In Focus: Melissa Yonelunas
Tell us about your background and how you knew you wanted to be a teacher.
I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember, but I never thought that I would be able to stand up in front of a class and guide a group of learners through a lesson. All throughout my K-12 school career, I rarely spoke up in class. I always got straight A's, but I found that I was much more comfortable answering complex questions through my writing rather than verbally. It wasn’t until I met my 11th grade English teacher that I realized my potential for actually becoming the teacher I’d always dreamed. This teacher, who I would also have as a senior, really took me under his wing and helped me to overcome this obstacle of shyness. With his help, I went from being the quiet girl in class to the vice president of our school's English Honor Society. While he impacted me personally, I saw this same influence on all of his students. His teaching style was varied and always incorporated his students' interests. He brought literature to life, and treated his students with a great mutual respect by putting himself on the same level as us. His methods were inspiration to me, and I decided to go for my dream.
After completing my student teaching semester during my undergrad, I have found a new confidence in the classroom. Something happens when I teach. All of the fears go away and my passion just shines through. I am so happy that I took that risk and did not allow my fears of being in front of the classroom dissuade me from pursuing education as a career, because honestly, after getting a taste of what’s to come, I cannot picture myself in any other career. I hope to follow in the same footsteps as my teacher and encourage and inspire students to enjoy literature and writing as much as I do. In what other field can an individual be lucky enough to positively impact the lives of students and help them find their own unique voices?
What brought you to Hofstra University for graduate studies? How did you find this program to stand out from others?
While searching for graduate programs to enroll in, I stumbled across Hofstra’s Teaching of Writing Program. Having earned my bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education at C.W. Post, I did not want to just go for a Master’s in English literature, or Education. I felt that this would just be a repetition of my undergraduate experience, and I wanted to learn something new. My passion is writing, so I began searching for something related to that specialization. That is when I found Hofstra’s program. It was unlike any other program available to me on Long Island. Not only would it take me through the process of teaching writing in schools, it would also prepare me to become a certified Literacy specialist. How could I lose? I spoke with Dr. Joan Zaleski, who was the advisor for the program at that time, right away to begin the application process, and now here I am.
How would you describe your field placements/student teaching experience?
While I have not completed my practicum yet (I will be completing it this summer), all other field observations and internships throughout the program have been enriching learning experiences. Having the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student in both LYST 240 and LYST 262 has been incredible. To learn so deeply about individuals as writers and readers has not only been rewarding, but has also confirmed the importance of getting to know your students. Learning how to construct a Writer’s profile and Reader’s profile has taught me that even those who seem to be struggling know a lot more than they are given credit for about their own reading, writing, and learning. I am excited not only for my practicum experience this summer, but also to see how these activities will be incorporated into my classroom on the whole class level in the future.
Have you attended professional development seminars offered by Literacy Studies programs?
In 2012, I attended the Literacy and Imagination Conference at Hofstra. It was a great conference, during which I picked up many strategies to use for my future classroom. Also, being a passionate writer, it was amazing to get to meet and speak with authors and illustrators in the field.
Did you find mentors while you studied at Hofstra?
Every single professor who I have had has been a mentor to me. The members of the faculty are so knowledgeable and experienced. They have all found authentic ways of teaching us about learning to read and learning to write. If I had to choose one, I would say that Dr. Jeanne Henry has been a huge mentor in my time here at Hofstra. She taught three of my courses: LYST 209, 219, and 221. Being from a similar background as me, a certified secondary English education teacher, I found that I could learn so much from her experiences. She was able to show me how to tweak many of the activities designed for the elementary grades, a focus of many of the texts we read in classes, to fit the students on a middle school or high school level. I learned a great deal that I hope to include in my future classroom from her.
How has Hofstra prepared you for the job search process post-graduation?
Hofstra has not only given me another certification and degree, but it has given me a great deal of knowledge to prepare me for the job search after graduation. While I am currently a substitute teacher and do not have a classroom of my own yet, the wisdom and authentic learning experiences given to me here by my professors has surely deepened my understanding of teaching and learning, as well as expanded my teaching repertoire. I can now walk away with so many strategies and techniques of both teaching and supporting writers and readers on different levels. These will be great assets to my future classrooms and students.
What are your long-term goals?
My goal for now is to get a classroom of my own. While I may one day decide to go for a doctoral degree, for now, I would just like the opportunity to teach. I want to start building my own classroom memories, my own experiences. In the long term, I hope to be a teacher that has meaningfully impacted the lives of my students. I hope to be like the teachers I looked up to in high school, the ones who truly went above and beyond and made a difference.
What advice do you have for those seeking certification in literacy?
For those seeking certification in literacy, I say go for it and enjoy it. There are so many technical processes to learn, such as how to write a profile of a reader or writer, and how to perform running records or miscue analysis, but it is all worth it. Learning about literacy opens your mind up to a whole new world of understanding. It was a great certification to earn in conjunction with my English Education degree and has certainly helped me to grow as a teacher of English.