Voice cover story: Guiding light to future
Voice: July 2016
Speak with any member of Student PSEA, and you wouldn't know there is a crisis in attracting people to the teaching profession.
There has been a 59 percent decline in total teaching certificates issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in the last three years, a trend that mirrors what is happening in most states across the country.
Yet members of Student PSEA say they are eager to serve in the classroom and their Association. They are passionate about making a difference for their students and their communities.
"I couldn't be more proud of the work our student members are doing," said PSEA President Jerry Oleksiak. "They are the future of our profession, and I'm confident they will do great things."
Confident in their career paths
One may ask, "Why?'' Why would anyone want to enter the field of education at this time in history?
Research shows that most people have a positive view of their local public schools, but their opinions about the teaching profession are more negative.
Still, for the members of Student PSEA, the answers to "why?" are plentiful. For many, teaching is the career they have dreamed about since childhood.
"Ever since I was little, when my friends and I would play school, I would be the teacher," said Emily Murray, a student at West Chester University and Student PSEA Southeastern Region president. "My favorite toy was a fold-up school set. Throughout my years in school, I've always had teachers who pushed me to be the best I can be. They gave me a love of learning, which I want to instill in other kids."
And despite the challenges in public education today, Student PSEA members are confident in the path they have chosen.
"There is nothing else that I would rather do," said Student PSEA President Shelby Pepmeyer, a student at Clarion University. "The good days outweigh the bad days, and there is nowhere that I would rather spend my day than in a classroom full of children."
A calling found
Other Student PSEA members have had an "ah-ha" moment, coming upon the teaching profession only after first trying a different course of study at their college or university.
Emily Waggoner, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Student PSEA Central-Western Region president, had always wanted to be in marketing and pursue a business major. In high school, her gifted education teacher took a special interest in her future success in the field.
"She told me, 'you're going to walk tall someday,'" Waggoner said.
Waggoner also came to a realization the summer before attending college.
"I wanted to do for someone what she had done for me," she said. "I'm going to be her someday."
Danielle Sral, a student at Penn State University at Altoona and Student PSEA Central Region vice president, attended college intent on becoming a broadcast journalist, but realized that wasn't for her. She fell in love with education, and the rest is history.
"I love being in the classroom and seeing a student accomplish something," Sral said. "I love inspiring students the way I was inspired growing up. I want to be that role model to someone else."
Influenced by experience
Many Student PSEA members have been influenced by both positive and negative interactions with educators in their school careers.
Those with positive experiences look to emulate the teachers they've had. And those with negative experiences? Well, they've given these students a reason to be better.
"I can always think of my third-grade teacher," said Student PSEA President-elect Marie Hutchings, a student at Kutztown University. "I was struggling with a history assignment, and she told me that she used to struggle in the same subject. I was astounded that she wasn't good at something. She said some of the best teachers are some of the ones who struggled themselves."
These interactions serve as a driving force for the next generation of educators.
"I think it's important that every kid can learn what they have to offer the world. Sometimes you need a teacher to bring that out of you - I know I did," Hutchings said. "I want to be able to have that influence on someone else so that this world can be a better place to live in the future."
A passion for education
For Mallory Piercy, a passion for education is essential. She's a secondary education and English major at Clarion University and PACE chair on the 2016-17 Student PSEA Executive Committee.
"I'm much more passionate about education than I am about English. And I think that is necessary with any teacher," Piercy said. "There are so many other jobs you could take in your field. You need to be passionate about passing that information on, and watching students grow and learn from that information."
Nicholas Feidt, a student at Lock Haven University and Student PSEA Central Region president, found his passion for teaching through his involvement with the National FFA Organization. The public speaking and leadership development opportunities provided to him through his experiences with FFA are ones he hopes to pass on to his students someday.
"It's one thing to instill a knowledge base and provide career success opportunities for students, and it's another to truly develop passion and have students realize what they're learning extends beyond the classroom," he said. "That's my passion - developing passions in others."
Julianne Lowenstein, a student at Albright College and Student PSEA Eastern Region president, views teachers as creating the path for students to follow their dreams.
"Teaching is the profession that creates all other professions," Lowenstein said. "I think that's important to think about. Being a teacher, you can really make a difference."
A personal connection
Some students have deeply personal reasons for pursuing a career in education.
Hutchings has seen the effects of a broken special education system through her family's experiences.
"My brother has gone through special education and I've seen all the issues that he and my parents have had to deal with,'' she said. "I want to be something good in the world of special education. I want to change things for the better. I don't want every child to go through some of the things that my brother had to go through."
Through their student teaching experiences, some students have already seen the impact they can make in a classroom and with students. Many recognize the opportunity to help those less fortunate.
"I've been in low-income areas, and the preschool I work at is part of a Pre-K Counts program, so I've seen a lot of children who don't have a lot and that has made an impact on me," said Student PSEA Vice President Maria Wittman, a student at Slippery Rock University. "These kids are the ones who need you the most, and need school the most, and sometimes don't always get the opportunities at home. I've noticed that being there for them makes a difference."
Others know that in many places, schools serve as the foundation of the community and take on an even greater role in many children's lives.
"In a lot of communities, school is the safest place to be," said Eli Imbrogno, a student at University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and Student PSEA Western Region president. "That's the environment I want to create when I become an educator."
Making a difference
Many young people hope to make an impact in their future careers. But the members of Student PSEA know their chosen path will ensure they will be able to make a difference in the world.
"There are many reasons why I want to be a teacher," Hutchings said. "The biggest one is making a difference. I want to leave my mark on the world. And there is no better way to do that than by educating other children to become leaders and what they're meant to be."
Student PSEA members realize the rough patches of the path they have chosen, but it is one they gladly take on.
"I want to go into the teaching profession because today's children are tomorrow's future," said Emilee Stoner, a student at Shippensburg University and Student PSEA Southern Region president. "I want to be able to foster the lives of future generations by providing my students with support not only academically, but socially and emotionally.''
A guiding light
Student PSEA has four core principles that guide members every day: Help pre-service teachers develop as professional educators in the practice of teaching; serve the schools that kids go to and the communities they live in; help pre-professional educators be more socially and politically aware and active, and advocate for issues connected to public education; and help pre-service educators develop as members and leaders.
"Student PSEA uses these principles to prepare the next generation of educators. Members know this: While their universities are helping them become teachers, Student PSEA is helping them prepare as professional educators and leaders," Oleksiak said.
That is one of the reasons Oleksiak is so hopeful about the future of public education. Student PSEA members serve as a guiding light.
"There is nothing that inspires me more or gives me more hope than working with the young people who comprise Student PSEA," he said. "They have an energy, excitement, passion, hope, and unfiltered optimism and joy surrounding teaching and children. They are our future, and if it's up to them, it's going to be a very bright future."