INTERVIEWER: Deanna, you’ve been an ambassador for quite a while now, so, I’m curious as to what has been your favorite experience working with NJSEA at the state level?
DEANNA KOLLAR: My favorite experiences have definitely been attending the NEA Student Summer Leadership Conferences with the New Jersey delegation. I was fortunate to attend the Orlando Conference in 2015 and the Washington D.C Conference this past summer. Both times gave me the opportunity to attend workshops with preservice educators from all over the country, which was really awesome. It was interesting to compare the problems that we face in New Jersey with those of other states. Being around so many people that have the same goals and visions for their students and their classroom was an empowering feeling. The whole experience made me excited to return home because I’d be able to try out some of the things I learned for my student teaching.
INTERVIEWER: NJSEA does offer some great travel opportunities. I enjoy being able to network with other dedicated and enthusiastic educators, as well. Thinking closer to home, I know you’re also involved with your local chapter, so what has been your favorite experience working with your local chapter?
KOLLAR: My favorite experience with my local chapter was attending a Jersey Cares Day in Trenton. For this event, NJSEA members met up at a school in Trenton to paint hallways, classrooms, and outside blacktop. My chapter’s job was to paint a hopscotch course on the blacktop of the school parking lot. It was a great chance to bond with people from my local chapter, and it felt nice to work together and complete a service project that we knew students would be excited about.
INTERVIEWER: I’ve seen pictures from that event, and it is impressive how much NJSEA accomplishes working together. You’ve talked about traveling, professional development workshops, and networking, so if you had to wrap it all up in one answer, how has NJSEA helped you grow as an educator from your earlier college years to your recent graduation?
KOLLAR: NJSEA has provided me with a supportive network of educators and preservice teachers, and as a result, I am much more confident and comfortable with entering the profession. If I run into a tough situation or need advice, I feel that I have multiple people I can turn to for help. I am incredibly thankful for all the professional development workshops and conferences I’ve gone to through NJSEA, which are some of the events that helped me network. Going to these events have kept me in the loop and up to date on current educational buzz words, practices, and initiatives. I’ve also learned a lot about being a leader. In the last four years, I have transitioned from being a general member to the chapter president and state ambassador. I’ve seen what works and what does not work in terms of reaching out to members, getting people involved in projects, and coordinating events. The experiences and skills I have gained will no doubt help me when I become a full-time teacher.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds like NJSEA has helped you in many different ways! I think the family of educators and network that preservice members are able to grow is invaluable. Now, to change the subject a bit, you recently graduated, and I heard that you have come across the opportunity to teach abroad, specifically in Thailand. How did you come about this opportunity to teach a year in Thailand, and what attracted you to this opportunity?
KOLLAR: The organization I am going through is the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), and I found out about it at a presentation that I attended at Rowan University. A few months prior, I had traveled to India to teach in several village schools for two weeks. India was my first time out of the country, and I loved how education was valued over there. Traveling in a country that has a different set of values, rules, and norms was a humbling and an eye-opening experience. I felt like I grew so much from that trip – even though it was only in two weeks! So, when I heard about the opportunity to teach for a year in Thailand, all I could think about is what I could learn from connecting with new people and being immersed in a new culture.
INTERVIEWER: That sounds like a truly amazing experience. Traveling abroad before myself, I find that being thrown into a new culture is quite awe-inspiring, and we have so much to learn from cultures different from our own. Going abroad, you will bring your own experience and values into the classroom, much like your students. What do you hope to accomplish for your students while teaching abroad?
KOLLAR: While in Thailand, I’ll be teaching English to grades K-2. I hope to expose my students to the larger world outside of their province; however, I think my students will be teaching me much more than I will be teaching them. From my students, I hope to gain a new perspective and set of strategies that I can bring back home to the United States.