Student & Alumni Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Alyssa Leonard

Alyssa Leonard

Class of 2021

Elementary Education: Minor in Special Education with a concentration in Science

Lyndon Institute

Wheelock, Vermont

Alyssa Leonard standing outside of Mallet Hall before the first day of her practicum experience at Dirigo Elementary School in Peru, ME.

UMF’s College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation Services (CEHR) was able to sit down with Alyssa to talk about her journey to UMF and her pathway to becoming an Elementary School Teacher.

UMF CEHR: Being from out of state, how did you find out about UMF and why did you choose to come here?

Alyssa: My 4th-grade teacher, who I really looked up to, was an UMF alum. When talking about college choices my teacher said how she liked UMF and how it was such a great school for pre-service teachers. I considered it and after talking to my guidance counselor they had nothing but good things to say about UMF for teachers.  After visiting, I realized that this university was amazing and it was everything I wanted. One of the things that stood out to me the most was how quickly the students in the teaching programs are able to get in the schools. Most teaching programs wait until the third year of college to get in the schools, where at UMF you are able to work with students in your second year, which is something I really liked.

UMF CEHR: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Alyssa: In elementary school, I had many supportive teachers who made me feel welcomed and safe. School was a place where I was able to be myself and I always felt happy! Hopefully, I can teach students who grow and like to come to school like I did. I want others to experience the positive side of school.


UMF CEHR: What is your best experience at UMF so far?

Alyssa: I have two experiences [at UMF] that I value: one in teaching and one outside of the teaching world. My best teaching experience is working for Wendy Kennedy in field services. Not only is she so sweet and kind but I am also able to experience the process and mechanics of teaching, as well as getting to see what is ahead that I have to look forward to. My best experience outside of teaching would be being involved with Bust a Move Beavers (BAM) and Dance Team. I am a kinesthetic learner and I love to express myself through motion. It has been such a blessing to find a home in the dance clubs here at UMF.

UMF CEHR: How do you think your minor in Special Education will shape your teaching experience?

Alyssa: My minor in Special Education will help me create a more inclusive classroom. I aspire to create lessons and units for all learning types. My minor will provide me with the tools I will need to succeed in becoming an inclusive educator.

UMF CEHR: What grade do you want to teach and why?

Alyssa: Right now, I want to teach 3rd grade, which is where my practicum placement is this semester. By the age of eight and nine, the kiddos have a lot of fundamentals under their belt and they are also eager to learn. You can do so much with them! I am not completely set on just teaching 3rd grade, I am willing to keep my options open.  I might want to explore middle school a bit, so I can teach middle school science. I think the reason why middle school science is appealing to me is the fact that I didn’t have an intensive science curriculum. This would be a chance for me to feel like I’m giving back to an area that I lacked growing up. I would also be willing to teach middle school because they are goofy and at a fun age, but also my students are able to explore more in-depth science content.


UMF CEHR: You said middle school science is something you are passionate about, did you have a teacher who provided a great learning experience in science or is it just a passion?


Alyssa: In middle school, I did not have a positive learning experience with science, but it is a subject that I have always been passionate about. In middle school, we bounced around in science quite frequently. I had a more positive learning experience with science in high school where I  learned more. My favorite areas of study in science are environmental science and biology, which are subjects that I would ideally hope to teach.


UMF CEHR: As a Community Assistant (CA) in the resident halls, how does this prepare you for a leadership role as an elementary school teacher?


Alyssa: Being a CA made me develop better leadership skills with colleagues. I get to make bulletin boards in the halls, which are a preview of what I will get to do in the classroom. One of the best things about being a CA is the bonds that I am able to make with my residents. Relationship building is very important to me, which I will be able to do as a classroom teacher, so this is a taste of what it will be like. Residents come to you a lot and as a CA I am able to provide them with advice, help, and other resources. It’s a really good feeling to be someone that your residents trust and can go to if they need someone who will listen and be there for them. Support from home is important for many students and I am glad to be someone who can listen and help them be as successful as possible.


UMF CEHR: As a student in our Elementary Education practicum, can you explain how this experience is helping you grow as a pre-service teacher?


