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New Teacher Finishes 2 Degrees (& Multiple Certificates) and Finds Dream Job During Pandemic

Mercedes Holets Tosses Her Cap on Graduation DayMercedes Holets graduated from Seton Hill University with an undergraduate degree in elementary education with special education in 2020. By taking advantage of Seton Hill’s FastForward Program, Holets was able to graduate again with both her M.Ed. in Innovative Instruction and an Adaptive Online Teaching Certificate in 2021. By the 2021-2022 school year, Holets was hired for a full-time in-person teaching position with Elizabeth Forward School District. She credits her success to Seton Hill’s rigorous education and well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. Holets shared her thoughts on finishing both her undergraduate and graduate degrees and finding a job she loves in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Why did you choose Seton Hill University for your undergraduate degree?

I chose Seton Hill based on the welcoming atmosphere I felt as soon as I stepped onto campus as a senior in high school. When it came to my education, I wanted to be more than a number to my professors. The professors at Seton Hill cared about my future aspirations and got to know each student that walked into their classrooms. These relationships created a close-knit community, which made Seton Hill my home away from home. In addition, when class sizes were smaller, this led to a more individualized approach to one’s education. This played a critical role in my decision to attend this wonderful university because I believe it led to my successes today. 

What made you want to major in education?

During my years of exploring career paths, I had full intentions of going into the field of business/accounting, but what made me change my mind was a Pre-K summer program job that was offered to me going into my senior year of high school. That summer, I learned that my true passion was to become a teacher when I built a relationship with a student who was non-verbal. Communication is a key point in creating student-teacher relationships, but in this case, all this child needed was someone with patience who understood his non-verbal cues. It was in those moments that I knew I wanted to be an educator, and since then, I have made hundreds of connections with students across multiple grade levels. I chose to major in education at Seton Hill because I wanted to leave a permanent impact on each child I would come across. On the first day of school, your students walk in as strangers. They leave as your children. 

It’s really impressive that you graduated with both an undergraduate and graduate degree in about a year! Can you tell me more about your experience as an undergraduate student at Seton Hill and how that paved the way for your graduate degree? 

When I was student teaching, I taught at Central Elementary School in the Elizabeth Forward School District. I gained experience in the first grade classroom, and then the third - fifth grade special education classrooms. It was during my rotation in the special education classroom that COVID-19 changed how the school year would pan out. Although it didn’t end like I planned, I was able to continue my student teaching experience online through Zoom. I started taking graduate classes during my undergraduate studies with Seton Hill’s FastForward Program. This gave me a jump start on my master’s degree before I even earned my bachelor’s. 

What was the path like from undergraduate to graduate to full-time career? 

I started student teaching at Elizabeth Forward School District during my senior year of undergrad. After student teaching, Elizabeth Forward called me and asked if I would like to interview for a long-term substitute position. After two rounds of interviews, I got the position to teach fifth grade English Language Arts. The position was online because of COVID-19. When that position ended, I interviewed again for a full-time fourth grade position that was also online. After four rounds of interviews, I got the position. The 2020-2021 school year was a challenge, but nothing could stop me as I was prepared with the education that I received at Seton Hill. This current school year (2021-2022), I got a position teaching fifth grade English Language Arts at Central Elementary School in the Elizabeth Forward School District. I could not love teaching in-person more, compared to being online, for my first year of teaching!

"My master’s in innovative instruction allowed me to flourish within my technology-driven district"

What effect has earning your Master’s of Education in Innovative Instruction had on your career?  

My undergraduate degree gave me a solid foundation for my teaching career, but my master’s degree gave me the stepping stones to reach a new level of concentrated understanding. My master’s in innovative instruction allowed me to flourish within my technology-driven district by providing me with a multitude of resources and new learning skills. This allowed me to take more risks with integrating technology into the classroom, because I was taught how to fully integrate it in all content areas for learning. 

What does a typical day as an educator look like for you?

I begin my day by preparing for the day’s work, uploading my playlists to Canvas and checking in with the other fifth grade teacher, who teaches the math and science curriculum. We discuss any concerns we have to ensure our day runs as smoothly as possible. Building a close relationship with your grade-level team is essential. As the students begin to flood the hallways, attendance and lunch count are completed. Then the day of teaching begins with two classes of Reading and two classes of Writing Composition instruction. As the school day winds down, I meet up with my colleague to discuss the day and what needs to be addressed for the next day. The day ends with looking at student data to drive my instruction and to prepare for the coming week’s lessons. 

Wow it sounds like teaching keeps you busy! What do you do in your free time? 

I give ski lessons on the weekends at Hidden Valley Resort. As you can see, teaching is truly a passion of mine!

How did your education at Seton Hill prepare you for your current career?

Seton Hill has prepared me to be an educator in several ways. Professors truly want their students to succeed. Each professor integrates authentic learning opportunities to get you ready for your chosen field. In the case of preparing me for my teaching career, the professors had a depth of knowledge that allowed me to take the content that we read in class and relate it to the real world. Lastly, by receiving a liberal arts education, I am truly a more well-rounded educator in the classroom and as an individual.