Student-Athlete Spotlight :The Learning Curve - Saint Michael’s College Student-Athletes Bring Leadership to Next Generation of Teachers
For Immediate Release
April 28, 2011
Written by Tony Bonvechio, Saint Michael's Sports Information Intern
Colchester, Vt. – It's game day, and Saint Michael's College women's basketball senior captain Marilyn Ferreira carefully goes through her morning checklist. Sneakers? Check. Uniform? Check. Fifth grade geography textbook? Check.
Ferreira, like six other Saint Michael's student-athletes, is an education major who embraces the challenge of playing a varsity sport while student-teaching in an elementary or secondary school classroom. All senior education students must spend a semester working in a classroom, and those who play a sport take on a unique trial of brawn and brains.
Ferreira taught fifth graders at Founders Memorial School in Essex Jct., Vt., five days a week during the fall semester, all while leading the Purple Knights hoops squad to their first postseason victory in 19 years, and ranking second in the Northeast-10 Conference in assists per game. While Ferreira routinely navigated opposing defenses and dished out crisp passes with ease, teaching 10-year-olds was a different story.
"With basketball I felt like I had such control over everything, and when you get in the classroom it's totally different," Ferreira said. "You don't know what you're going to get each day. You have to be ready for anything."
After three years of courses and lectures, student-teachers spend a full semester in a local classroom under the guidance of a cooperating teacher, who supervises the teachers-in-training. Student-teachers design their own lesson plans and work directly with full classrooms of students, and eventually take the reigns for what is affectionately called "solo week," when the student-teachers take complete control of the day-to-day operations of the classroom.
Many student-teachers agree that completing solo week is exhausting, but the countless hours of work and preparation are outshone by the chance to see their pupils flourish.
"The most rewarding part is being able to spend every day with them, teaching them and seeing them grow," said Maggie Mulhern, senior captain of the women's swim team. "I just finished my solo week and that was probably the best part because I developed everything I was going to teach that week. So to teach them and see them get it, that was like them giving me my evaluation. Seeing them actually warm up to me and seeing them whisper, 'Oh, she's like a real teacher. She's making it, she's really close.'"
Most athletes elect to student-teach during their "offseason," or the semester opposite of their conference schedule. But as anyone familiar with college athletics knows, being an athlete is a fulltime responsibility, where preseason preparation is equally as demanding and important as the competitive season. Balancing everything typically means getting up before dawn, working a full day in the classroom and then heading right to practice or a game before spending most of the night preparing the next day's lesson.
Kelly Rose Losi, a senior captain of the women's ice hockey and softball teams, is the lone
"I have no idea how I made it through that semester," said Losi, who skated on the hockey team's first line and is the softball team's starting catcher. "I would go to school, then straight to the library, then to practices for both sports, then back to the library until it closed."
Student-teaching helped Losi kick her time management skills into high gear, and she learned to use her classmates and teammates for support.
"I don't think I would have made it without my teammates and student teaching family," Losi said. "I had to get all my school presentations done early and communicate with professors as well as coaches and other players on my team. It was a lot to juggle."
Marran Ranks, senior captain of the women's tennis team, student-taught during the fall, which intersected with the first half of the competitive tennis season. With the Purple Knights seeking their fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Tournament appearance, Ranks had a lot on her plate.
"It was tough," Ranks said. "Coming home from school I was exhausted, but having that final goal of the NE-10 championship in the back of my mind gave me extra motivation at practice and at the gym to work hard. It was also an outlet to get away from all of the work that I had to do and a chance to be with my team."
Ranks leaned on her head coach, Greg Cluff, for support and tapped his nearly four decades of teaching experience to help her through the process. Cluff, the 2011 NE-10 Women's Tennis Coach of the Year, taught social studies for 38 years at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, where Ranks taught math to freshmen and sophomores this past fall.
"Coach Cluff helped me out so much," Ranks said. "He would keep reminding me to take it one day at a time and enjoy every moment."
Cluff knows a thing or two about what it takes to make it as a teacher, and he has faith that Ranks will be a great fit.