Alyssa: I have made leaps and bounds in my journey to become a teacher. There are things that I could have never imagined that would have never become possible. This experience is so surreal and specific to what I want to do after college as a classroom teacher. Right now in my EDU 333 class, we are working on a 100 book challenge. We are choosing books in different genres: 2 social studies books, 2 science, 10 diversity, 2 math, 3 chapter read aloud k-3, 1 poetry, 1 alternative fairy tale, 1 concept book, 15 non fiction texts, and any others other until you reach 100. This project has allowed me to become more familiar with children’s literacy. In addition to that, we as a class have done work to recommend children’s books for our own library on campus to include in the collection. One of the books I really wanted to include was “How to Code a Sandcastle” by Josh Funk. I really like this book because it has a female represented in a STEM field. It also introduces children to coding! A topic which I think typically is under-represented in literature. In EDU 302, my technology class, we are also experimenting with using teacher blogs and other forms of technology. We are also asked to choose a tech tool (Quizlet, seesaw, snapchat, kahoot) and we must share and present about it. I choose an eSpark which is a tool I have seen my mentor teacher use in class. It’s a super cool tool that my school gets to use from a grant called moMEntum which is a K-3 literacy pilot.


When we met with Alyssa, she had just received her placement the day prior. At that point, she was not sure what to expect, but feeling excited and nervous. Alyssa is excited to explore what methods she may like in her placement and how that will apply to her classroom after UMF. She is eager to better herself as an educator from her mentor and learn from her every day. We followed up  with Alyssa and she absolutely loves her practicum placement. She is working closely with her mentor teacher and has been able to implement a few lessons in the classroom including a lesson on long “o” words. In her free time, Alyssa Leonard is involved in an education club on campus called UMF Aspiring Educators of Maine.


CHER: If you could ask alumni a question, what would it be?

Alyssa said that she would ask one thing they regret they did not do here at UMF during their time as a student that would benefit me [Alyssa] as a pre-service educator at UMF.


Here’s Alyssa’s pre-service education blog, so we urge you to go follow her on this amazing journey she’s on!


Alumni Spotlight: Katie King

Katie King

Elementary Education

Class of 2014

Augusta Schools: 5th Grade Teacher

UMF Elementary Education graduate Katie King in her classroom.

UMF’s College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation Services (CEHR) had the chance to connect with Katie King over email to discuss her experiences as a new teacher.


UMF CEHR: What was the best experience that you encountered in your UMF education program?

Katie:  The best experience I had at UMF in the education program was by far my professors. I loved the connections and relationships that were formed. Even after your class was over you could still go to any of your professors to get advice or just catch up. They truly cared about me as an individual and about me as an educator. This still rings true today as I still keep in contact with many of my professors. It’s nice to have someone who has been in your shoes as a teacher to go to and troubleshoot or gain ideas from. They don’t stop caring about you just because the class is over or you have graduated.

UMF CEHR: What tips can you give our current students who are going to be entering student teaching?

Katie: For students about to enter student teaching they need to embrace the experience. This will probably be the one and only time you can go in and observe multiple professionals in their classrooms without having to get a substitute. Go visit different grades and special education rooms. If ever you have the opportunity to do a book study or participate in something that your mentor is doing, do it too! That’s a great way to get your name out there and show you are a team player. Finally, have fun! Mistakes will happen, lessons will flop, a kid may throw up but these are all real experiences; learn from them and fully take in everything your placement has to offer.

UMF CEHR: The professors are awesome here! What did you find appealing about the school district that you are currently working in?

Katie:  Currently, I work for the Augusta School Department. I moved 40 minutes north of my hometown to teach here because I felt like the district’s goals aligned with my own. They want what is best for their students and that’s my end goal. Augusta also has a handful of teachers who graduated from UMF and those with whom I spoke with said they felt prepared to take on the day-to-day role of a teacher within the district because they offered so much support for first year teachers. They offer a mentor with whom you have weekly meetings, they held sessions for new teachers on how to complete the district assessments, they have a literacy and math mentor who came into my room to help me create and execute lessons for my students.

UMF CEHR: Can you explain a time where something did/did not go well, and how did that help you advance as a newer teacher?

Katie: I will never forget during my first year teaching, I had a student who was having such a hard time with a math concept, multiplying double digit numbers.  I remembered from my Math methods classes with Dr. Shannon Larsen a strategy we used and when I introduced it to this student the lightbulb moment happened. Due to the fact I had just taken a class two years prior and was fresh out of school, I was able to use what I learned about different ways to teach students. I then was able to share this strategy with my colleagues and I began to feel more confident with myself as an educator. Being a new teacher doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer. I found I had a lot to offer my colleagues, just as much as they had to offer me. UMF prepares us well to be educators, being new may mean you have less experience but it doesn’t mean you’re less valuable to a learning community, in fact you do have a lot to offer.

