By Angela Saoud ’05
In the spirit of staying connected to other education alumnae, an informal group of Saint Mary’s graduates have been meeting now for over a year. Though we teach in different schools and towns, we continue to support one another today, thanks to our common experiences, courses, and professors at Saint Mary’s.
Coffee talk: Angela Saoud ’05, Professor Kitty Green, Nicole Garcia ’04, Jenna Kartje Gensic ’05, Ragen Graf ’04 meet at Dalloway’s Clubhouse.
Since graduation, Caelea Armstrong ’04 , Nicole Garcia ’04, Jenna Kartje Gensic ’05, Corrie Golando’05, Ragen Graf ’04, Taryn Posthuma Schneider ’05, Leslie Vargas ’06, and myself have met with Saint Mary’s education professor Kitty Green PhD, to celebrate our passion for teaching.
As recent graduates and first-year teachers, we had completed our coursework at Saint Mary’s, our observations, and student teaching at area high schools and middle schools. We had become certified in a wide variety of content areas, from science to English, under the direction of professors who had become our mentors. The invaluable classroom experience we received while at Saint Mary’s confirmed that we were prepared intellectually and emotionally. Thanks to faculty like Professor Green, we knew what to expect, and our desire to continue supporting each other kept us close as we approached the task of implementing what we had learned at Saint Mary’s.
“In college, we had our time in class to share stories, ask for advice, collaborate on lessons, and prepare for the unknown,” says Gensic. “It’s refreshing being in the presence of people who share your job, and an expert who has encountered many of our experiences before.”
Though busy with lesson plans, advising positions, and the hard work of mentoring our own students, our group meets once a month for coffee or dinner, cementing a decision not to face the first year of teaching alone.
Professor Green’s relationship with our group is characteristic of Saint Mary’s professors, as they continue supporting their students long past graduation. An inspiring educator herself, she boosts them up with her confidence in them, because she knows they will succeed. She says when she saw the search notice for the first full-time secondary education faculty member in 2000, she knew Saint Mary’s was looking for her.
“I had spent roughly 15 years in administration trying to get teachers to look at teaching and learning in a different way, a way that challenged students, but where students also had fun. I wanted to see if I could practice what I had been preaching,” Green says. “It has been phenomenal working with young people the caliber of my students, which is why I wanted to be at Saint Mary’s.”
“We draw on each other’s strengths and…Dr. Green…is the one we all look to for guidance and support. There’s a level of trust and understanding within our group that I don’t find with other teachers.”
— Nicole Garcia ’04
Professor Green began teaching in 1967, as the only English teacher at Wellington-Napoleon High School in Missouri. After a year, she transferred to Crystal Lake Central High School in Crystal Lake, Ill. She stayed there in teaching and administration until 2000, when she joined the faculty at Saint Mary’s. Her work has led her to present research locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, her favorite being a paper on service learning that she presented in Ireland. She believes being able to talk to others about teaching and education, whether on a different continent or with our group of graduates, is one thing she loves most about her career.
“I’ve called the Secondary Education Program ‘small, but mighty’ because its grads are in schools all over the country making high school a better place for all kinds of students, and that was my mission as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and professor,” Green says. “When we all get together, I get to hear first hand that all I had hoped for is alive in all of [my students]. It just doesn’t get any better than this!”
While it may seem trivial that the group gets together to share a cup of coffee or piece of cheesecake, it’s the conversation and the camaraderie shared that affirms we are doing good work. This is priceless encouragement for a young teacher. “[Meeting] offers an opportunity to meet with fellow teachers who I can learn from and enjoy spending time with,” says Garcia. “We draw on each other’s strengths and…Dr. Green…is the one we all look to for guidance and support. There’s a level of trust and understanding within our group that I don’t find with other teachers.”
For Gensic, the support of other alumnae encourages her passion for teaching and resolve to achieve, while keeping the values of her Saint Mary’s experience at heart. “My Saint Mary’s education has provided me with a great support system and a network for professional advancement,” she says. “To this day, I feel I can still approach my professors about obstacles that arise.”