GSE news brief artwork.
Picture collage including images of John D’Aguanno, Jordon Krivonos, Breanna Pelonero, Jacquelyn Wackowski, Jacob Walek.

Published May 2, 2023


One year later: UB Teach grads reflect on new careers

Around this time last spring, the inaugural cohort of students in the UB Teach program prepared for graduation and new careers by wrapping up coursework and year-long student teaching placements in local schools.

The UB Teach program, a collaboration between the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education and College of Arts and Sciences, offers students the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and New York State teaching certification, in only five years.

Elisabeth Etopio, PhD, GSE assistant dean for teacher education, has played a role in the program since it began. “We knew we wanted to strengthen the undergraduate pipeline into our teacher preparation programs and had been involved in conversations with the College of Arts and Sciences since about 2015,” said Etopio. “Then we finally determined that a combined program would be feasible and the most expeditious way to get programs approved by the state.”

The program, launched in 2017, saves students on tuition and time, and better prepares them for the teaching profession. Unlike traditional 15-week student teaching placements, UB Teach culminates in a yearlong clinical placement co-teaching alongside a mentor teacher in schools throughout Western New York.

The yearlong student teaching approach is grounded in research conducted by Etopio and other GSE faculty on effective practices for the preparation and retention of new teachers. Their research shows that yearlong student teaching placements diminish the first-year learning curve for new teachers, improve retention and reduce turnover in the teaching profession.

Etopio believes that ensuring a steady pipeline of highly qualified teachers is critically important. “Our candidates see the full arc of the school year, which prepares them in ways that a traditional student teaching experience doesn’t,” she said. “We also tap into co-teaching models, so our students are co-teaching right along from the beginning—and we know that that benefits not only our students in their development but their preK-12 students because there’s an increased student-teacher ratio. More differentiation can happen, more individualization can happen, and we believe that there are immediate benefits to that. We believe we’re preparing teachers to be learner-ready from day one.”

Seeing the first cohort of students graduate last year proved to be an exciting milestone in the history of the UB Teach program. Their participation in commencement confirmed the strength of the program and offered an opportunity to celebrate the student cohort and their accomplishments.

“They’re just a wonderful group of people—a wonderful group of teachers—who bring hope and unique strengths and personalities to the classroom,” Etopio said. “They’re justice-minded and advocates for their students. I’m so proud of them. I just can’t wait to see what they do.”

Now, almost one year after commencement, five students from the inaugural cohort look back at their time in the program and reflect on how the curriculum and hands-on teaching experiences paved the way for their careers as educators.

Image of UB Teach Graduate, John D'Aguanno.

John D’Aguanno
History, BA / Social Studies Education, EdM

Global Studies Teacher, South Park High School

Q: What’s surprised you so far as a new teacher?

My mentor teacher told me that in your first year, you’re going to be thrown in, and you just have to be ready. I didn’t really believe it, but it’s true. You get this real feeling of, “I’m going to have my own classroom with my own rules about how I want students to act in there—and how I want students to be able to flourish and how I want them to be able to communicate with me about how they’re doing in their studies and how things are going at home.” It’s just a vastly different experience.

Q: How did the one-year student teaching placement in the UB Teach program prepare you?

For me, I feel like if I had to go from one school to the next in a matter of a few months—that would be a big change. You’re meeting new students, and then those relationships aren’t there anymore, and you have to rebuild relationships, which always takes time. You’re also working with a new co-teacher who might not share the same ideals that you do. I was fortunate that my co-teacher was ready with whatever I wanted to do. She was like, “You run the show; let’s see how this goes.” I was able to build those relationships with students and try out what I wanted to—whether that was exercises with the students or a lesson or an activity. It was fantastic.

Q: What advice would you give to new teachers?

Each month, you will keep growing and growing. And I think the new students going into the program might need to hear this, too: You’re going to finish the year out, and you’re going to sit back and be like, “Wow, I did it. I survived this year.” You might feel a little bit like you’re just surviving, but you will get up to that point feeling like, “I’m prepared, I’m ready, and when we finish the year, I feel like, okay, we did this. We were able to do it, and we know we can again.”

Picture of UB Teach graduate, Jordon Krivonos.

Jordon Krivonos
English, BA / English Education, EdM

English Teacher, Riverside Academy

Q: What has your first year of teaching been like?

I’m very fortunate that I’m teaching a range of classes with high school students. There are a lot of moments during the day where I can instantly see improvement. I have that feeling of instant gratification, but it’s not self-serving, if that makes sense. I can see kids enjoying the topics. I can see them wanting to talk about the books that we’re going over. This year has been really fantastic.

Q: How would you describe your experience in the UB Teach program?

UB is such a knockout school because they’re so aligned with research. UB is a research-based school that will push you and push you, but you come out being able to handle everything because of it. Also, my advisor Louise Lalli was like a shining light throughout the whole program for me. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done. We just automatically clicked. And shout out to Dr. David Bruce—I use what I learned from him all the time in his young adult literature class. Dr. Winkelsas did such a fantastic job matching me with my mentor teacher, too. Co-teaching really prepared me because, during the month of January, we were expected to solo teach and handle the curriculum side of things. Because you were there for the full year, you saw the full development from the beginning to the end of the year.

Q: What are you excited about in your career?