UMF CEHR: Can you talk about the grade you teach and why?

Katie: I chose to be a teacher because I was inspired by my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Blanchard. She was a first year teacher teaching a 4/5 combination classroom. Her passion and enthusiasm really inspired me to become an educator. When it was time to student teach, I was unsure of which grades I wanted to teach but was given the opportunity to work in a 1/2 combination classroom. I adored those kiddos, but I was able to see the difference between grade levels and realized I enjoyed the second graders because of their free thinking and independence. When hired for my job there was a 1st, 4th or 6th grade opening. While I was familiar with 1st and did my practicum with 6th I wanted to try 4th. I knew there would be the perfect blend of independence and need. I currently teach 5th grade in the same school I started teaching in 2014. I taught 4th for 4 years until a colleague of mine retired and I had such a great class that I chose to go up to 5th grade so I could keep half of my class. I absolutely love my job and the school in which I work. It’s a small school with only two classes per grade level and I love knowing every students’ name and being able to interact with them, even if they are not in my classroom. What I’ve learned about the upper grades is that while the content is harder they are still kids. They still love to have dance parties, love speaking into our classroom microphone and even enjoy the occasional coloring sheet (a multiplication color by number). The best part about teaching older elementary students is their humor. They are slowly becoming their own person and I get to encourage and guide them through that. I also love being a part of their self discovery while they are finding out the best parts of themselves.

UMF CEHR: What great tips! What did you learn from each grade level that you encountered? For our current students in practicum and student teaching, what advice do you have when exploring different ages?

Katie: I have experienced grades 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 and each one taught me different things. For example, in first and second grade I realized how important play and imagination were. While they are no longer in Kindergarten these students are still young and need time to explore. Students of this age are extremely busy, and these two years are critical in their development, I’m not lying when I say a lot happens academically for them. One of my favorite sayings to our K-2 teachers is that they taught my students how to read so it’s my turn to teach them to love to read. The upper grades of 4, 5 and 6 are definitely my comfort zone. Their independence level is there and while we are working on advanced academics we also are fostering a social/emotional piece that is different than in the lower grades. These years are critical for students and through social-emotional learning we are helping them realize who they truly are and how to interact with others in a kind way.

My advice for those going into the field is to be open to all grades. Go out of your comfort zone, you learn the most when you are uncomfortable because you are forced to explore more. When I decided I wanted to be a teacher I thought I only wanted the littles but my practicum placement was in 6th grade…at a middle school nonetheless! But I’ll tell you what, I loved every minute of it. While I didn’t get adorable hugs from five year old’s and I didn’t have any funny “kidisms” to share at seminar, what I did get was just as amazing. I got to appreciate the independence of these kiddos mixed with their wisdom, opinions and various interests. I loved the upper grades, I was hooked. But when it came to student teaching I wanted the different end of the spectrum. I wanted to make sure the upper grades were for me. So when I got my placement for a 1/2 combination class I was up for the challenge…or so I thought. After my meet and greet with the students I went home and cried, they were going to eat me alive. But after 16 weeks those kiddos proved to be a dream…I learned so much about how students grow academically and socially from that class. It’s due to the fact I was out of my comfort zone that pushed me so hard to be the best littles teacher I could. If you think you know what grade level you want to teach, do the opposite. Make sure you have as much experience in various levels as you can. Not only does the experience look good on a resume, but it also helps your confidence when you’re in your own classroom. I have 18 students in my fifth grade class but they are not all stereotypical fifth graders. Many act well below or beyond their years so having a wide range of experiences allowed me  to better serve them where they are at both behaviorally and academically.

UMF CEHR: What have you learned from your first few years of teaching and how did that help you as an educator?

Katie: Finally, I could write a book about all that I’ve learned through my first few years of teaching. Honestly, there are so many things that I learned that have helped me continuously along the way. But there are 3 very important things I have learned. The first is that we are human; we make mistakes, we care too much and that’s okay because at the end of the day as long as you tried your best and gave it your all, your students learned. The second is to find someone who’s like-minded as you within your building or district. This person will be your sounding board for you, they will push you to be a better educator and you can lean on each other in times of need. As a first year teacher I got myself on a couple of committees and started my grad program for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Did I overextend myself? At times, it felt like it but I had people who were in a similar boat and we pushed each other and helped each other every step of the way. The third thing I learned is that being confident in yourself as a professional is key. Some people may try to think they know more than you or have a better way of doing things but it’s your classroom. Having consistent expectations for students will help make your classroom almost run itself. If someone questions you about why you do something a certain way be honest and confident with your answer. You have gone to school to do this job, you are prepared and you can do this. Never doubt yourself, or worse…never let someone make you doubt yourself. You’ve got this!

