Take Me Back to the Land Down Under

By Jessica Schmidt, SED 2015

After I made the 22-hour flight from Sydney back to my hometown last winter and I will openly admit that the culture shock I experienced upon arriving was rough. Instead of focusing on how to adjust back to the cold and the snow, I couldn’t help but relive my time in Sydney, Australia where the people are chipper and sun-kissed, and everything is made prettier by beaches and endearing accents.

I was lucky enough to take my student teaching practicum to the other side of the world and delve into a new, breathtaking culture that is packed with adventure and free spirits. The country as a whole has a population that is approximately the same as that of New York City, around 23 million people. With fewer people, comes more animals. Australia is home to many of the world’s most dangerous animals—don’t worry, I made it back alive with minimal scrapes and bruises.

I came to know the country’s natives (both people and animals) quite well, traveling around the continent and into others. However, the age of the people I got to know the best averaged around 10 years old. I spent every day in an all boy’s school, teaching a class of 25 fifth graders. To some, this may seem like I spent precious beach time managing hormonal troublemakers, but for me, the situation could not have been more worthwhile.

Student teaching in another country sounds intimidating. Add on the fact that the students being instructed are fifth grade boys with adorable accents and preppy school uniforms and you’re practically begging for a panic-stricken deer-in the headlights reaction. However, the opposite happened when I walked into 5L on the first day of September 2014. I had twenty-five boys who were obsessed with my accent and who wanted to know which celebrities I have met (they weren’t too impressed with my meeting of Zac Efron, which would have gone over much better at an all girls school). I spent four days camping in the Aussie wilderness with my class on the second week of school and learned just how scary it is to have a wombat try to get into your tent in the middle of the night. In no time, I was viewed as the cool American teacher who needed to learn as much Aussie slang as possible.

I couldn’t believe how quickly I was accepted into the culture of the school, let alone that of the country. I was able to integrate myself into a large faculty and feel like an important member of the team: participating in professional development and staff meetings, comparing intervention programs used in Boston to those in Sydney, and designing unit plans to be used across all fifth grade classrooms in the building. I was able to foster bonds with my students that continue today through email and hopefully was able to teach them one or two things that stuck.

More than anything, I learned that being on the other side of the world does not mean everything is upside down and backwards. People in Australia are living very similarly to those in Boston. We have remarkably similar successes and histories, as well as struggles. Unfortunately, many people are so focused on the differences in cultures, that there is not enough emphasis on the similarities. By exposing students and teachers around the world to cultures other than their own and focusing on how we are all similar, there is hope for greater cross-cultural unity and acceptance in the future. Traveling nearly 10,000 miles away from home taught me that the world is smaller than I ever realized.

Jessica Schmidt is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education


By Sarah White, SED 2016

This past winter, I applied to a variety of summer jobs focused on teaching or tutoring in summer schools. Through this process, I encountered the same question time and time again: Why are you fit to mentor students through this program?

Thinking about this question made me realize: I aspire to be a mentor for others because I have had so many wonderful mentors myself, and it is their very mentoring styles that have shaped my mentoring abilities.

My father taught me how to read when I was about 3 years old. He continuously said to me, “You know, Sar, if you can read, you can do anything.” Those words have since become my life motto. I can do anything. And equipped with the right tools, so can anyone else, and that idea now guides my teaching philosophy. My students have the potential to do anything. I just have to support them on their way there.

As time has progressed, my teachers became my academic mentors. From elementary school through college, my teachers have pushed me to develop my passions, to work a little harder, to look beyond what has been merely presented to me, and to dig a little deeper. They have guided me to discover the endless opportunities. Knowing how it feels to receive this endless stream of encouragement from my teachers has instilled in me the need to believe in my students to their highest potential.

During field placements through BU, I have watched some amazing lessons, gathered great ideas, and even taught some class periods alone. Many of my cooperating teachers have given me their email addresses to contact them after my field placement has ended in case I need any help. Their willingness to share their talents with me have only inspired me to try a little harder so that I, too, can do the same in the future.

