Part I of this blog series focused on the adventures of Ms. Devyn Coté, who found herself in Sweden based on an invitation from Mrs. Julie Kelly, who spoke with teacher candidates in a methods course the previous year by invitation of Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester. Mrs. Kelly’s enthusiasm for education was (and continues to be) amazing as she shares her passion for learning and teaching at her school. Mrs. Kelly is an alumna of SMSU, and is the principal of the Internationella Engelska Skolan Länna, where Ms. Devyn is student teaching.
I chose both SMSU and education because I thought they would be “okay” options. Little did I know they would both be incredible and life-changing.
What motivates you? What is your passion?
My students motivate me. Each day I am reminded of how we as educators have a special opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives, and each day I am reminded that the small things I do, even as a principal, can eventually create a big difference.
Who is your role model?
My staff. Each day, they face seemingly insurmountable challenges–global pandemics, nearby wars, political unrest, gang violence, changing educational policies–and they continue to show up with the students’ best interest in mind (and with positivity and energy). I could not do the work that I do without the phenomenal team around me, and they inspire me on days I feel down to re-focus on the kids and my love for them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Making a difference. I want to ensure that whatever I am doing, I am making a difference in society. I never limit myself by setting time frames, but instead guide my work with the impact I am able to make. If I can make a positive impact, I am in the right place!
What advice do you have for aspiring educator Mustangs?
Take a chance. Try the job that is out of your comfort zone. Take a trip that frightens you. Stop focusing on collecting things or checking things off life’s to-do list and start collecting experiences. I promise, you won’t regret it!
Mrs. Julie Kelly is a passionate Mustang educator, who is changing the world one learner at a time… much like another passionate Mustang educator we know. Wait for Part III of Oh, the Places Mustang Educators Will Go: The Adventures of Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester.
This is a three-part series focusing on three Mustang educators and their adventures.
Recently, I found myself navigating in a new city in search of something. It was actually more like in search of someone in some place. I was adventuring to see Ms. Devyn Coté, SMSU teacher candidate, student teaching in Länna, Sweden just a short drive south of Stockholm. I had never been to Sweden so this was a fortunate opportunity for me to visit a new place and a different school system. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at once. The rational part of me thought that perhaps this was not the ideal time to visit given the immense amount of work and responsibilities that this time of year brings – some usual and some not so usual like adopting new standards to overhaul our teacher preparation program alongside a number of searches for new hires as well as the completion of LETRS – Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling training and deadlines looming for writing projects…the list seems to go on. Also, raise your hand if you are a mom of a graduating high school senior. (That’s me.)
You get the idea… BUSY! That is the exact reason I chose to go. Life is short and learning opportunities surround us, but we have to agree to the challenge to just go and grow.
Recently I was reminded by a colleague and friend that life doesn’t get any easier. We just get better at harder. We learn to juggle a little more, juggle a little better, and be better. I could make this visit work alongside everything else that needed to happen and be accomplished.
If you need to be reminded of handling hard better, check out Kara Lawson’s “Handle Hard Better” speech as she reminds the players on the Duke Women’s Basketball team of the expectation to handle hard better.
So did I make it to find Ms. Devyn Coté? You bet. Ms. Devyn is most certainly brave to accept the challenge to teach abroad, and she continues to learn how to handle hard better as well. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Ms. Devyn in Sweden and learn about Sweden as well as the International English School.
I asked Devyn to consider the following questions, and this is what she shared with me.
