a variety of backgrounds, which is one of my favorite things about them. I have several students in my classes who have come to the United States just this year, and who offer unique perspectives that differ from those of their peers. Also, the students I am working with have a great sense of humor which always helps make the classroom fun.
COE: What are your biggest challenges as a teacher and how do you try to overcome them?
AP: As a teacher, one of the biggest challenges is trying to make sure all students are truly understanding the material. As my students are very diverse in both their cultures and learning styles, on some days it can seem next to impossible to meet everyone’s needs. To overcome this challenge, I differentiate lessons as best as possible while maintaining the integrity of the content. I also make myself available outside of class time so that students can come in and ensure that they are understanding the material. I have students who come to see me for extra help before school, during their study halls and lunches, and after school every day; and for 8th grade students who tend to be disorganized and forgetful, it is nice to see how much some of them truly care about their education.
COE: What advice can you give to current students pursuing the degree you received from NU?
AP: I would advise current students at NU to never stop asking questions of their cooperating teachers because there is only so much that you can learn by simply observing. You are your biggest advocate and need to be as proactive about your learning as possible. Although it may seem like you are asking too many questions, the best cooperating teachers recognize their responsibility in helping you become a well-rounded and capable future educator and want to see you succeed. Also, remember that even when you do land a job in the education world, you are never done learning. I continue to ask questions everyday as it not only enhances my teaching experience, but it also improves my students’ learning.