When the school bell rings for the first day of classes at Tinker K-8 School in Tampa, it will be the start of a new teaching career for special education teacher Kelly Connolly.
A recent graduate of SPC’s College of Education, she credits her successful career transition to St. Petersburg College.
St. Petersburg College’s state-approved Educator Preparation Institute is a sequential, three-semester program leading to Florida Professional Certification. The program is for students with a non-education bachelor’s degree or higher who want to become Florida certified teachers.
“Thirty-nine years old and starting my career,” she said. “Crazy and exciting!”
Connolly earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in 2006 from Portland State University. And like many students, bounced around for a few years afterward trying to make ends meet.
Starting in 2008 she worked for Boley Centers, Inc., a residential facility for patients who are diagnosed with both mental illness and addiction. She had dreamed of being a teacher for years but circumstances and fear of failure kept her from diving in. Then she got pregnant.
“I thought – that’s it,” she said. “There is no more waiting. I want to be a teacher.”
She started SPC’s EPI program nine months pregnant. At the time, her husband was working out of state and she was recovering from surgery, taking care of an infant on her own and she still managed to get all As in all her classes.
“My professors were super supportive,” she said. “My experience at SPC was amazing.”
One of the requirements of SPC’s EPI program is to attend a career seminar, which is where Connolly learned about a Hillsborough County Public School teacher interview day. After researching all the schools within 30 minutes of her house, she signed up for interviews with eight local schools.
“Attending the career seminar was mandatory – and I am so grateful,” she said. “I would never have landed where I am right now. A college that provides you with the resources to help you find a job – to me that is just above and beyond.”
Tinker was her last interview that day. They were interested but she needed her Elementary Education Certification to qualify. She went home – applied for the certification exam – and started preparing. About a month later, after a second interview and passing the exam, she landed her first teaching job.
Located on MacDill Air Force Base, Tinker K-8 School, an A-rated school since 2000, is home to 537 students from military families. Last fall, the Hillsborough County School Board approved expanding the facility to serve middle school students too.
Her Florida Department of Education Certification is in Exceptional Student Education (ESE). In her new job she will teach special education students.
While her practicum and internship at St. Petersburg College gave her a start in the challenging task of working with special needs children, she has a realistic view of how tough it can be your first year. The Hillsborough County new teacher mentorship program will help ease the transition.
“A mentor comes into the classroom 90 minutes per week for two years,” she said. “So that’s going to fill the gap for me. I think the main reason I feel that way is because I’m going to be an ESE teacher and there are so many different types of disabilities. You could probably be teaching for 15 years and will still need to figure new strategies out.”
“I am very grateful for the entire process of the EPI program and to SPC,” said Connolly. “You gave me the education I needed and assistance and direction with finding employment. I am a success story thanks to SPC EPI.”