From my peers, I have learned to be ever inquisitive and hard-working. As they take on more leadership roles, they encourage me to do the same. They share with me their challenges, their successes, and a listening ear when I need one. Since they understand what it means to be a college student, I find it so easy to relate with them, reminding me of the importance of understanding your students.

Perhaps most important, I continue to learn from my students. Previously, I wrote a blog post about a lesson I learned last year from a boy I tutor at 826 Boston. His words along with sentiments from other students continue to have an effect on me long past when I work with them.

I believe that it is through my great mentors that I have learned what it means to mentor and to mentor well. Suddenly, I have a working teaching philosophy and guiding principles for my future classroom. It didn’t happen overnight, and I couldn’t have done it alone. But, influence of my mentors continues to impact me every day. My greatest hope is to become these voices for future generations. I want to push, to encourage, and to inspire students to believe in themselves the way others have done for me.

And so now I ask you: Why are you a mentor?

Sarah White is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in English Education

Celebrities of a Community

By Jan-Lois Burroughs, SED 2015

Ellen Degeneres.

The Kardashians.

Tom Brady.

One Direction.

Barack Obama.

While these names are recognizable to many nationwide, teachers too have the power to be just as noteworthy in someone’s life.

Teachers are celebrities of a community. We mentor, we care, we educate, we connect, we influence, and we empower. Parents, guardians, and students alike entrust us with these responsibilities. With this, we are always under the close observation of society. Just like celebrities from the athletic or entertainment industries, we too develop a reputation that can take years to build, but can take seconds to change completely.

There is something so, so intriguing about a celebrity’s personal life, whether you want to know it or not. I can read about Justin Bieber’s run-ins with the law, or make guesses about the reasonings behind Zayn’s recent departure from One Direction, and comment about Taylor Swift’s dating life. We know celebrities’ professional work: we recognize their music, their scores, their companies and positions, their awards, and yet, we are fine with knowing so much more.

People’s skills and abilities can lead us to place them on a pedestal. They become “robotic” and “godly” – untouchable. This is natural. Yet, we are interested when we hear about what they do outside their professions; what else they’re passionate about. We find ways to make them seem more human.

This applies to teachers too. We are familiar with stating how “good” or “bad” a teacher is in the classroom, but there is a tendency to be interested in knowing seemingly minor facts such the teacher’s age, a significant other, what he or she was like as a student, or better yet, anything we find if we were to ever encounter a teacher’s social media profiles.

Simultaneously being both a college student and a student-teacher has revealed to me the connections between being a celebrity and a teacher. As I take notes, I sometimes randomly wonder what my professors must do once the class is over. As I teach, I sometimes face a barrage of similarly personal questions from my own students.

We need to be aware of this power.

My second grade teacher told us that she was cousins with my gym teacher.

My Algebra 2 teacher told us that she auditioned for “The Amazing Race.”

My fifth grade teacher told us that she had a crush on Legolas from “Lord of the Rings.”

My chemistry teacher told us about the pranks he played on his friends at college.

Many teachers told us about their kids or the sports teams they liked.

The content learned in these classes has (mostly) stuck with me today, and yet oddly enough, so have these personal facts about these teachers.

One of my high school teachers told me about her struggle with depression when she was younger.

One of my math teachers has a same-sex partner.

Another teacher told me about her frustrations with school administration.

In some communities, personal facts such as these can be used to even further connect with certain students. In other locations, knowledge of these facts can lead to backlash. Especially, with the advance of social media in the last decade alone, both our professional and personal lives are under the microscope more than ever before.

Our responsibilities as teachers are great, but our status is even greater. I want my kids to know that I care about them as lifelong learners and human beings, but I also want them to know how I too am a dork who loves dancing and traveling and has overcome challenges of his own. Many celebrities work hard to separate the professional from the personal, but for us, our professional requires the personal. In our aims to mentor, care, educate, connect, influence, and empower others, teachers must demonstrate that we too are human. This the fine line we must walk on, a line we are entrusted to stay on, a line we need to know exists.

