In order to showcase the diverse talent and experiences of Boettcher Teacher Residents and Alumni statewide and provide a glimpse into the residency experience, we are proud to feature a monthly series spotlighting an alumni and resident each month.
Resident: Matthieu Caldwell
Mentor: Nicole Snelgrove
School: William Smith High School in Aurora Public Schools
Growing up as the son of a veteran pilot and the grandson of another pilot, Matthieu Caldwell was destined to become a U.S. Air Force pilot. It was a dream that existed long before teaching. After serving his country, Matthieu knew that he had two options for career paths: enter the private sector and continue similar work that he had done in service or begin a career as a teacher, something that he’d experienced long ago.
“One of my favorite teachers in high school would give students the chance to be the teacher,” said Caldwell. “It’s really a Socratic idea that everyone is learning together and participating in the discovery of truth. It made me read more deeply when I realized I’d be teaching and getting up and engaging in the material with other people.”
Now, Matthieu has a chance to share this method of learning with his students in a community that is all too familiar. Matthieu is completing his residency year in Aurora, Colorado within the same school district where he first learned that he wanted to become a teacher.
“Having grown up in Aurora and knowing a lot about the area gives me a good way to connect with the students,” said Caldwell. “Even with my [cross country] coaching it’s good to have that shared framework.”
Matthieu’s air force experience has also been a valuable asset to the classroom, but he cannot help identifying the differences between a career as a pilot and intelligence briefer and the career of a high school science teacher and cross country coach. Matthieu commends his mentor teacher with helping him learn how to build relationships with his students. Imaginably, Matthieu’s former career path’s demand on relationship building differs greatly from his need to build relationships with his students.
“As an intelligence briefer, it’s all about whether the information is delivered in a timely manner,” said Caldwell. “As a teacher it’s a completely different set of questions about student lives, them connecting with the material and their behavior.”
Matthieu commends his mentor teacher with helping him learn how to build relationships with his students. Imaginably, Matthieu’s former career path’s demand on relationship building differs greatly from his need to build relationships with his students.
“Going into it, I knew there would be a lot of value in seeing how my mentor handles situations that arise in the classroom and building relationships with students. I think it’s my mentor’s strongest [attribute] is building relationships.”
Matthieu is also grateful for his cohort. He notes the expertise of his peers. From journalists to lawyers and even another veteran Air Force pilot, Matthieu was pleasantly surprised to meet the other members of his cohort. The value of their experience and the innovative school where he’s serving as a resident continues to help Matthieu grow in his learning, as well as, confirm that his background and story will positively influence his role in the classroom.
“I was the student that wasn’t easy to engage,” said Caldwell. “I really try to emphasize the why when teaching because it wasn’t always clear to me. My number one dream for this year is to be able to design a really good Sports Physiology course that will inspire students to get involved in sports and athletics and understand the processes behind it. I want to be that person that’s showing my kids their potential.”
Name: Devon Lane
Residency Year: 2015-16
Residency Year School/District: Dolores HS, Dolores School District RE-4A
Current School/District/Other Occupation: Middle School Science and STREAM Instructor, Dolores County Middle/High School, Dolores County School District RE-2J
Dove Creek, Colorado, population 724, is situated more or less forty minutes due north of Cortez in Southwestern Colorado. Boettcher Teacher Residency alumni Devon Lane grew up in Dove Creek, earned a bachelor’s degree at nearby Fort Lewis College in Durango, and worked for the Colorado Parks and WIldlife Department before deciding to take the leap into the classroom.
Devon was a part of BTR’s second cohort in Southwestern Colorado, and was a Resident Teacher in high school biology in nearby Dolores. After her residency year, Devon was hired as a 6th grade science teacher in Dove Creek, and this year is teaching all middle school grade levels as a Science/STREAM instructor. (STREAM is Science, Technology, Reading/Research, Engineering, Arts, and Math.)
I recently caught up with Devon at The Pony, a coffee shop on Main St. in Dolores, to learn more about her experience as a resident and her plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little about your previous experiences and your pathway into a teaching career?
