Grace Colbert ('18) believes that teaching can be a means of social justice. As an Elementary Education major and Special Education minor in her senior year at the University of Vermont, she is gaining a variety of meaningful hands-on experiences along the pathway toward her goals, with plenty of support from faculty, mentors and her peers.
Why did you choose teaching as a career path?
I chose this career path because I have always enjoyed working with children. I entered the program my freshman year uneasy as to whether or not this was the right career path for me. But after taking Schools and Society with Kieran Killeen and reading Savage Inequalities, I was drawn to the prospect of teaching where I was needed most. It was when I realized that teaching could be a means of social justice that I truly solidified my choice on this career path.
Why did you choose the University of Vermont?
I chose UVM because, coming from the flat Midwest (Evanston, Illinois), I was ready for a change of scenery. I was excited about all of the opportunities for outdoor exploration and adventures in Vermont and through UVM organizations. I chose the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) because the faculty I met not only seemed like highly-qualified, knowledgeable professors, but they also seemed to genuinely care about the students in a way I had not encountered in other schools I visited.
How would you describe the UVM community?
The culture of the UVM CESS community is very supportive. I think being in a teacher preparation program and realizing that we all have a lot to learn helps foster community instead of competition. I see my peers working to help each other understand material and share ideas for assignments. We support and encourage each other because we all want to be the best educators we can be, and that is something I really value in the CESS community.
Please tell us about your field experiences and internships.
My field experiences have been challenging, informative, and rewarding. I’ve had placements in Mallets Bay (3rd grade), JFK in Winooski (Kindergarten), Milton Elementary (5th grade). Currently, I’m student teaching at Edmunds Elementary in 2nd grade. The mentor teachers I’ve worked with have different teaching and classroom management styles, and that has been helpful for me to see what works well, and what I might like to use in my own practice.
I am currently working on my Honors College thesis research with Professor Juliet Halladay. We are studying the scaffolding strategies teachers use during guided reading instruction, as well as factors contributing to students’ motivation to read.
Are you involved with clubs, organizations, or service learning?
For two years I served as President of the Reformed University Fellowship campus ministry at UVM, and for two summers I worked with the Appalachia Service Project non-profit home repair organization. At the King Street Center, I've enjoyed volunteering to work with kids in their After School Excellence program. Last summer I worked as a camp educator at Shelburne Farms, coordinating outdoor learning activities for over 150 campers.
Have you received special recognition for your work?
During my time at UVM, I've received the Student of Color Award for Academic and Social Justice Distinction (2017), ALANA Outstanding Academic Achievement Awards (2016 and 2015). I'm also a member of UVM’s chapter of Mortar Board Honor Society.
What are the most significant, exciting, or rewarding aspects of your educational experience thus far?
My field placements have certainly been the most rewarding and exciting aspects of my educational experience. It is incredibly valuable to be able to spend so much time working with experienced mentor teachers in different grades across different locations. It is exciting to be able to take what I am learning in the classroom and apply it in the field the next day. It has been beneficial to my growth and development as a teacher to receive feedback and suggestions from various mentors and supervisors. Their input has only strengthened my practice as I’ve progressed through practicums.
Who has inspired you?
The faculty I have interacted with have influenced me the most by their overwhelming support. I am constantly humbled and amazed by their work ethic and dedication to their field. How so many of them can balance families, teaching students, supervising, grading, and advising, is something I will never understand, but for which I am very grateful. Numerous CESS faculty members have encouraged and supported me in personal and academic endeavors during my time at UVM. It is inspiring to see them demonstrate every day that good teaching not only requires content knowledge, but it requires a desire to know your students, advocate for them, and meet them where they are.
Do you have any favorite classes or professors at UVM?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my classes at UVM, and am grateful for all of the passionate, dedicated faculty in the education department. But if I had to highlight a couple, I would say my favorite classes have been Schools and Society with Kieran Killeen, and Planning, Adapting, and Delivering Literacy Instruction in Meaningful Contexts with Cindy Leonard. Kieran’s class helped shift my perspective on teaching in general, and opened my eyes to the crippling inequities that exist in the education system. Cindy’s class provided me with so many insightful tools and strategies for teaching literacy at the elementary age. My understanding of literacy broadened and I feel more prepared to teach a subject I love and value. I also appreciated how Cindy involved us in the learning process by integrating our perspectives both as teachers and as students. For example, when learning about how to motivate students to write and the benefits of keeping a writer’s notebook, Cindy gave us small writer’s notebooks and assigned us weekly prompts to write about, so we could experience what this might be like for our students.
What are your immediate and long-range career plans?
Immediately, I am looking forward to my student teaching solo weeks, completing my Vermont License Teaching Portfolio, and finishing my Honors College thesis work. Long term, I plan to work with younger elementary age students, preferably in a racially/ethnically diverse setting. This may happen in a traditional public school classroom, but I would also be interested in combining my love for teaching with my love for the outdoors. I would consider pursuing an alternative teaching route with an outdoor school or with the National Parks Service