Teach Waterloo grads ready for next adventure

Teach Waterloo student teachingThe triumvirate is complete.

With spring 2021 commencement, Pamela Palmer and Benjamin Smith join Dawn Boone as the  first graduates of the Teach Waterloo program. 

Palmer and Smith officially joined the ranks of graduates on May 8 after student teaching, while Boone finished in November 2020. The three began a shared journey in summer 2018 as part of the first class for this initiative intended to increase diversity within the teaching workforce. It’s been a partnership of the University of Northern Iowa College of Education and the Waterloo Community School District, with funding support from the McElroy Trust. 

The focus of the two-and-a-half-year program is para-educators within WCSD who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Palmer has served as special education para-educator for 22 years, eight with WCSD. Smith has worked as a behavioral intervention specialist with the district. 

After attaining licensure, the two look forward to continuing roles within the district, part of the agreement between the program, the students and WCSD 

“I am very excited! I’m not sure where I’ll be yet until I get licensure finalized, but I am looking forward to wherever I’ll be,” says Palmer. 

Teach Waterloo graduateSmith is ready to apply what he learned along the way. An artist himself, he discovered how creativity and arts integration can help memory and learning, something that’s influenced his teaching. He also became more cognizant of the impact a teacher can make. 

“One thing I didn’t know about being a teacher is that a teacher is always a defining person in how you view the world around you. In educational psychology, we learned that we are shaped by the world around us and our genetics. So teachers play a huge role with the environment that a child will learn and grow from.” he says. 

Smith appreciates the support he’s had to reach his goal -- from the district, UNI and his family as he navigated work, school and a pandemic. 

“I have to give a huge shout out to Kingsley (Botchway) who is the head of human resources. He is an invaluable resource and we literally could not have done it without him.” Smith says. UNI professors like Benjamin Forsyth and Radhi Al-Mubak also left a lasting impression, he says. 

And then there are his parents. “Without my father’s wisdom and  my mother’s positivity, this would have been an even harder journey,” he says. 

As a single mother and non-traditional student, Palmer is just as thankful, citing professors, the district and her mother’s support, who helped with childcare when needed. Now she looks forward to leading that first classroom. 

“I want all of my students to know they are great and they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” she says. “I plan to dedicate my thoughts, time and planning to ensure that I am  meeting the needs of every student I am blessed to teach. I hope to have a lasting positive impact in the lives of my students.” 

A second class of fellows, as the program calls the students, is now underway. For more on Teach Waterloo and Smith, Palmer and Boone, turn to “New beginnings bring new hope” in the February 2021 UNI Magazine.