Alumni Spotlight: Lindsay Gorman

Lindsay Gorman is a 2018 graduate from UMF’s Special Education program with a minor in International and Global Studies. We had the chance to connect with Lindsay over social media, where she shared her story and all of the great experiences she encountered as an undergraduate student. Gorman has traveled all over the world and is currently working in South America.

Lindsay Gorman
Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator
Special Education
UMF Class of 2018
North Berwick, ME

UMF College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation (CEHR): What was the best experience that you encountered in your UMF education program and how did that prepare you for your professional career?

Lindsay: Oh that’s a tough one! The best experience I had at UMF wasn’t a single experience, more so whenever I had classes with the Special Education faculty. They all put a lot of energy into their classes that made them so enjoyable. At one point I didn’t think I was cut out to be a teacher, and almost changed majors, and they all encouraged me to stay. Thankful I did, because I absolutely love the field of Special Education! I feel that my experience with them prepared me for my professional career because I witnessed first hand how important it is to build strong relationships with your students.

UMF CEHR: That is so important. I agree that the UMF faculty rocks! How has your UMF career shaped your post-UMF experiences!?

Lindsay: I had the opportunity to study abroad twice at UMF (once on a short term travel course to Tanzania and once for a semester in Ireland with the George Mitchell Peace Scholarship), and with my minor in International and Global Studies, I fell in love with studying other cultures. I decided to take a year off before becoming a teacher and I’m currently volunteering with an educational non-profit in Ecuador! My position is the “Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator,” and I work with other educators on how to improve their lesson planning and make it more inclusive for students with all learning abilities!

UMF CEHR: Wow, that’s amazing! Would you mind sharing how the educational experience varies in those different cultures?

Lindsay: Unfortunately I didn’t get to see schools in Ireland and Tanzania, but I know quite a bit about Ecuador! In my community, the schools are so overcrowded that students only go to school for half the day. For example, there’s a morning group and an afternoon group. The class sizes are huge. My host sister is 11 and has 55 students in her class. The teachers are extremely underpaid and overworked. It’s challenging for the students too because often teaching positions aren’t able to be filled, so they just continue on without a teacher in that subject. So if they don’t have a math teacher, the students just don’t learn math until the school can find one. The program that I work for helps fill those gaps for students, because even if they don’t have a teacher to teach the subject, they are still expect to pass their exams. Even though public education is free in Ecuador, there are still a lot of expenses with schooling, such as uniforms and textbooks. My program also offers scholarships to help with the cost of schooling to our students!

UMF CEHR: It’s surprising yet fascinating how education varies with different cultures. What did you do as a student to be able to land this position abroad? What advice do you have for students aspiring to work in the education profession abroad?

Lindsay: I think minoring in International and Global Studies definitely helped! Even for student who don’t want to live abroad, Maine is quickly becoming more of a multicultural state, so I recommend that minor to all education majors! Taking advantage of the study abroad opportunities definitely helped me as well, because I was able to talk about my previous international experience during my interview. My advice to students who aspire to work in the education profession abroad is to network! I found this position because of a leadership experience I did in high school. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you will have!

UMF CEHR: You mentioned a leadership experience you did in high school. Can you explain what the program was and how that helped you as an education student at UMF?

Lindsay: The program is called the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, also known a HOBY! Farmington actually hosts it every year! It’s an international program for high school sophomores who want to make a difference in their community. The co-founder of the non-profit I work for went to HOBY herself, which is how I got connected! That program not only taught me how to have confidence in myself as a young person, but now as an adult, it has taught me how important it is to encourage our youth to strive for social change regardless of their age.

UMF CEHR: It’s a totally awesome program! It’s great how you were able to build your resume from a young age! What importance does your community have and do you encourage our current students to engage in a similar rewarding experience?

Lindsay: So, our program welcomes all students in the community, and about half of them qualify for the scholarship. Along with the financial assistance, we also provide leadership training and community service opportunities for those students!

UMF CEHR: That is awesome that there is a program that provides that to students. It sounds like your travels play such a big role in your professional career. So far, have you encountered any hardships and how did you overcome those? What are your plans after your year abroad?

