Laura Smith ’23 harnessed the impact and convenience of SUNY Potsdam’s fully online Master of Science degree in Childhood Education, completing her coursework from Canada with the goal of building classroom communities that function in positive, inclusive, and energizing ways. An institute with a reputation for shaping the educators of tomorrow since its inception, SUNY Potsdam offers hybrid and fully online graduate degrees in teacher education with the recognition that today’s students need more flexible options for reaching their career goals. Coursework shapes the classroom leaders of tomorrow by equipping them with skills in technology, lesson design, behavior management and other tools for navigating and also driving the evolving educational landscape.
A busy mother, Smith paused her very full schedule to sit down with her alma mater and reflect on her journey and the path ahead.
Q: What made you choose Potsdam?
A: In all honesty, I chose Potsdam because I could complete the coursework online and have my placements be in Ottawa. I am a mom to three beautiful children, and leaving each week was not an option. This worked out best for my family, and I have never once regretted the decision to choose Potsdam.
Q: SUNY Potsdam emphasizes learning by doing. Can you tell us about your student teaching experience?
A: I was in first and second-grade classes for eight weeks, and it was a blast. I have a huge heart for primary-aged students, and I loved getting to know the students. I started the first day of school and was able to help the class settle into a routine. And I was a part of helping the first-grade students adjust to the transition from kindergarten to first grade.
My second placement was with two fifth-grade classes. I taught math and language to a morning class and an afternoon class. This was a large adjustment for me, and in all honesty, I did not think that I was going to enjoy it, but I turned out to be wrong. I had a great time teaching and getting to know the students. Grade five asked to play this estimation game daily and when they guessed the correct answer, the class erupted with cheers and laughter. I learned that junior students are not that different from primary students. They all want to have routines and boundaries that will help them develop the skills they need both inside and outside of the classroom.
Q: Can you tell us about your experiences working toward your MST at Potsdam?
A: I loved almost all my courses, but my favorite ones would have to be Behavior Management, and the Philosophy of Education with Vicki Hayes. I am still thinking about what I learned in the Philosophy of Education and how I can use the knowledge acquired there and apply it to my teaching. I can say without a doubt that the number one course a teacher candidate should take is Behavior Management—you find your day is filled with managing the behavior of your students.
Q: As you look into the tool bag you filled during your time at Potsdam, what will you take forward into your career as an educator?
A: I learned that we each have a different philosophy when it comes to teaching, and we can all learn from each other. One of my biggest takeaways was this idea that I want to motivate my students to become engaged in their learning and take ownership of their education. I also firmly believe that, as an educator, I have the job to create a community where my students feel like they have a second home. I want to truly know my students—because it is only through knowing them that I can help guide them to the path that is right for them.
Q: What are your near-term goals and long-term aspirations?
A: My near-term goals are to substitute as much as possible and find a long-term occasional position that will fit with my family life. I aspire to one day have my own classroom, where I can build a community each school year with the students I have been entrusted to teach.
Q: More generally, what impact do you hope to have as an educator?
A: I want my students to know that being part of a community is important and playing an active role in knowing our classroom community will make us all better people. Learning to accept yourself and your community will allow you to grow and find out what it is that you are meant to do in this life.
I agree with education innovators John Dewey and William Purkey—that we must give students the opportunity to be in the driver's seat of their own education, because it will allow them to move beyond the walls of my classroom. When my time is done with my students, I want to send them off having learned a little bit more about themselves and the people they spent the last nine months with, because a school year can change your life.
By Bret Yager, Photos by Vanessa Morris Photography