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Kelli Sulsona ’21

You have been teaching for a couple of years now. Can you talk about your teaching schedule, course preps, and the extra-curricular activities you are involved in?
I am currently in my third year of teaching at Mount Olive High School and I am lucky to have taught at a variety of levels. For all three years, I have taught AP Psychology and United States History II, which I absolutely love to teach! I have taught United States History II at many levels such as Honors, College Prep, and ICS (in-class support). I am also one of the co-advisors for Mount Olive High School’s chapter of the Rho Kappa Social Studies National Honor Society. I take pride in being a member of the school community and I participate in a variety of school events each year such as the Snowland Winter Dance and Marauderfest, which is a teacher-run talent show to raise money for a charitable cause. Outside of the school, I have been completing a graduate degree and will be graduating this May with a Master’s Degree in Advanced Studies, majoring in Cognitive Science with a focus in Online Learning and Teaching.

Can you discuss how you got certified to teach psychology?
My passion for psychology began during my senior year of high school when I took AP Psychology with a teacher who would become one of my biggest educational inspirations. I knew that I wanted to teach AP Psychology in addition to history, so when I was accepted to TCNJ for secondary education and history, I began my research on becoming certified to teach psychology at the high school level. I spoke to countless people and reached out to a variety of departments at TCNJ, and everyone was so kind and helpful in assisting me. At the time, TCNJ did not have a certification program for students wanting to teach psychology, so a large portion of the planning came from independent research and contacting the New Jersey Department of Education. To become certified with an endorsement in psychology, the state of New Jersey requires 30 credits in psychology, with additional specifications for course levels. Therefore, it took a lot of careful planning, scheduling, and some additional coursework during winter and summer breaks to successfully complete those credits in addition to completing the coursework for my history major and secondary education major. When I began my student teaching, I sought out the AP Psychology teacher at my school and asked to work with her. I was then lucky to gain experience teaching AP psychology in addition to the history courses that I was assigned. This extra work paid off and helped me tremendously as I prepared to teach AP Psychology as a first-year teacher at Mount Olive High School. When I had graduated and received my teaching certificate, I submitted another application through the NJDOE to receive my endorsement in psychology.

What is the biggest challenge you have encountered as a teacher? What has been most rewarding?
One of the biggest challenges that I have encountered as a teacher is addressing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on my students. My first experiences as a teacher were in a virtual and hybrid setting while I completed my student teaching in the middle of the pandemic. The first time that I taught in front of a full classroom of students was my first day as a new teacher at Mount Olive High School. The world of teaching that I stepped into was not the same as the world of education that I had left when I graduated from high school only a few years prior. The pandemic has drastically impacted student learning and behavior, and I still see those lasting impacts in my classrooms. One of the main challenges that I have seen is a decrease in problem- solving skills, ranging from day-to-day problem-solving to critical thinking as part of an academic task.

However, I have seen progress each year and I am dedicated to doing everything that I am capable of as an educator to support my students. The most rewarding aspect of being a teacher is the experience of watching your students grow each year. Not only do my students grow academically, but they also grow emotionally and socially, and they develop their characters and worldviews. To be a part of this process is truly the most rewarding aspect of my job, and I feel fulfilled in the work that I do. I am also grateful to work in a school that has a strong sense of community and within a department that has incredible, supportive, and empathetic teachers.

You were involved in a lot of activities and organizations while you were a student at TCNJ. Can you talk about these and how they shaped your experience as a student?
At TCNJ, I participated in a variety of activities and organizations, which enhanced my experience as a student on campus. I was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, the Kappa Delta Pi
Education Honor Society, the Psi Chi Psychology Honor Society, the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. I also served on the executive board of the Student New Jersey Education
Association as the vice president, and I was both an event chair and the president of Phi Alpha Theta. I also tutored college students with intellectual disabilities through the TCNJ Career & Community Services Program.
One of the most influential experiences I had within my extracurricular involvements at TCNJ was being the president of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society. As president, I became even more involved
in the history department, worked closely with professors and staff members, and fostered connections among my peers. Some of my proudest accomplishments as president were developing more social events for networking among history students, providing research writing workshops for members, and setting up tutoring connections for younger students within the history department. When I graduated, I felt a true shift in the culture of Phi Alpha Theta, and I left my mark by encouraging deeper connections. As someone who loves history and psychology, my goal is to promote human connection and empathy within all of my work.

When you were a student you won an award for a paper you wrote. Can you talk about your experience working on this project?
During my junior year at TCNJ, I wrote a paper titled “Women’s Early Responses to the Abortion Ban in Post-Communist Poland and the Impact on Future Protests” for a course titled “1989, A Year of Revolution”
with Dr. Cynthia Paces. I remember this course and this paper as one of my most valuable educational experiences at TCNJ. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy learning from and working with Dr. Paces, but I also poured my heart into a paper that addressed a topic that I am extremely passionate about. While working on this project, I conducted my own research and worked closely with Dr. Paces, who was an excellent professor and mentor. The original goal of the paper was to conduct meaningful research and write an excellent paper, which was intrinsically motivated. The following fall semester, Dr. Paces encouraged me to submit the paper to the department to potentially win the junior paper award. I was honored that my paper was selected for this award, which was an added accomplishment for a paper and research experience that had already been so rewarding for me.

What TCNJ classes do you remember most fondly? Why?
It is impossible to only select some of the classes I took at TCNJ because I truly enjoyed the entire educational atmosphere. My history classes, psychology classes, and education classes all gave me a well- rounded education and prepared me for my career as a teacher. I have heard stories from graduates of other education programs, stating that they felt unprepared going into their first year of teaching. I had a completely opposite experience, and I felt that everything I learned in both my content area and education courses made me feel fully prepared when I started teaching. Not only did I enjoy my courses at TCNJ, but I also felt intellectually stimulated and encouraged to be the best student that I could be. My professors gave me unwavering support, guidance, and assistance in my academic pursuits. If I had to highlight one particular class as a unique undergraduate experience, it would be the research course that I took with Dr. Robert McGreevey. Within this course, a few select students conducted research in the archives of the Trenton Public Library. The opportunity to conduct historical research and work closely with Dr. McGreevey as a sophomore was invaluable to my education, sparked my interest in research, and set me up for my future experiences as a student within the history department.

What advice would you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in teaching?
A key piece of advice I would give to someone interested in pursuing a career in teaching is to be fully invested in all of the preparation coursework and hands-on experiences. Practicum hours and student teaching placements can give powerful insights into whether or not teaching is the right path for an individual. Additionally, the opportunity to gain experience in a classroom will be extremely valuable in informing one’s teaching practices and philosophies moving forward. I would also encourage prospective educators to network, make connections, and ask for help when needed. Preparing to become a teacher and teaching can be very stressful at times and takes careful planning. Having people to support you professionally can help relieve some of that stress. Also, teachers and students benefit when educators collaborate because the results of those collaborative efforts are an enhanced quality of education, an improved work-life balance for teachers, and a healthier overall school environment.

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