Devon: I went to Fort Lewis and got an environmental biology degree, and immediately went to work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a district wildlife manager. I worked for eight years in the Brush/Akron district in eastern Colorado, which is about as far from here as you can get! I had a great experience, I loved that job, but it wasn’t going to work for our family anymore. My husband had an opportunity to transfer here in 2015, and I was accepted into BTR which made it much easier to make the decision to move back.
Why did you decide to teach in Dove Creek?
Ultimately, I chose Dove Creek because it was going to be the best option for my family. My kids would have access to a different kind of education, more experiential – my son is very hands on so I knew he needed more of the project-based learning. For me, it was knowing that my previous experiences were going to be useful for the students here. We do interest-based courses, skills based courses. I’m actually teaching outdoor skills to the 7th-8th graders this year, and then I’m also teaching an outdoor survival skills class as a part of our advisory class for high school freshman and sophomores.
What would you like our readers to know about your school community?
Our community is a very small, rural, agricultural community in western Colorado. Demographically, our population is more at risk than other communities – there’s a group of very transient individuals that attend and leave and the population fluctuates quite a lot. Overall I think that it’s a good community. The environment is a great place to raise children. If you’re an outdoors-oriented type of family, it’s a great place to be as there’ so much available. We’re close to Moab, to Durango, to Telluride, so you have this whole spectrum. It’s important to my family that we have the opportunities to get outdoors, and it’s important to our kids in school as well – that they’re not always in the classroom, that they have the opportunity to get outside and experience some of the stuff that we have access to that so many people don’t.
Tell me about your goals for your students this year.
One of my major goals is to help the students get a grasp of “science is everything” and “STREAM is everything” and that these are skills that they’re going to need in the future. I want to make everything that I bring to them relevant, and to help them realize that education is a valuable thing.
Looking back at your residency year with BTR, which skills/strategies/concepts that you learned that have helped you as you began your teaching career?
In our summer institute, we had a class where we talked a lot about norms, and how to get ready for school and setting up the classroom learning environment and how to plan to be successful. You can’t overplan, and I think that was the most valuable thing. I’ve used my notes from that course every year.
What goals do you have for your career in education? Tell me where you want to go, and how you plan to get there.
I’ve thought about it, and I really feel like the Boettcher program is grooming its residents to be teacher leaders. I have a goal of being at minimum a teacher leader in my school, perhaps in my district, and maybe larger scale into administration. I definitely strive to become a teacher leader and help other teachers become better, and to see where education is going rather than where education has been. I really believe that our students are different than they were 10 or 15 years ago, and we need to adapt to them rather than them adapting to us. We want to have all of our students find value in what they’re learning.
As you know, there can be challenges to teaching in rural Colorado. There are also some wonderful benefits and opportunities to teaching in a rural school district that some educators may not be aware of. Can you tell us a little bit about these issues as you’ve experienced them through your school community?
One of the challenges that I find is that because my district is so small, you are a single team – you may not have a team to plan with, you don’t have PLC to speak of, you plan your classroom and you’re the only one that’s going to touch that plan. It can be a challenge, in that you don’t get to collaborate with others and kind of grow along the way, but on the other hand it’s also really nice because I can teach what I want when I want, I can change it to suit my needs. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I would really like to bounce ideas off of someone because I feel like you can grow more that way, and the lessons get better. So it goes both ways.
The other challenge I see is funding. We have 56 kids in our middle school and maybe 72 in the high school, so it’s really small. We’re probably two full-time staff short of where we were last year, and we’re all making up for that. I’m teaching a STEM course and I’m using mainly repurposed items to achieve our engineering and arts goals. It works wonderfully, but I have to be very creative in how I get that done.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is looking to start a teaching career in rural Colorado?
Doing some research ahead of time. Knowing what the district that you’re going into is like, becoming familiar with how the school operates and becoming familiar with the community and the town itself. Get involved in as much as possible right away so that the community can get to know you and see you as a part of it. Your integrity will mean a lot.
Learn more about the Boettcher Teacher Residency, including upcoming information sessions, eligibility requirements and information on how to apply.