posted February 17, 2017
“I am motivated in my desire to make a difference in the world. It is important to me that I make an impact and have a positive influence on others.”
The summer after graduation – in her typical easy-going, open-to-possibilities fashion – Crystal Holmes-Smith accepted an offer to teach 4th and 5th grades at Moriah School in La Esperanza, Honduras. She has spent her time in Honduras teaching English, science and mathematics, studying the Spanish language and building on her classroom methods. And, while many might feel that moving abroad is a frightening prospect for a new graduate, Crystal believes it is the perfect way to spend her first year of teaching. She has proven herself an enthusiastic and engaging teacher who is well loved and willing to learn as much from her students as she teaches them.
“There are some challenges, of course. English is their second language so I sometimes have to work really hard to help them understand the content, and that doesn’t come easy. But I enjoy the challenge. I have the freedom be creative and do whatever I think it is best. I love my students and they love me, and I’m just having fun.” she shared.
Holmes-Smith has picked the perfect career to meet her motivations. Teaching provides her the rewarding feeling of helping students to reach their goals, while her focus on literacy offers her the opportunity to help children develop strong reading and writing competency, which she sees as essential to communication and everyday life.
“I’ve watched students struggle because of their lack of literacy skills. I chose this field because I believe that literacy is the basis for all education,” she said.
Holmes-Smith didn’t come to Buffalo State for a specific reason, but she feels she lucked out with this decision when she considers what she learned through her campus experiences. She collaborated with members of campus student government, became a student representative then graduate assistant for the Professional Development Schools Consortium (PDS), and took on an organizing role with Step Expression, a student group that volunteers at events to increase school spirit using the art of stepping as a form of communication. “Buffalo State contributed greatly to my personal development by helping me build confidence and leadership skills,” said Crystal.
A major influence for Holmes-Smith was her engagement in in two study away opportunities. In 2015 she traveled to Chile through the School of Education’s International Professional Development Schools Consortium, observing and teaching in local classrooms. In 2016 she joined the Anne Frank Project annual drama-based education program in Rwanda. Both trips allowed her to build friendships, stretch herself as a teacher, and examine the joys and struggles experienced across the globe. Holmes-Smith believes that campus-led travel abroad is something all students, especially teacher education candidates, should make part of their academic plan.
“All of these experiences – abroad and on campus – helped me grow by causing me to challenge myself and try new things...to develop an appreciation for cultures other than my own, which help me become a more culturally responsive teacher,” says Crystal.
At Buffalo State, Holmes-Smith engaged in student research and presented at campus events as well as the National Association for Professional Development Schools (NAPDS) annual conference, where she shared her research findings with her teacher candidate peers, university faculty, and veteran teachers and administrators. Crystal is quick to clarify that she didn’t get to this level of engagement on her own. She took courses with several memorable professors who mentored her throughout and made her experience something special.
“A course that I found especially meaningful was the combined EDU 310/311, which I took with Dr. del Prado Hill. This course helped me become more familiar with children’s literature, learn how to effectively use questioning to guide students into critical thinking, and how to integrate literacy into social studies instruction,” she said
One professor in particular made a big impact on Crystal during her journey, Kim Truesdell, associate professor emeritus of elementary education and reading. “Not only is Dr. Truesdell a great role-model, but she helped me to see things I didn’t even see in myself. She was encouraging and was always there to offer advice. Even now, after both my graduation and her retirement, we still keep in contact,” shared Crystal.
Reflecting on her journey at Buffalo State, Holmes-Smith says that she now knows what it takes to succeed in her career and at life in general – a love for what you do, hard work, dedication, and a willingness to continue learning.
“Education is always changing, and there will always be new strategies and techniques that prove to be more effective than the last. It is up to you, as a professional, to remain engaged in research and professional development so that you are always equipped with the best tools for student success. There are many challenges in the field of education, and if you don’t truly love your job, those challenges will frustrate you. You have to be willing to go above and beyond with both your interactions with your students, as well as your instruction of them.”
Recently Crystal was invited to serve as a Peace Corp Volunteer. Beginning in August 2017 she will serve as an English as a Foreign Language Co-Teacher in Nicaragua.
If life is a journey, Crystal Holmes-Smith is in no hurry to put away her passport or unpack her bags.