The Buffalo Public School District has been fantastic when it comes to its professional development opportunities. In all of my interactions, Buffalo Public School teachers are such smart educators. I’ve been able to attend these meetings and talk about crucial things, such as disproportionality and differentiation. I did classroom management for first-year teachers as well. I’m just really happy and excited about being able to develop my skills more as a teacher and gaining that vocabulary to use when talking to peers. I’m also excited to see the students grow. The kids are just so intuitive, and I’m so happy because they’re doing the work of reading and bringing up questions and interpretations that I often don’t even think about. They have fresh perspectives and cultural perspectives, and I’m really happy that I’m able to spark their interests.

Picture of UB Teach graduate, Breanna Pelonero.

Breanna Pelonero
History, BA / Social Studies Education, EdM

Long-term Social Studies Substitute Teacher, Niagara Wheatfield High School and Maryville High School

Q: What has teaching been like so far?

I’ve loved both of my subbing placements so much, and I’ve really liked all of the schools I’ve been at—including last year when I was subbing at Sweet Home. It’s been a great experience starting subbing versus having my own classroom right off the bat. It’s gotten me accustomed to the way that different schools function, and I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing students throughout Wheatfield and Maryville. I’ve really enjoyed learning about who they are and their backgrounds. I’m an AIS teacher, and the benefit of that is having a lot more small group and one-on-one time, and I feel like I’ve really formed strong relationships with these kids.

Q: Who made an impact on you during your time at UB?

Anthony White was one of our professors for social studies education, and I feel like he taught his course in the most realistic way possible. We learned theory in his classes, but he has always related everything to actual situations. I will remember this one forever: We role-played disrupting each other’s lessons—like you had to pretend to be the kids that were, let’s say, throwing pencils across the room. And you had to explain what you would actually do in different situations like that. He stood out a lot, and all of the different types of ideas for lesson plans stuck with me a lot, too.

Q: What advice would you give to future students?

You’re going to have to put a lot of effort into designing your lesson plans and critiquing yourself in order to be successful and move on with the class. Do not overly criticize yourself. There are going to be days when a lesson flops, and you’re like, “Oh my goodness. I’m so embarrassed. That was so bad.” Maybe the technology didn’t work, or you didn’t fully explain things in a way that delivered well, but I think that that happens to every teacher. There were days when I was observing my mentor teacher, and, in a way, I watched her flop—and she has been a teacher for 30 years! A lot of times, as a student teacher, I had this idea of perfecting the lesson before going in, and that’s not realistic. There are things that pop up. There’s always something that can go wrong, but you should be adjustable and be able to think on your feet to smooth things out the best you can.

Picture of UB Teach graduate, Jacquelyn Wackowski.

Jacquelyn Wackowski
History, BA / Social Studies Education, EdM

Long-term Substitute Teacher, Eggert Elementary

Q: What has it been like so far in the classroom?

I love it—and being a building sub at an elementary school is why I’ve decided to get certified to become an elementary teacher. I didn’t think I was meant to be an elementary teacher, but I love it. I like the possibilities I have now, being able to teach first-grade or seniors in high school. Also, I like subbing right now because I’m moving across the country in the fall. I didn’t want to set up shop at a school just to leave it in a year. Even though I’m moving, I stuck with New York State certification because it looks so good everywhere else.

Q: How did the UB Teach program prepare you for your career?

I was able to make connections in a very different way. I have friends that have gone through the six- or eight-week student teaching programs, and they say you’re rushed, and you don’t have the chance to get to know the students because you’re worried about making the lesson plans and learning the school—whereas I still talk to multiple students from Hutch Tech to this day. They reach out to me all the time to get help with their work or just to talk and to say I miss you. I wouldn’t have gotten those relationships if I had been only there for eight weeks. I also loved being in a Buffalo Public School because I’m applying to schools exactly like it. Having the full year really helped.

Q: What are you excited about in the future?

I’m excited to get into the classroom and have my own space. It’s great being a sub, and I love seeing different faces every day, but there are times where I wish I could just be with one class every day, all the time. I’m excited to be able to explore and decide what we’re doing. I’m really into project-based learning, so that is something I’m really looking forward to implementing. I also have a special ed fourth-grade classroom that I love. Even if I don’t have a placement there for the day, I just hang out in their classroom because I just love them. I want to get my special ed certification. I’ve gotten a lot of different experiences, so when I do have my own classroom, I’m going to be a better teacher for it.

Picture of UB Teach graduate, Jacob Walek.

Jacob Walek
History, BA / Social Studies Education, EdM

Global Studies Teacher, South Park High School

Q: What were you surprised by this year?

There’s not a day that I don’t want to come to work. Every day, I’m excited to come to work and excited to do things with the school and help the school grow and be a part of this community. That’s something that I really wasn’t even thinking about or expecting before I graduated. But, once I really got into it, I found how much education is my passion, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.

Q: What are you excited about in the future?

An opening came up, and I am now an advisor for the debate team here—and we won our first two matches. I’ve been really, really excited to try and grow that debate team to be really successful. We are already on the right path because I have some excellent debaters on my team this year, and I want to continue on with their success.

Q: What’s your advice for anyone thinking about becoming a teacher?

My advice would be to get into UB Teach and the UB Teacher Residency Program because that full-year really does make a difference. I am way more prepared this year because of the experiences that I had with a full year in the classroom last year. It’s been a while for some of my colleagues, but my mentor teachers have said that they really see the benefit of being here for the full year—and as I went through it last year, I definitely saw it too. Being here from the start until the end of the school year prepares you for the years to come as a new teacher. My advice is to try and get into a preparatory program that really prepares you for what a full year of teaching is like.

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