Why Southwest Minnesota State University? Why the education profession? Ever since I was a child myself, I have been around children. I started babysitting from the age of 11 and still do it to this day. When someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, there were many answers that I gave such as baker, nurse, neonatal intensive care nurse, day-care provider, etc. These professions were across the board because there are many things that I would have liked to think of myself doing. I originally ended up heading to Normandale Community College (in my hometown) for nursing. After a year of doing nursing courses, I soon realized that it was not for me. I had no idea what I was going to do after. I then signed up for business classes because it is a very broad career path and many options that come out of it. I did one semester of that and absolutely disliked it. During all this, starting from my sophomore year of high school, I was working at my old elementary school as a before and after school activities assistant. I got to see a lot of my old teachers from when I went there but also see the new generation that is growing up in the same hallways that I did. I think just one day I realised that I should be a teacher. I have always loved kids and being around them that it just made sense for me to go into the path of education. How I ended up at SMSU is a little bit of a funny story. I have four older siblings. They each went to their own universities, and I needed a transfer college that would take in the courses I had already taken for credit towards my bachelor’s degree. I researched online all the options through the MinnState program and SMSU is the one that I had never really heard of but saw great opportunities with the education department. I had decided to apply, then was accepted for their education program, and found an apartment before ever even stepping foot in Marshall, MN in my entire life. I wanted to go off and do my own thing, and I can proudly say this was the best decision I could have made.
What motivates you? What is your passion? My family and role models motivate me the most. I have always had such a strong connection with all of my teachers growing up that they inspire me to be the best for my future students just like they were for me. My family motivates me a ton because all of my siblings are older. I am the youngest of five children and each and every one of them have made an impact of who I am and what I am doing. My biggest supporter, my mom, has guided me through everything. My supporters, friends, family, colleagues, past and present teachers have all inspired me to continue along this journey of becoming the best educator I can possibly be. One of the pictures is me with my 5th grade teacher whom she’s known me since I was 2 weeks old and am still in contact with to this day. My passion for working with student all comes down to building the relationships with them. I believe that a student will not learn from a teacher they do not like. It does not matter the size of puzzle a student may be, my goal as a future educator is to get to know the students so I can better their education with things they enjoy and can relate to. How will the students be able to learn if they do not get that connection from home life to student life? I believe that all students can learn, and as educators, we need to help personalize the instruction for every child to learn best. My passion lies in the outcome of hard days as well as the days that go by too quickly. Every student has their own personality and I enjoy bringing that out when it comes to teaching. The best feeling in the world is when a student finally gets ‘how to’ do something and that lightbulb clicks on. That is my passion.
Who is your role model? I have a ton of role models for all different reasons. My mom is my first and biggest role model because she has taught me to never give up. Stick with it, run with it, and live your life to the fullest. She has been there for me with every decision I make and continues to help me along to this day. My older sisters are also huge role models in my life. They are always there for me whenever I need, and they are incredible moms to their little ones. My oldest brother and I are a ton alike and he always tells me how it is. He urges me to do what I want with my life and pushes me to be the best version of myself. My other older brother was my best friend all throughout school and we could not be separated. He has encouraged me to do what I am passionate about and how to make the most of what life brings you. My other role model in life is my nanny mom back home. She is a businesswoman who has always encouraged me to stand up for myself and know my worth. She never lets me back down out of an opportunity and urges me to go for it no matter what.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I see myself teaching 10 years down the road working on my administrations license or something close to it. I would love to say that I see myself still being abroad, but also have no idea where life will take me. If not abroad, I would love to see myself either back in Minnesota or somewhere just a little bit warmer. I would love to have a family and take them traveling in the summers to see what the amazing world has to offer. From going abroad, and seeing the world in a new perspective, I have set off a light in me that just wants to see more of it. The education world has also inspired me to see how different countries have set their educational standards up for their students and incoming generations. In 10 years, I would love to say I have or am teaching in a couple more countries to experience different atmospheres and bring in what they do.
What advice do you have for Mustang aspiring educators? My advice for aspiring educator mustangs would be this:
Take your time. Life is not a race. Focus on where you are at before rushing through your college years. It can be hard not to just think about your future and what your classroom will look like, and don’t get me wrong, it still matters, but enjoy the classroom you are sitting in at the moment.
Find a mentor at SMSU. The professors are there for your success and want to see you succeed no matter what. Work hard, do your assignments, show up, and be the best version of yourself.
Be open to the change that happens in every single classroom you step into. The classrooms you enter are there for you to take and learn from those students and mentor teachers.
