Al Cotter ’17 grew up around kids. Her mom owned a daycare, so she was inspired from a young age to become a teacher someday.
She was inspired again by her fifth-grade teacher and her high school Spanish teacher, both of whom made learning authentic and enjoyable.
“Seeing how much fun they had with their jobs and just learning everything from them made it look like something I wanted to do,” said Al.
Now, Al is a fifth-grade teacher, herself, at Williams Elementary School.
“I’ve used some of what my fifth-grade teacher did in my own classroom – like my own Writer’s Notebook and other units,” she said. “My teacher made learning authentic for students, and it’s what I really want to do for my own students.”
Al grew up in Connecticut until she was 10 and then graduated from Moultonborough Academy in New Hampshire, before coming to Thomas College to study education.
Thomas College taught her how to make her own teaching authentic. Instead of giving her students a test at the end of a unit, she gives them projects.
“I took a class at Thomas called Educational Psychology; we were given certain learning targets, and we had to choose how we should show our professors – through the projects – what we knew. They didn’t tell us what we had to do,” she said. “And that’s the project I just gave my students for what they’ve learned about the composition of Earth. Some of them are creating models of volcanoes on mountains; some are creating slideshows; some are writing essays; and, some are creating posters. Instead of asking for definitions, they are going to show what they know in a way that they really understand.”
In the first semester of her senior year at Thomas, Al worked in a second-grade classroom at Atwood Primary School once a week, as part of her Advanced Field experience. The teacher liked her so much, she asked Al to student teach with her the next semester.
“I had become familiar with all of the students and where they were with their learning, so it was really easy for me to jump right into the teaching,” she said.
Then, right before April vacation, the Principal asked Al to be a long-term substitute for a kindergarten class because the teacher was going on maternity leave. Al jumped at the opportunity and spent the rest of the year teaching those kids.
Then, after graduating from Thomas College, Al interviewed for different jobs and landed a fifth-grade position at Williams Elementary.
“Fifth grade is really different because I was working with much younger students before, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love my students. I love where I’m working.”
Al said working with fifth graders has been great, because they understand and appreciate all that you do for them.
“Even though sometimes they burst your bubble and get under your skin, they do mean well. At the end of the day, I am the one who is with them every day and gets them through their learning. And, they do appreciate it. I know that even on these long weeks right before vacation, most of my students will come over and give me a hug. That just gets to me and makes me want to come back every day.”
Al said high school students interested in education should consider Thomas College because of the opportunities outside of the classroom, including working out in the field.
She said Thomas also sent her and a few other students to the National Conference of English Teachers in Georgia. It was a great opportunity where she networked and even received nearly 50 free books that she has in her classroom library today.
“Because of the class size at Thomas, professors get to know who you are, what your goals are, and support you as you’re working towards those goals.”