When the news broke, Middle Level Education seniors Maeve Poleman and Camilla Thomassen-Tai found themselves in a state of euphoria.
Both students will receive a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) Award to a country that resonates with them on a personal level.
Maeve Poleman: Nepal
Upon hearing the news, Maeve began planning and pulling out her English instruction books and downloading Nepali language apps on her phone.
“Several of my sixth-grade students in Winooski are from Nepal. They’ve already given me several language lessons on Google Hangouts. They also gave me a list of Nepali foods that I must eat immediately upon arrival.”
Maeve is fascinated with how language creates space to struggle, be creative, and triumph together. At UVM, she chose to minor in Education and Cultural Diversity and pursue research in this area.
“I was very fortunate to participate in research with Dr. Cynthia Reyes and Dr. Shana Haines through project RAFT (Relationships Among Families and Teachers Tool). The study uses participant and community input to create a communication tool that fosters equitable collaboration between refugee families and their children’s teachers.”
She is finishing up her Honors College Thesis on the study, and describes her involvement in the project as an eye-opening experience.
“I visited families’ homes and listened to them speak openly and passionately about their concerns and hopes for their children’s education. It made me reflect on my own educational beliefs and how I will support my future students. Several of the families in the study were Nepali. Their stories were a part of what inspired me to apply to the Fulbright in Nepal.”
Camilla Thomassen-Tai: Taiwan
“It's an amazing opportunity, and it still feels a little unreal," says Camilla. "The fact that Maeve also was selected makes it perfect – I feel like we've kind of been side by side for the last three years with classes and our student teaching placements.”
Camilla’s mother is a first-generation American originally from Taiwan, and she has other family members there still, but only visited once, over ten years ago. “I feel like it's a part of my identity that I've never really had the opportunity to explore. I'd love to learn more intimately and first-hand about Taiwanese culture and traditions as I bring my experiences, qualifications, and perspectives to a new classroom and community abroad.”
She believes the experience abroad will help her become a better teacher and a more empathetic global citizen. “Changing the world for the better begins with teachers who strive to create lifelong learners with a passion and a sense of responsibility for their communities, both large and small,” she says.
The Middle Level Education Family
After transferring to UVM from another school, Camilla quickly found her home and a sense of community in the program. “It's been so incredible building lasting relationships with peers and professors. They are kind-hearted, caring, and passionate about education.”
“We bonded over the experience of student teaching and all of the unique victories and challenges that come with it,” says Poleman. “I am overjoyed that Camilla was awarded a Fulbright to Taiwan.”
Learning the Profession
Students in the Middle Level Education program gain extensive teaching experience through at least four field placements in local middle schools.
"Maeve and Camilla brought energy and professionalism to their roles as student teachers every day," says Winooski Middle and High School Co-Principal Kate Grodin. "They built quality relationships and learning experiences that fully engaged our diverse learning community."
Student teaching in Nancy Keller’s sixth-grade class in Winooski solidified Maeve's long-held notion that she should spend her days with middle schoolers.
“My students energized and inspired me. Nancy gave me so much support and endless chances to experiment and learn about what works with a classroom full of young adolescents. Some of her greatest wisdom went along the lines of, hey, as a teacher, you’re always adapting, changing, growing, and trying again tomorrow."
Maeve says she will never forget what Nancy said the first time they met. “I asked Nancy about her teaching philosophy. She paused for a minute and then said, ‘love and kindness.’ I’ve been very fortunate to have her as my mentor.”
After her Fulbright in Taiwan, Camilla wants to teach internationally for a few more years to continue broadening her perspective and developing her practice. Following that, she plans to return to the U.S. and immerse herself in a school community. “I view education as not just teaching content knowledge and skills, but also teaching and modeling compassion, critical thinking, and respect,” she says. “I love working with middle schoolers. They are hilarious, unpredictable, and so smart, and I'm a better teacher and person for it.”
Upon returning from Nepal, Maeve will stay on course toward her long-held dream. “I’ve wanted to be a teacher for a long time. My mother has always said it’s one of the most important, honorable jobs. Teachers have the opportunity to influence and inspire our future generations to be kind, conscientious citizens who care for each other and our planet. I want my students to have formative, eye-opening, real experiences. In my mind, this is how kids learn to care about the world and find their place in it.”