For alumna Caitlin McElhaney (Secondary Science Education, ’13), all of the in-person, school-based opportunities she gained in the School of Education and CU Teach program gave her the experience she needed to land a teaching position directly after graduation. Now a hiring manager for DSST schools in Denver, Caitlin highlights her favorite parts from her student experience and shares her advice for teacher education students in this Q&A.
“As a teacher myself, I know the more you can take on as a student teacher including teaching full time as much as possible will give you invaluable experience when it comes to your first year,” she said. “We love to see and hear about that in the interview process.”
Q. How did CU Teach and the CU Boulder School of Education help prepare you for the classroom?
I felt completely prepared for the classroom. I finished my student teaching in the fall and then was immediately hired in the spring of the following year and jumped right into the classroom. I was so grateful for all of the in-person, school-based experience that the CU Boulder School of Education gave me including the numerous practicums and the full semester of student teaching. Having all of that “face time” in front of students before beginning a full-time teaching role helped decrease the nerves of starting a new job. There were definitely things to be nervous about, but I was confident in my ability to engage students and present material in front of a class because I had so many opportunities to do so throughout my classes in the program.
I also really loved my edTPA experience. While it was a lot of work, it made me truly reflective about my teaching practice. If I had not really dug into areas I could push myself to improve throughout my school education, I would have been experiencing all of that as a first-year teacher and that year would not have gone nearly as well.
Q. What was your favorite part of the program?
I loved that most of the classes were content based. Being able to brainstorm and get direct feedback from a group that was also working towards being science teachers was huge! I also liked having the same teacher multiple times. It really built a personal connection and made me feel extremely supported. Small class sizes and consistent teachers really made a big university feel small and welcoming.
Q. For students who are unsure about pursuing a career in education, how might you encourage them to pursue education?
Take a class! The CU Teach program offers one-credit classes to just get your feet wet. I started college wanting to be pre-dental student. During my sophomore year, I was volunteering at a pediatric dental facility and they did educational outreach. We went to schools and educated young students about oral hygiene, and I fell in love with science education. Still, I still wasn’t sure if I was ready to make the switch. The next semester, I took that one credit class, Step into Teaching Class, and was hooked!
Q. We understand you are in charge of recruitment at your school now. What do you look for in candidates?
A huge part of what we look for in candidates is a strong connection to our mission and values as well as perseverance. The charter school network that I work for truly believes in EVERY student getting the opportunity to go to college no matter their background or prior education. The first questions in our interview process ask candidates to demonstrate true passion towards education and this mission, so a huge piece of advice that I offer to graduates would be to be authentically passionate. Let us see why you want this job.
We also look for graduates who can persevere. We know first-year teaching is hard in so many ways, so candidates who give examples of perseverance in the past help us know that they will not give up if things get hard, and they will continue to work as hard as they can to support students in the Denver area.
We also love experience, so tell us about that on your resume and in your interview. Every touchpoint that you had with students in schools is valuable, so describe meaningful moments in your practicum placements, and take on those extra roles during student teaching. As a teacher myself, I know the more you can take on as a student teacher including teaching full time as much as possible will give you invaluable experience when it comes to your first year, and we love to see and hear about that in the interview process.