Melia Watson, Class of May 2022
- College of Education
I had known for a long time that I wanted to be a teacher. In high school I was able to volunteer with our Special Ed class at our school, and I fell in love with it. However, I realized that I had a lot to learn about disability culture and special education, not just about the actual act of teaching kids with disabilities. So, when I was exploring colleges, I was looking at what schools are going to give me a holistic view of disability, along with an idea of how to be a good teacher, and I believed that the University of Illinois would help me do that.
I made the intentional decision to live in the dorms all four years. This allowed me to make relationships and friendships with people who were a lot younger than me throughout college. I got to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t live in the dorms, which was a really meaningful experience. I also did America Reads, America Counts through my federal work-study, and that opportunity was awesome, and I really enjoyed being able to help the community around the university.
There were so many people that made a difference for me at Illinois, but especially in the College of Education, I had fantastic professors, especially Laurie Andrews. In the Special Ed major, once you get into Phase 0, which is second semester sophomore year, all of your classes are with the exact same group of people. There were around twenty of us, and so we all got to have the same experience, and we got close and still talk to each other. It was really those people and my professors, who were just so fantastic, and they got us through a lot of really difficult situations, especially during Covid-19 when we had to do our student teaching online.
I was placed at Champaign Central High School and other Champaign schools in Unit 4 for my student teaching and I really liked the culture. I was looking for a position teaching Functional Life Skills and there was one at the school where I teach now. It was really nice to be able to come into a job with professional contacts already made because of my experience on campus and in the schools from our student teaching program. I also had other friends from my cohort that were going to be working in the district with me, and so it felt very comfortable, and it has been wonderful.
It’s a cliché but what I like best about my current job is my students. As a teacher you get to know your students so well and they become like a second family to you. In my position, I have seven students, and they all have moderate to significant disabilities, but we spend all day every day together. I get to know their little intricacies, and to hear about their families. It’s a really special experience that for the next three years all through middle school I get to be their teacher and the one that pours into them at school. It’s just really fun.
Over the next five years I’m really looking forward to continuing to improve the way that I teach and get some experience that will make things easier. I’m also looking forward to being able to host student teachers and student observers. I think that is going to be a really fun experience for me, and something that I can do for the Illinois community by working with students who are also interested in teaching. I’m also just looking forward to continuing to grow relationships with my students and their families. I’m excited to see how much more I get to know them and get to be a part of their little worlds for the next three years.
I think my biggest advice for being in college is to take it one week at a time. It’s too much to try to spend all your time studying for an exam that’s in three weeks when you have assignments that are due up until then. As long as you’re staying organized and keeping track of things, everything will get done. And if you need help, you can always ask for help.