She made the right choice, because after taking a few education courses, she decided she wanted to become a teacher. As she prepares to graduate from URI on May 18, Sullivan is being recognized with the President’s Excellence Award as the top secondary education major on campus.
Sullivan is finishing up 16 weeks of student teaching at the middle school and high school level in Bristol, and she said that was the most exciting element of her entire URI education.
“In class you study a lot of theory and psychology, but when you finally get to teach in a real classroom, that’s where it finally becomes practical,” she said. “You get to implement what you learned, and it’s a nice opportunity to learn by trial and error before you get a real job.”
After eight weeks at Mt. Hope High School and eight weeks at Kickemuit Middle School, Sullivan said that her time at the two schools was a great experience that prepared her for the realities of teaching full-time next year. Despite being just three years older than some of her high school students and shorter than almost all of them, she didn’t have any difficulties gaining their respect.
“As long as you’re consistent from the beginning and have a presence in the room, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine,” she said. “I don’t speak over their voices, I’m always prepared, and I always have something new to do with them. It’s worked out great.”
At Mt. Hope, she took over teaching all of the English literature lessons of her cooperating teacher, Valerie Pasqual, including teaching units on war literature and literature addressing heroic and spiritual journeys, like Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and Dawn by Elie Wiesel.
“The biggest challenge for me was that I was teaching their curriculum, which I wasn’t familiar with before, so I first had to learn the curriculum myself before I could teach it,” Sullivan said.
The URI student’s primary focus after graduation will be finding a teaching job in the area.
“Most hiring of teachers doesn’t happen until the summer, so while most of my friends already have jobs lined up, I’m in limbo,” she said. “I’ve heard rumors about some job openings, but I’m not sure if teachers with more seniority will take those spots. I’m trying to be proactive, and I’m confident I’ll find something.”
Having been a student teacher at both the middle school and high school level, Sullivan claims to not have a preference for teaching a particular grade.
“I came into student teaching thinking I was only going to deal with high school students, but after having eight weeks at the high school and eight weeks at the middle school, I feel like I would be happy anywhere,” she said. “I think I underestimated the middle school kids. They’re a lot more fun than I expected, and they still have an eagerness to learn. There are challenges at both levels, but I would be happy either way.”
So where does she see herself in ten years?
“I like the idea that my future is opening up before me,” she said. “So far I have been focused on getting a job in New England, but I’m open to other areas should the right opportunity arise. In ten years I would definitely like to have finished my masters degree, maybe in literacy, which might be more useful in the future. For now, I’m enjoying not having a set path. It’s a little scary, too, but it’s nice to have open options.”