"Marran has the quality that I think is the most important thing as a teacher, and that is that she's absolutely genuine," Cluff said. "What you see is what you get with Marran, and I found that in the 38 years that I taught, kids can spot a phony a mile away."
Cluff is the coordinator of athletic admissions at Saint Michael's and also oversees certain aspects of the student-teaching process. He has had the chance to see these students grow from raw freshmen into confident athletes and finally into enthusiastic educators.
The hours spent woodshedding their teaching skills as underclassmen gives them confidence when it comes time to student-teach, Cluff said. But what is learned between the sidelines gives these student-athletes an undeniable advantage in the realm of academia. For Liz Siracusa of the women's lacrosse team, the ability to adapt to any situation is key.
"I think the hardest part was when I got to practice, changing my whole mode from being with 10-year-olds for eight hours to then playing a competitive sport," said Siracusa. "I'd have to take a second to focus and change modes."
Siracusa and Elizabeth Siekman, fellow teammate and student-teacher, learned that to be successful, they needed to control what they could control. Just like lacrosse, the classroom is a game of constant change. The behavior and actions of teammates, much like pupils, are out of your control, but you have to do what you can to help everyone work together, Siracusa said.
Olivia Hoeppner, senior captain of the field hockey team, uses her calm demeanor to ease the often hectic elementary school atmosphere. Keeping a level head while staying soft spoken is essential for connecting with young players and students alike, said Hoeppner's head coach Carla Hesler.
"Olivia's very calm and is always a very engaging player with her teammates off the field," Hesler said. "She has that kind of calm composure with people in general that I think with young kids is very important, combining that with a lot of energy for what she's doing."
The profound demands of student-teaching are not for everyone, however, as men's basketball senior captain Sebastian Brandstetter found out. Brandstetter, now a sociology/anthropology major, realized that student-teaching while playing basketball wasn't a realistic option for him. Now, Brandstetter is interning at the Boys and Girls Club in Burlington, and has a fresh outlook on what he wants to do with his career.
"After I decided I didn't want to [student teach], my professors worked with me and were really supportive," Brandstetter said. "They helped me figure out the credits and still save my transcript, and now I'm just seeing different paths you can take with education and working with people."
The student-teaching curriculum, like anything, isn't perfect for everyone. Brandstetter felt that assembling a hefty portfolio on top of student-teaching and playing a sport was a bit much to ask of undergraduates.
"It's incredible how much work you're doing, and at the same time, you have your first in-classroom experience," said the 6-foot-9 Vermont native. "You're asked to do so much work on top of this new experience, and it's terrifying."
Brandstetter's situation represents a necessary step for a prospective educator, Cluff said.
"It's as important that a prospective teacher find out through the student-teaching experience that, 'No, maybe I'm not really cut out for this,'" Cluff said. "It's just as important as those who find out that they love teaching."
Regardless of the setting, it is clear that the rare combination of being a student-athlete and an educator will help these Purple Knights become successful leaders in the future.
"Sports definitely help in the realm of education and leading a classroom," said Shannon Kynoch, assistant women's basketball coach and a former educator at South Burlington High School. "It's all the usual things: the time management, the organization, leading a group, getting everyone on the same page and I think [Ferreira] has all those qualities."
After all the lessons are taught, the portfolios turned in and sleep cycles return to normal, these half dozen veterans of the classroom reflect back with the truest sense of fulfillment. Ferreira recalls a particular moment when a young boy and his set of imaginary binoculars gave her an epiphany.
"There was one moment that just stands out to me because I realized that I was thoroughly enjoying myself," Ferreira said. "I was doing read aloud, it was the mystery unit during my solo week, and we were talking about detectives and magnifying glasses. This boy was just sitting there going like this [making binoculars with his hands] all over the place. And I sit there and stop reading and wait for him to realize that he's doing it for a good two minutes, which is a long time in the classroom.
And then he finally looks up at me with little binoculars around his eyes and I just burst out laughing, and it was the most honest laugh. I felt like I hadn't really laughed as heartfelt as that with the kids before. I knew that I was really enjoying it and that it was something that I wanted to do forever."