Lindsay: The language barrier has definitely been challenging! I studied Spanish for four years in high school but didn’t touch it in college. I’ve also been homesick a bit, so that has been hard as well. However, I’ve been learning more Spanish every day, so I know eventually the language won’t be a problem anymore! When I’m feeling homesick, I just remind myself that Maine will be there when my year in Ecuador is up and I’ll always be able to return there, but I wanted to take the opportunity to go abroad while I still had the chance (before I settled into my teaching career). I’m hoping to teach Special Education when I return to the states, and possibly start a Spanish club at my school!

UMF CEHR: That’s a great way to deal with the stresses. New languages can be hard to learn and adapt to, but it sounds like you have an open mind and willing to learn new things. What you are doing is totally awesome and will give our current students lots of things to consider and think about if they are hoping to go abroad! What was the best advice that you were given as a new employee in the education field?

Lindsay: The best advice I was given was to be flexible. In any field, but especially education, flexibility is so important because so many things can change on a dime! I applied this advice to the classroom, but also my life. I didn’t get the first position abroad that I applied for, so instead of giving up on working abroad, I kept looking and found this one!

UMF CEHR: It’s so great to keep an open mind. Is there anything else that you would like to add for advice to current students?

Lindsay: My last piece of advice is that if you’re even curious about teaching abroad, go for it! There is no better time to go abroad than right after college. Teaching jobs back home will always be there!


Student Spotlight: Introducing Justin Davis

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Justin Davis to discuss his schooling experience and what brought him to aspire to become a school health educator. Justin is a junior at UMF and graduated from Washburn High School. Justin is in the Secondary Education practicum this semester, where he will be able to experience the classroom for the first time, which is exciting yet nerve-wracking for the pre-service educator.

Justin Davis
Class of 2020
Community Health Education- School Health
Washburn District High School
Washburn, Maine

UMF College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation: What is the most exciting thing that you have experienced so far at UMF, and how will that come into play as a pre-service gym/health teacher?

Justin: I think the most exciting thing about UMF is being in the community. The amount of diversity that this campus has to offer along with the feeling of community and togetherness. Having been here for a few years, I realize that it is possible to create a similar positive community  in the classroom. Being part of such a great community, I know that in my future learning community my students can become besties, as I have experienced with my peers in my Secondary Education Practicum block this fall.

UMF CEHR: What brought you to UMF and why did you choose community health?

Justin: I started at Northern Maine Community College and from there I completed some of my general education credits to see if I was capable of handling college. I realized, that in fact, I was very capable of handling a four-year university and really wanted to pursue that path. I knew that I wanted to attend UMF because my step mother went here for community health and found great success after graduation. I realized that with a community health degree there is a lot of opportunities and the faculty will direct you to your passions. Community health has a broad spectrum and I knew that with this degree I could become a gym teacher like I have always wanted to. Coming to UMF made me realize I was capable of college and becoming a gym/health teacher. There is always room for flexibility within community health. If I decided that education was not for me, I could always take another route within community health and I am glad that I have that opportunity.

UMF CEHR: Who is really influential in your life and how did they inspire you to become a teacher?

Justin: A lot of people in my life influenced me to become a teacher. I cannot really pinpoint one person. My parents, camp counselors, and teachers were all good influences on my life. They all influenced me and seemed to recognize that I could handle situations that a teacher could be in, and helped me figure out what direction I wanted to go in. All of the people who influenced me helped me recognize that I was capable of becoming a teacher and that is when I believed that I was able to do it.

UMF CEHR: What do you hope to gain from your program?

Justin: I want to gain knowledge and skills to be able to teach to the best of my ability. To know my concentration facts and to continuously engaged in research every year. If I see someone [former student] on the street who has a question about health, I want to be able to put them in the right direction and correctly answer their question.

UMF CEHR: If you could ask a question to an alumni from Community Health (School Health), what would you want to know about post-UMF life?

Justin: I guess it would be how easy was it to get a job, because they don’t really have many options. Given the limited amount of spots a school offers for health and gym educators, it can be difficult to find a job. A school can have 3-4 English/Language Arts educators, but there is only 1-2 gym/health educators, which makes the job market tighter.

UMF CEHR: Can you explain your role at the Fitness and Recreation Center (FRC) and how that helps you improve on your knowledge as a Community Health major?

Justin: At the FRC, I am the student leader of the building attendants which is the bridge from the regular building attendants to the supervisors. For my role, I have to know a lot about the tools and activities that happen at the FRC and activities. I know how all of the tools and equipment operate, the group fitness schedule, and communicating with the building attendants.

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