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iTeachAZ pioneers follow their passion to teaching careers


May 05, 2011

One grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and is the first in her family to attend college. The other has pursued her bachelor’s degree while raising three children as a single mother. The ties that connect them are a passion for making a difference in the lives of young people and the courage to plunge into uncharted waters.

Vanessa Montes and Schyla Kase are both graduating from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College with degrees in elementary education. They both volunteered to take part in the pilot program for iTeachAZ, Teachers College’s redesigned teacher preparation curriculum that expands the student teaching experience from the traditional one-semester format to a full school year.

Montes and Kase also share a strong work ethic, both holding jobs since they were teenagers. That ethic served them well during their yearlong student teaching assignments in the Kyrene School District. Each has spent four days a week working under the guidance of mentor teachers in Kyrene school classrooms and another day taking their ASU pedagogy classes on-site in the district.

“My time-management choices are critical,” Kase said. “Every choice I make has an actual impact in the classroom.” Added Montes, “This program is not for the weak. I have experienced a lot of growth. I have learned so many things that will make me successful as a new teacher.”

“Weak” is not a word that comes to mind to describe either student when you hear about their desire to be challenged.
Montes said math is the subject with which she feels least comfortable, so her mentor teacher at Kyrene de la Paloma School, Mary Fletcher, asked her to teach it. She tackled the assignment without hesitation. Montes was also wise enough to seek advice and support from the school’s math specialist, Jodi Pfeiffer. “Watching her is like a work of art. I felt like I was being taught by Yoda,” Montes said with a laugh.

Randi Malin, Kase’s mentor teacher at Kyrene de la Mirada, described her as wanting “to tackle the things that scare her the most so she can speak from practical experience.” Malin pointed out that Kase actually was a week ahead of her in starting the school year, as Kase reported with the other new teachers. “By being here from the beginning, I’ve learned everything from how to set up a room to how to hold curriculum night,” said Kase.

The success Montes, Kase and their fellow iTeachAZ pioneers have enjoyed paves the way for the expansion of the program next year. From its current pilot status in three partner school districts, iTeachAZ will be implemented in collaboration with more than a dozen districts during the 2011/12 school year.

The two justifiably take pride in the legacy they have helped create in Teachers College, and of their personal achievements. “The thing I’m most proud of is being able to raise three young boys while finishing my degree to become a teacher,” Kase said. “I am proud of being a first-generation graduate and being part of a program that will help me to be the best teacher I can be,” said Montes.

Contributed by Matt Crum