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.