Alumna Heather Smith Boosts Her Resume With Teacher Leader Endorsement

Sometimes the stars align and serendipity ensues. Ask Heather Smith.

With a need for professional development hours to maintain her teaching license, she enrolled in the new online Teacher Leader Endorsement program at Youngstown State University and became the first person to complete the program in October 2020.

“I read the description and thought, ‘Holy cow, this is everything I have been doing the last couple of years,'” she said. “It made sense to sign up for the program.”

Smith, a computer teacher at Rayen Early College Middle School in Youngstown, recently landed an equity liaison role within her school district.

“The position lined up with the classes you take in the program,” she said. “I hadn’t heard of any of this training and wanted to be on the team. I asked my instructional coach about it. Every building had to have a representative. It all fell into place. I am excited to be part of it.”

Plus, the six-month program duration time afforded Smith the opportunity to earn a graduate-level endorsement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the start of the pandemic, I thought I might as well do it while we are shut down because I would have more time,” she said. “I was nervous because we opened again, and everything was brand new. I was teaching a new course.

“I had to teach coding on an iPad, and I hadn’t coded for 10 years and don’t use iPads often. It was busy at the beginning, but I got a lot of good information out of the classes that will help me do more and gain confidence. It helped me prepare to be a better teacher in the pandemic.”

Taking a Stand

Smith grew up in Salem, Ohio, and had no plans to attend college after she graduated from high school.

“I worked at a fast-food restaurant and decided I was tired of the way people were looking at me when they were ordering, thinking I should be doing something with my life,” she said.

“I realized later on, it wasn’t them thinking that — it was me. They were only hoping I got their order right. I didn’t want to work there when I was 40.”

Four years later, Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood science education from YSU. She added a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Akron in 2011.

“I thought I could teach little kids, so I got my background in early childhood education,” she said. “I have also taught older kids, but I love teaching middle school.”

Of the four courses in the online Teacher Leader Endorsement program, EDAD 6905: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning was Smith’s favorite. She started reading books on social justice in history in 2016, so she was more than prepared when it was time for formal learning.

“When I went into the class, I had a lot to offer because I had been studying the equity piece and the coaching piece. It aligned,” she said. “It was weird because it felt like things were falling into place. I was already open to the cultural equity, but you have to have an open mind when you go into it. It’s not a lens everybody is typically used to looking through.”

She’s No. 1!

In addition to being the inaugural graduate of the online Teacher Leader Endorsement program at Youngstown, Smith is engaged to be married to Bernie Shutler. She has three children — Megan Brewer (20), Nathan Brewer (18) and Peyton Smith (14).

“When I saw that I was the first graduate of the program, I thought, ‘My name will be in the history books.’ My family and friends are excited for me,” she said.

The program also led Smith to begin helping her school district focus on social justice and fairness.

“We had a new principal this year who I wanted to welcome,” she said. “Taking the classes gave me the confidence to reach out to her and tell her what I have to offer.

“I met with her before the year started. She knew where my passions were, so that’s why she asked me about the equity liaison position. That made me feel good.”

Smith, who is in her second year at Rayen Early College Middle School and enjoys reading in her free time, looks forward to continuing her career as an educator with the Teacher Leader Endorsement under her belt.

“I have been able to help other teachers understand more about equity and the background of social justice,” she said. “I got good value out of the program at YSU, but it’s also what you put into it. It all worked out well.”

Learn more about YSU’s online Teacher Leader Endorsement program.

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