Being a teacher, you are never ‘the best’ at what you do. Be open to the professional development opportunities that might occur as the education world is ever changing. The students deserve just as much learning from the teacher as the teacher is giving back to them.
How did Ms. Devyn find herself in Sweden on this adventure you ask? Wait for Part II of Oh, the Places Mustang Educators Will Go: The Adventures of Mrs. Julie Kelly.
An effective educator has many traits, and one of them is learning their students’ names as soon as possible.
Before school even started, I knew most of my students’ names. I wrote them on the name tags for their desks, on the name tags for their lockers, on the name tags for their mailboxes, on the squirrels for the bulletin board that said “We are NUTS about School.” 😊🐿
My goal was to know all 30 of my students’ names by the end of the first day (yes, I had 30 third graders my first year of teaching). For the most part, I succeeded.
When I was an elementary principal, I would go to the lunch room every day and say the names of the students who were sitting in their grade levels at their assigned lunch table. The students enjoyed this because they liked testing me. This took a lot longer than one day to learn all the names of the students, but I would generally succeed.
Now as a college professor, I still know it is vital to learn the names of all my students. I find it more difficult when I only see my students once or twice a week. I give it my best effort and yet still make mistakes (sorry Rebecca for calling you Rachel 😏).
Names…they are so important.
Did you know that God knows YOUR name? Isaiah 43:1 tells us it is true “…I have redeemed you; I have called you by name…”
Did you know that God loves you? Jeremiah 31:1 says it perfectly “…I have loved you with an everlasting love…”
I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in these verses. God knows my name and He loves me. My name…Wendy…is important to Him. Your name, ______, is important to him. Wow! Let that sink in for a bit.
In the book Love Has a Name, author Adam Weber, founder and lead pastor of Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, shares stories about people who have loved him and who he has learned to love.
Pastor Adam begins by retelling the story of Zacchaeus. Remember him? 🎵 Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he.🎵 Jesus knew his name, and loved Zacchaeus before He even met him.
The first name story in this book to resonate with me was about Brett. Brett is one who taught Pastor Weber that love heals through unlikely people. Brett’s story gave me such joy because I am a professor at SMSU and he graduated from there (which I discovered because I read ALL footnotes in the back of the book while I was reading the book. It’s a must. You will be happy you did). We are Mustangs for Life, right Brett? 🐴
Chapter 10 is titled Becky|Love Washes Feet which if you remember, Jesus washed the feet of all His disciples…even the one who betrayed him. And the most amazing thing about that is Jesus knew this disciple would betray him. That takes some serious love to do that.
When I thought about washing feet, Sara came to my mind. She is the one who gives me my pedicure. She pampers me by washing and massaging my feet then painting my toes. All I can say is THANK YOU, Sara!!! Not sure I could do that for others. Could any of you? Pastor Weber will give suggestions on how you CAN do this for others. Read the book.
The stories of those names Pastor Weber has learned to love were astounding. Tony, Mark, Captain, F-Man (yup, that F stands for what you are thinking it stands for), A.C. Kidd (read this story to find out what those initials stand for), and Jillian, the Angel Wings lady (thank you for the beautiful artwork). All are remarkable stories.
The story that hit my heart the most in this section was the story about Mark. Mark…the know it all. Mark…the one who thinks he’s right about everything. Mark…the one who starts false rumors about us. Mark…the two-faced brat. Mark…the one who makes us angry and frustrated and confused. And, as Pastor Adam says in his book, Mark…the one who we want to body slam!
What do we do about all those people in our lives named “Mark?” (Nothing personal if your name is Mark). Well, Pastor Weber has some great thoughts on this issue. Sorry…my lips are zipped. You will have to read the book if you want to know what his great thoughts are. 🤐
I do have to give away one part though. In Chapter 20, Pastor Adam shares about the mural that was created in the alley by his house. Jillian is an artist who painted angel wings on this backdrop. This beautiful artwork made the news and now people come from near and far to take their picture by the wings.
