From High School Volunteer to Having Her Own Classroom

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From High School Volunteer to Having Her Own Classroom

Sarah Waltsak appreciated working with Camille Cammack, who brought real-life experience to teaching. “She gave us a real view of what you might see in the field.”

Sarah Waltsak, UMass Education alum and teacher
Sarah Waltsak, UMass Education alum and teacher

Even before starting college, Sarah Waltsak had worked in the Springfield public schools, where she is currently a teacher. The child of Springfield teachers, she had spent her summers volunteering in a specialized program, usually with preschoolers. She quickly learned that she loved working with very young kids. “Something about that age,” Waltsak explains, “being able to make an impact so early in their educational career, when they’re still fresh to school.”

Given that early experience, Waltsak didn’t have to wonder if urban education with young children would be the right career for her as she took education courses at UMass—she knew would be a good fit.

At UMass, Waltsak majored in Education with a concentration in Early Childhood education. She loved the program, particularly the intimate classes that the small program allows. She especially appreciated working with Camille Cammack, who brought a clear real-life experience approach to teaching. “She gave us a real view of what you might see in the field.”

Knowing she wanted to teach in Springfield, the college was able to arrange placements for Waltsak that put her in that environment—teaching in a preschool classroom at Indian Orchard and a first grade classroom at Glenwood Elementary. She recalls, “I liked that I was able to say what I wanted to get out of the program and they were supportive of that.”

Waltsak also worked as a substitute teacher in Springfield’s schools throughout college, and took a position as a long-term sub at Elias Brookings after she graduated in 2016. By August she had a permanent position at Boland Elementary. She is now in her third year teaching in an integrated preschool classroom that includes students with special needs and those who are typically developing.

Boland has proven to be an ideal school for Watsak. She prefers its approach to preschool education, which is based more in play than academics, and because there are ten preschool classrooms at the school, she has a large group of supportive colleagues.. “Everyone brings their own ideas to the table. We all share lessons and any materials that we have.”

Young kids are so fun—the things that they say, you can’t make up. I come home everyday with different stories to tell.

Sarah Waltsak

Waltsak also enjoys the dynamics of the integrated preschool classroom, because it allows the students to begin their education as peers, without seeing any developmental differences among themselves. Waltsak’s classroom includes children with autism, children with developmental disabilities, children with cerebral palsy, and children with typical development. “Kids who are typically developing are spending time and making relationships with kids who are not typically developing,” she observes. “It’s a special experience to see that the kids are so young that they don't realize that anyone is different from them.”

Sarah Waltsak, UMass Education alum and teacher

More than anything at her work, Watsak adores the kids and the experience of being in the classroom everyday. “Young kids are so fun—the things that they say, you can’t make up. I come home everyday with different stories to tell.” Having grown up in the more affluent town of East Longmeadow, Waltsak also appreciates the opportunity to give her students, many who have grown up in poverty, the quality of education and the social-emotional support that she took for granted as a kid.

Although teaching young children can require enormous dedication, Waltsak sees this as one of the benefits of the career rather than a drawback. “You can’t hold anything back,” she observes. “If you’re having a bad day, you can’t let that show, because you have to focus on the kids. It’s a very personal field where you really have to give it your heart and soul and leave it all on the table—I think that's why it’s so special.”

Since graduating from UMass, Waltsak has continued her education, completing an M.S. in autism spectrum disorders at Elms College. She is currently applying to a doctoral program in educational supervision and leadership. Although she plans to stay in the classroom for several years, her experience in the College of Education at UMass has inspired her to eventually teach Early Childhood education at the college level. “My experience at UMass was so positive,” she affirms, “I really want to give back and do something like that and help people who want to be teachers.”

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Are you enrolled at UMass and searching for what major or concentration will make a difference? Apply today for a major in Education and a concentration in either Early Childhood Education or this new, rigorous Special Education undergraduate program.