Skip to main content

#AskEducationISU alumni responses

The College of Education is launching a recurring Q&A series for current and aspiring educators! #AskEducationISU experts what's on your mind!

The College of Education has launched a recurring Q&A series for current and aspiring educators! #AskEducationISU experts what's on your mind!

In April, the College of Education launched a recurring social media Q&A series. Questions sent in by former and current education majors at #AskEducationISU were forwarded to four of Illinois State’s award-winning education alumni. Check out their responses below!

About the alumni panel

Jayme Corcoran, ’04, M.S.Ed. ’12, is a 6th grade resource teacher at Bloomington Junior High School. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and was a 2014 honored alum by the Department of Special Education at Illinois State. Follow her @JaymeCorcoran.

Jim Fornaciari ’85, is a European history teacher at Glenbard West High School. He is the 2015 Midwest Advanced Placement Teacher of the Year. Follow him @APEuroHist.

Amy (Brophy) Laughlin ’98, is a K-6 literacy intervention teacher at Hansen Elementary School in Anaheim, California. She is the 2015 California Teacher of the Year. Follow her @ALaughlinCaTOY.

Matthew Lawrence ’00, is a 3rd-5th grade science teacher at Waikiki Elementary in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a NBCT and the 2014 Hawaii Teacher of the Year.

Jayme Corcoran

Jayme Corcoran


Questions submitted by Lauren Thomas, senior elementary education major: “What are the biggest mistakes first-year teachers make?

“New (and veteran!) teachers must always remember STUDENTS FIRST.  It is not just about the teaching, it is also about the learning.  We teach kids, not just content.  CONNECT with the students you teach!”  -Laughlin

“The kids have plenty of friends; you should not be one of them. Focus on being a teacher and leader, not a buddy.” –Fornaciari

“The biggest mistake I made in my first year was not holding students to my behavioral expectations of them.  I wanted then what I still want now: vibrant class discussions where students feel respected and free to question authority.  In trying to accomplish this I allowed students to interrupt me and choose whether or not to fully follow my directions.  This didn’t work at all!  Today – although I’m known as a ‘fun’ teacher – I am at the same time known as one of the most ‘strict’ teachers, which works much better.” -Lawrence

Jim Fornaciari

Jim Fornaciari

“Working in education, some days can be extremely challenging. How do you stay motivated and encouraged in the difficult moments?”

“My students motivate and inspire me.  I come to work for no other reason than them.  I have hit many roadblocks in my years of teaching, yet I persevere because I know every child I teach depends on it.  Stay focused on the passion you have for teaching and the love you have for the students you teach.” -Laughlin

“You observe the strong teaching models in your school and attempt to follow their lead. These veterans will help set good examples for you when it comes to dealing with tough days. Be willing to approach them and ask for guidance. Highly skilled teachers remain motivated because they understand they are working for the kids.” –Fornaciari

Amy Laughlin

Amy Laughlin

Questions submitted by Kelsey Kott, junior theatre education major:  “What are your feelings on the EdTPA?”

“I think it is similar to the National Boards process that I went through.  It is really hard and requires reflection.  I am a better teacher for going through the process!  Like all assessments, it can be subjective.” -Corcoran

“In your opinion, is education a respected profession? Why do you feel this way?”

“In the community I teach in teachers are well respected. Most of that comes from conducting yourself like a professional. If you value the professional nature of this work and conduct yourself with a high level of professionalism, you will be respected.” -Fornaciari

Matt Lawrence

Matt Lawrence

Question submitted anonymously: “Do you feel that the education you received at Illinois State adequately prepared you to teach outside of Illinois?”

“My education at ISU goes unrivaled.  In 17 years of teaching, I have yet to find a colleague who had a learning experience as extensive of the one I received at ISU.  Having the opportunity to participate in the yearlong Professional Development School (PDS) as a student teacher prepared me for my duties as a new teacher by providing hands-on training from the first day of school to the last.”  -Laughlin

Question submitted by Debbie Gum, elementary education alumna: “Can you provide insight/examples as to how you are implementing STEM in your Kindergarten and/or elementary classrooms?”