Because I live within 50 minutes of Sioux Falls, SD, I decided to take my daughter and her family on an angel wing hunt last week, and guess what? We found some. What a treasure. The pictures speak for themselves. Thank you, Jillian. 👼
Each story in this book is beautiful. And so is yours! And so is mine! We need to tell our stories. Who knows who we may help. Love has a name and it is all of ours. YOU, me, ALL of us. Jesus loves us and knows our name. That is a real treasure. So is this book. I highly recommend you read Love Has a Name by Adam Weber.
Homecoming…the great American tradition. According to several hits on Google, the tradition of homecoming started in Missouri when Mizzou’s Athletic Director invited all alumni to ‘come back home’ for the football game in 1911. Some say that homecoming dates back to the late 1800s with the Harvard/Yale football game. Whatever the case may be, homecoming still dominates high schools and universities across the nation today. The main focus for all homecomings—to reconnect with people and places.
We certainly did just that! We reconnected with places and people and what a great weekend it was! Time flies by when you are having fun – and we did! Homecoming is always a blast. As one alumnus tweeted today: What a fun weekend in Marshall for @SMSUStangs homecoming ’14. Great seeing the friends again. Makes me miss Marshall a lot! What a blast.
Between the two of us, we hit just about every event. Wish you could have been here with us at all these great activities:
University Gala Ball: Our first major discussion between the two of us was how to pronounce gala. GA-la long a or gah-la short a? It doesn’t matter…from our pre-gala gathering to the silent auction, exquisite dinner, live auction, and finale of dancing the night away, this event raises dollars for our SMSU students. What a fun way of contributing to SMSU scholarship funds and being able to hang out with friends.
First Annual SMSU School of Education Alumni Event: Calling all Education Alumni: Donuts, coffee, and apple cider were served along with a sign-up for the $50 dollar door prize to our book store. Congrats to Mrs. Howie who was our first ever door prize winner this year. Who will it be next year?
Parade: The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a parade. Our students participated in the parade to support the Education Minnesota Student Program (EMSP) Organization. The theme of this year’s homecoming was “Rise of the Mustangs” so as future teachers, we tweaked the saying to “Rise of the Future Mustangs” and many little ones rode on the float with us.
SMSU Tailgating Festivities & Football Game: Inflatables, food, and fun! Great chance to see friends and a great American football game. This is how it all started after all! By the way – the Mustangs beat the Upper Iowa Peacocks 28-25. (A little birdie told us they were undefeated before this game.) Way to go, Mustangs!
Dueling Pianos: Just in case we didn’t have enough celebration and fun – the SMSU Alumni Association hosted 176 Key Dueling Pianos at the Mercantile located at Bello Cucina. All who came to join the fun received a glass mug with the homecoming logo – Rise of the Mustangs. Great keepsake and reminder of a memorable time had by all!
Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony: There were many student-athletes recognized at the annual awards ceremony. These student-athletes have earned great athletic and academic achievements this past year, and represented SMSU well. Important to note there were 72 scholar-athletes recognized for their academic scholarship. This was the largest group of student-athletes in a year to ever to be recognized at SMSU for their accomplished studies with the highest average GPA. We are proud of them!
Soccer Match: With the sun shining, why not catch a soccer match?! It was a bit windy, but the Mustangs won 2-0 against U of M – Crookston. We did not grow up soccer players, but those ladies seem to sure know what they are doing. Wow – can they run!? We were wiped just watching them.
Vacuuming: The last event for the weekend was not grading or school work. It was… vacuuming. It was the grand finale to “coming home” for the weekend after being out and about for most of it. We disputed this event because only one of us did this. 🙂 “Vacuuming can wait ‘til later…much later! “ –Wendy’s words of wisdom (Don’t worry, Mom, I was the one who vacuumed! –SV)
There were so many wonderful homecoming events to attend; this list identified just a few as we could not physically make it to all of them. We are pleasantly exhausted. We do need to leave you with a final homecoming remark, however.
Happy Homecoming everyone! 🙂 Enjoy your time –wherever you are. Remember it is the people and places who make all the difference in life. Now – it is time for a nap! 🙂