Jan-Lois Burroughs is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Mathematics Education

Advice and Encouragement from Fifth Grade Students

By Mary Kate McCarthy, SED 2018

Recently, my first field placement with the Introduction to Education course (ED100) came to an end. Even though I am an aspiring high school English teacher, I could not have enjoyed anything more than spending 10 weeks in fifth grade. Whenever I talk about my experience in Room One at Bowman Elementary School, I cannot help but get excited at the thought of one day having a class of my own.

Inevitably, when I talk about becoming a teacher in my own right, people have advice to give to me. Everyone has had that one teacher that ruined a subject for them. Others will tell you to absorb the qualities of a particularly supportive and encouraging mentor they had in their school days. Others, still, with ties to the field of education, attempt to impart wisdom they have garnered throughout their years of valuable experience. I have listened to all of this advice and tried to remember as much as possible. However, nothing can compare to the amazing words of wisdom and encouragement in the letters that my fifth grade students wrote in a scrapbook that they gave me on my last day with them.

“When you are around it makes me feel happy. I hope you make your future students (happy) too.”

For many students, the idea of “happiness” does not necessarily coincide with “school.” This comment is a reminder of the importance of maintaining a positive classroom atmosphere. Only when students find themselves actively engaged with material and in a safe space can they truly be receptive to learning. Also, this piece of advice emphasizes the importance of creating and maintaining relationships with students so that they believe you are a resource for them and someone with whom they feel comfortable, and dare I say, happy.

“If you keep doing everything that you are doing now, every school in the world will want you and you’ll become famous. You are awesome!”

The outlandish nature of this comment perfectly matched the personality of the student who wrote it. Thinking back on him now never fails to bring a smile to my face. While this may be just a slight (read: huge) exaggeration, it nevertheless imparts an important piece of wisdom. As a teacher, giving up should never be an option. We may have to try many different lesson plans and methods of classroom management. However, as long as we can avoid the tendency to burn out, and continue to expend the energy to engage students, we have to believe that our students will benefit from and recognize our effort.

“If you are a high school teacher, 5th grade teacher, or any kind of teacher, maybe not even a teacher, I think that you’ll be successful!”

More than solid advice, this student’s comment has the ability to provide a much needed dose of self-confidence. I realized after teaching my first small group lesson that I relied on student success as a measure of my own capability as an educator. No matter what grade level I decide to teach, this concept of “success” will not change.

“I know that some people want you to be some other kind of teacher but don’t listen to what other people want you to do, do what you want to do. Follow what your dreams are and don’t let anything get in your way.”

This student was perhaps the most spirited in the class. She was strong-willed and stubborn, refusing to back down on difficult math problems or stay silent during discussions. Her advice is a reminder that as a teacher you have a tremendous amount of agency in the classroom. The effects of your teaching, behavior, and attitude will impact students every day they are in your class and even after they leave.

ED100 makes you appreciate this fact and prepares you to deal with the repercussions of such a discovery. In order to be a great and influential teacher, you must develop a philosophy of education that outlines the things that you believe are the most important aspects of your classroom and your ultimate goals as an educator. This philosophy is an extremely personal statement and significant to your development in the profession. I find that this student’s advice is integral when forming my own philosophy of education. It is a work in progress and something I must discover for myself over time.

Mary Kate McCarthy is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in English Education

Redefining Learning Enviornments

By Adrienne Cytto, SED 2015

As if student teaching in Sydney, Australia was not enough of a new experience, I immersed myself into the new depths of an open space learning environment at Claremont College Primary School. Although challenging, working in the modern and flexible learning space was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had through SED. When you walk into the space of the year four room, you see that the limits to the ways in which student learning can take place is much greater than that of a general education classroom, especially when you are trying to accommodate for a year group of 53 students.

This open learning space coupled with a co-teaching model was anything but what we think of as traditional U.S. classrooms. Yet the particular set up of the space provided an exciting learning environment, one that was constantly changing and redefying the limits of the classroom. As a student teacher in this setting, it pushed me beyond my comfort level – physically and intellectually as I honed my teaching skills to adapt to the new setting. Below I outline a few of the benefits and challenges I saw to the open learning space and how I implemented instruction to make it an effective environment.


