Alumnus of the Month – Kelly Cutler

“I am one of those people who always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I would collect old teacher’s manuals and make my cousins play school with me when I was young. I think I held every job that a person could have working with kids prior to entering the GSE: babysitter, older sister, coach, camp counselor, teaching assistant, nanny, tutor, sales person in a children’s clothing store, bus aide, and one-on-one assistant.”

Kelly Cutler has completed three programs at the GSE including her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and is planning to start a fourth in 2012. She started her career as an educator in 2002 working as a teacher in a self-contained classroom (grades 4-6) at Earl Boyles Elementary School. In 2005, after adding her elementary license, Kelly moved to Mill Park Elementary School where she taught in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms.

While at Mill Park, Kelly wrote a grant to create a garden for the school’s large abandoned courtyard. It took three years and nearly 20 grants to secure the funding, but this past spring, the project came to life. The courtyard was transformed over the course of 4 work days. During the first two days staff volunteered to take up 100 feet of sod and till the grounds, the third day was spent with Kolh’s employees and students planting new plants and spreading bark mulch, and on the final day families helped build a gravel path, stain the chicken coop, fill the planting beds with soil, and spread cedar chips. Over 150 students, staff, families, and volunteers came together to build a beautiful outdoor classroom and garden for Mill Park.

The garden officially opened on June 17 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.


How did you transition into the field after your graduate studies?

I was always particularly drawn to students with special needs. I have a cousin named Brittany who has special needs and my interaction with her led me down this road. The GSE program in Special Education gave me the opportunity to explore all areas of disabilities, from the mild to the severe and profound. I had three separate student teaching placements and work samples that gave me a first-hand look at a variety of disabilities and age levels. Ultimately, I choose to work with students with mild to moderate disabilities. However, I cherish all my experiences as a student teacher, and think of those students often.

In 2004, I came back to the GSE to complete the added elementary endorsement at the early childhood and elementary levels. I was involved in a fantastic cohort led by Donna Shrier and Christine Chaillé. Again, I had the opportunity to complete two more student teaching placements and work samples. Since I was already teaching in the field, I learned so much more that time around because I had real-life examples to match what I was learning. After completing the program, I accepted a job as a general education teacher and have been delighted to blend my experience and knowledge as special educator into the classroom.

I believe that both of my experiences with the GSE helped mold me into a fantastic teacher. Since I am a special education teacher at my core, I will always differentiate for students and meet them where they are academically, socially, and emotionally. Through the GSE I was introduced to a variety of assessments and strive to view myself as “teacher researcher.” I value and use other teachers’ experience and research to help enhance my own teaching ability.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

The thing that I have found most useful from the GSE is the practical resources that I acquired. Upon completion of many of the classes in the GSE, I saved and organized my materials into file folders. Today, I use these files as resources to guide my teaching. My favorites are a class I took on behavior management (I have probably used everything in that file!), a math class based on national standards, and a literature class. Further, through the added elementary program, I went to several literature conferences and still use materials and ideas that I collected there as well.

The other thing I have learned from GSE is how to use research to guide my teaching. When a questions or problems come up either in my classroom or with my school, I ask ‘what does research say about this?’ I do not believe in reinventing the wheel when other teachers and researchers have faced similar concerns or situations. Instead, I learn from the work of others. I use the model I practiced for my masters research project frequently in my classroom (pre-assess, teach, formative assessments to inform learning gains, review in small group or individual, summative assessment to evaluate overall gains).

What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the relationships that I have built with the students, parents, and my teaching colleagues. Frequently, I have former students come visit me and I love to know how they are doing. I have a standing offer that I will help any of my former students apply for college, and I even said I would drive them to school in a UHaul truck.

Additionally, I have established fantastic professional and personal relationships with my peers.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?

School and learning is all about community. My classroom is a community and I strive to make it a safe and supportive environment through my actions and student participation, especially using class meetings.

The teachers I work with are a community and I value their perspective and experience. I strive to be a contributing member of the teaching community by sharing my ideas, successes, and cheering for my peers when they are successful.

Finally, the families are a community. I strive to engage the families in the lives of their children by setting simple goals for parents to help their children learn.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?

Community is very important in my classroom. A few years into my teaching career, I realized that students needed to play a role in building our class community. I start every school year having two class meetings per day. As a class we vote on classroom rules, expectations, and jobs. Having class jobs provides a great way for students to be contributing members to our classroom. Throughout the school year, we have several class meetings every week and use this time to talk about our successes and solve problems that have arisen.

It is important to me that my class has a greater understanding of the larger community. For the last five years, my class has sold lemonade and donated all the money to a charity of their choice. Since starting, my classes have raised over $1,200 for Frog Watch USA and the Oregon Humane Society.

What advice would you give currently enrolled or recently graduated students?

I would advise currently enrolled or recent graduates to keep their hopes up. It is a tough time right now in education but we need quality teachers more than ever. Continue to learn and expand your educational career through professional development or additional degrees (I hope to complete the IAL program in 2012)! Keep all your notes and contacts from GSE because you never know what you are going to need.

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