“I haven’t taught Kindergarten since 2001, but when I did, I recall having the kids make model lungs out of plastic bottles, balloons, and rubber bands.  The purpose was for kids to learn that breathing is controlled by our diaphragm.  Here is an example on YouTube. For the younger kids, I feel it is important for them to be guided through some simple hands-on investigations where they can generate a hypothesis, take some data, and share their findings with the class.  The sharing is where the integration to language arts has the most potential.” -Lawrence

Questions submitted by: Jessie Clinton, junior elementary education major: “Because of your strong background in behavior studies and interventions, I would like to ask what advice you have for preservice teachers to become proactive in dealing with behavioral issues in the classroom?”

“There is no strategy, book, or tool more powerful than creating genuine positive relationships with students.  I make phone calls early in the first few weeks of school to tell parents what I have noticed about their students.  The entire call is positive.  I listen to them and try to show through actions that I care about them.  I have high behavior standards and I focus on using enforceable statements like ‘I will start the experiment when it is quiet.’  The best advice I have is that you should have lots of routines so that students know what to expect, use schedules on the board, and discuss behavior expectations every day. Behvior expectations should be engrained!” -Corcoran

“How do you incorporate the physical surroundings and community in your classroom? Do you think teaching in Hawaii has an effect on your teaching structure in comparison to how it may have looked like in Illinois?”

“I suspect that teaching in Hawaii has indeed allowed me to teach differently than I would in Illinois, though I think it has more to do with the school I ended up at than the state.  My principal is extremely supportive and allows her teachers the freedom to make the pedagogical choices that are best for their students.  In this environment my teaching structure evolved to what it is today through natural experimentation.  I feel safe to try and fail at Waikiki School, but I also feel the responsibility to improve my practices for the benefit of my students.  There are amazing principals all over the country who trust and inspire their staff in this way, even in the face of our current high-stakes testing debacle.” -Lawrence

“What’s your greatest teaching story?”

“I am still writing my greatest teaching story! It is a culmination of every tough student that comes back to visit, every milestone I get to witness kids reach. One of my favorite stories, however, goes back to a student I taught during my first year in the field.  I adored him, but he could be very ornery.  I saw something great in him, though.  Every day was hard, and I was constantly revising behavior plans and thinking of motivators.  A few years ago he came to visit me at school.  He gave me a hug and said he went to a junior college and even got the opportunity to play hockey.  He also gave me a baby announcement. I was so proud of him and happy that I had made an impact on his life.” -Corcoran

“My greatest teaching story involves an eight-year-old confronting her racial stereotypes. I was reading a story in which an old grumpy white male shop owner was mean to a group of kids. One of my 3rd grade girls announced to the class, ‘Yeah that’s how haoles (a derogatory term for Caucasian in Hawaii) always act.’  I smiled and asked the girl if she personally knew any haoles and she admitted that she did not. So I replied, ‘Did you know that the principal here is haole? And Mrs. Caine? And Mr. Gibbs? And …did you know that I am haole?” Behind her eyes I could see her brain explode, and she later said to me, ‘Mr. Lawrence, you changed the tape that was playing in my mind.'” -Lawrence

Questions submitted by Patricia Ramos, graduate student, educational administration and foundations: “Do you feel a blended classroom that includes students with learning disabilities will help those students’ social behaviors or do you feel children with a learning disability do better in non-blended classrooms?”

“I believe all students should have access to the general education setting.  I think there are more opportunities for friendships and that can trump my best instructional plans in the self-contained setting.  This being said, it really is dependent on each student. Educational placement is one of the hardest decisions and should be decided on as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team and be taken very seriously.” -Corcoran

“Why did you specifically choose reading and literacy intervention as your specialty over other areas?”

“Literacy is threaded through every core subject.  Kids who cannot read struggle all day long.  Students not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely NOT to graduate from high school. Time is of the essence, and early intervention is the KEY to success.  I chose to specialize in reading intervention because learning to read opens doors, and I wanted to be part of that.” -Laughlin