  • One of the great things about open learning spaces is that each nook and cranny can be utilized as storage for teachers and students as well as for displaying student work. Additionally, a majority of the walls and posts in the space were whiteboards, allowing students to practice solving math problems, brainstorm new ideas, and record something new they learned each week.
  • The year four space, which was shaped like an “L,” included a mini-kitchen with a large conference-like table and chairs, curved and straight tables that could be configured in many ways, and a large meeting/carpet area. This arrangement made it easy for students to be active and constantly move around the classroom and transition from whole group instruction to finding a place to work individually or in small groups.


  • As someone with a naturally soft-spoken voice, you can imagine how getting the attention of 53 students in a huge space can be quite difficult. Luckily, in addition to practicing projecting my voice (which did get louder by the end of my placement), I made use of management tools my teacher already had in place. These included ringing a bell, clapping and more to get the attention of all students as they were spread out, which was extremely helpful. While the classroom space was innovative in itself, I also had the opportunity to implement a trial microphone/speaker system that every high-energy classroom needs! As I carried a microphone box around my neck, different speakers were placed around the room. Instead of me having to leave the students I was working with in one area to go monitor off-task students in another area, I could simply use the microphone to give those students a friendly reminder of what they should be doing through a speaker. Not to mention, the system helped me amplify the sound of small, little me to reach 53 students. No system was perfect, but having multiple tools and classroom management routines in place was essential to captivating everyone’s attention at a given time.

I often find that the more choices I am given, the harder it is for me to make a decision. Free range in any given situation is not necessarily an easy task to acquire and I think this is something to remember when entering any learning space. In order to make a classroom successful, there must be a purpose for everything you do. Tables or other work areas should be arranged and rearranged as needed to give all students the best chance to be engaged learners. Also making students partners in the learning environment is crucial so that they take ownership of their belongings and individual space within the class, as well as the shared space and resources that they are fortunate to receive. Keeping these notions in mind, I think open space learning environments can be successful in the future of our classrooms and even more traditional learning environments can borrow modern and flexible tools to incorporate into the classroom as well.

Adrienne Cytto is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education

Lessons Beyond Subject Matter: Morality in the Classroom

By James Teixeira, SED 2018

I have always been a strong advocate for incorporating moral lessons into a curriculum. ED100, SED’s Introduction to Education course, inspired me to further reflect on the importance of teaching these lessons in the classroom, including instructing students on values that will help them to be contributing members of their communities. Often times, discussions in ED100 about the rigidity of curriculums in certain districts made me question if this was the right job for me. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, hoping that someday I could touch the lives of children like some of my teachers have done for me over the years.

My teachers have always been a special part of my life, and I feel like they have the ability to boost a child’s self esteem in a way that no one else can. Because of this, I find it extremely important for teachers to build relationships with students, and in doing so, guiding them down the right path academically and morally. As ED100 came to a close, I realized that the course had reaffirmed my beliefs about the importance of education and the need for a child to have strong adult role models in their lives.

While there is no singular formula for successful teaching, there are shared qualities that effective teachers possess to help students rise to the challenge of academic achievement. Many of these are academically based tools that are fundamental to motivate students to rise to the challenge of achieving academic success. For example, educators stress the importance of having qualified teachers who establish a rewarding curriculum and set sufficient expectations for students. I believe that one extremely important component, however, is realizing the positive impact that teachers can have on a child’s life. While it may seem to be a difficult and daunting task to establish a positive impact, many teachers manage to do so.

Of course parents want the best for their children and hope that they will thrive academically, but I believe it is essential that they do so in a caring environment. It is important for students to learn to solve math problems and to become advanced writers, but only in a context that honors values such as love, care, compassion, and acceptance. Parents will often worry about teachers influencing their child’s beliefs on particular issues that pervade the media. Worried that “teaching values” might mean pushing their child to believe certain things, parents will sometimes reject the importance of it in the classroom. However, teaching values is meant to be instruction on the core components of character education. From the beginning, schools have been environments that foster the American community. I believe this moral training is essential to promote good citizenship and to create members of society who are honest and driven leaders.

James Teixeira is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in History Education