Katie Sullivan - Elementary Educator

I was born in Burlington, VT. My parents are Vermonters. My father is a 6th or 7th generation Vermonter. But my family moved to a suburb of Philadelphia when I was ten. Beginning at age 14, I worked every summer as a camp counselor, mostly at the same wonderful overnight camp.
I attended Penn State University, where I received a B.A. in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in environmental education. I taught at an independent school in center city Philadelphia for seven years. For three of those years, I directed the summer day camp at the school. Then I decided that 12 months in the city was too much and I came up to Vermont to take some courses at UVM. I realized how great it was here and how the public schools are so good. I decided to make the move back. That was 16 years ago and I still love it.
As I said before, I didn’t really like school as a kid, but I loved summer camp, and going camping and being in the woods. I was also drawn to adventure! I loved things like rafting, ropes courses, and rock climbing. I also always wanted to skydive. When I was 30, I made my first jump, then I became a jumpmaster and first jump instructor at Vermont Skydiving Adventures, in Addison, VT.
The biggest adventure for me now is trying to figure out what makes each student tick and how I can engage them and empower them as learners.
I teach in a multiage third and fourth grade classroom at Warren Elementary School in Warren, Vermont.

1. What does a typical day look like for you?
We start each day with Morning Meeting, which consists of a greeting, an overview of the schedule, sharing, and a game or activity of some kind. The schedule varies, but we’ll generally have an hour of math, a snack break, a language arts block (writing and reading) a “special” – such as art, music, phys. ed, etc, then lunch, and a half hour of recess, then science and/or social studies, read aloud or silent reading. We’ll end the day by going over homework and reminders for the next day, then everyone does a classroom job. We have a special good-bye routine. Then we pack up backpacks and coats and head for the buses, cars or after-school program. Teachers usually have meetings and planning to do at the end of the day.
2. What types of requirements are there for your job, academically and otherwise?
Most schools require a bachelor’s degree in education and certification in a certain area, it might be K-6 or secondary math, things like that.  Some states require a master’s degree. Private schools usually look for a bachelor’s and expertise in a subject area, but might not require certification. Public schools in Vermont expect teachers to continually receive professional development in the form of coursework, workshops, distance learning, etc. Often, the school will provide some financial support for this.
3. How did you decide upon becoming a teacher?
I didn’t think I wanted to be a classroom teacher. In college, I specialized in environmental education and began working at nature centers and outdoor schools. I loved that work, but what was missing, for me, were relationships with the kids that came through. Each day or few days, I would see new kids and never get to connect with them. During that time, the teachers that brought their kids to our program would often tell me that I would make a good classroom teacher. Then I was asked to be a substitute at an independent school for a few days. I remember thinking, “school can be like this??” and then they asked me to become an assistant teacher. The next year, I was hired as a fourth grade teacher. When I decided to move back to Vermont, I got certified to teach in public school.
4. Who inspired you growing up?
Unfortunately I wasn’t really engaged in school as a child. I was a good kid and an average student, but didn’t connect with my teachers and didn’t enjoy being in school. When I was a teenager, I was inspired by older kids and adults who worked as naturalists, or teachers who took their classes on camping trips. I was inspired by folks who took people on adventures and knew a lot about nature and camping.
5. What kind of perks and benefits do you get from your job?
Right now we have good medical benefits. I’m not sure about perks, there is a lot of vacation time, but you can’t schedule it yourself. You take vacations when they fall in the calendar, but there are several a year, plus summers. I often catch up on schoolwork during vacations and take classes during the summer, but the great thing is that when you are on vacation, everyone in the school is on vacation. You don’t have to worry about what you’re missing or not getting done.
6. What is the annual salary range for a person with your position?
(This question is not meant to pry at your specific salary, but more to get a general range for the field.)
That depends a lot on where you teach. If you wanted to teach in a city like Chicago, you could make more in your first year than I do in my 25th year. A couple years ago, the average salary was about $46, 000. Starting salary in Vermont is around somewhere between the high twenties and high thirties.. But again, that varies depending on where you are. Vermont ranks right about in the middle of the US states for average salary.
7. If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?
(Basically what other job would you have or what would you be doing with your life?)
Almost everything I think of ends up being some kind of teaching…but I could see myself working in forestry or conservation. I’ve always wanted to be a pilot, but I wouldn’t want to fly commercial airlines.
8. What are the best and worst parts of your job?
There are lots and lots of great aspects to my job. I think the best is the relationships I have with my kids and their families. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing children succeed. I also enjoy so much of what I teach. For example, I love doing experiments, I love playing math games, I really enjoy the novels that we read. It’s great to share this stuff with other people who might find these things magical, inspiring, or personally rewarding.
The worst might be the workload. In elementary school, we teach so many subjects. There’s a lot of planning, assessing and meetings!! There are a lot of meetings!

9. What advice would you give someone who wanted to become a teacher?
Work with kids in a leadership capacity. Be a camp counselor, after-school aid, coach, Sunday school teacher…anything that requires managing large groups of kids. If you can’t do that, or you don’t like it, then you probably wouldn’t like teaching, (in K-8th grade anyway.) Classroom management is often the thing that makes or breaks a teacher. You can learn it and improve your skills, but you really have to want to do it. Work or volunteer in an educational setting, but make sure you have some real responsibility or it might not be a realistic experience.