Caitlin Donahue and Teaching Students on Many Levels

By Alex Phelps

Caitlin Donahue has been working as an English and creative writing teacher at Stafford High School for nine years and this past August completed her sixth year in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Creativity, Giftedness and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut. Caitlin believes that it is difficult to get gifted students involved in class if they are already familiar with the material they are learning and do not need extra help on their own. She was inspired to follow this path in her education when she began to teach a college level English class, but found that it was much more difficult to teach the students that were doing well because there was not much to teach them. Due to this, she said despite there being easier and faster options available to her she wanted to pursue something that she believed would help allow her students to receive more attention in the classroom. She said that it has become difficult to make sure that these students are getting the right attention because of the general focus being on the students that are struggling and not the ones who are already meeting expectations. One problem that this can lead to is a higher dropout rate among students that are not getting enough attention. Caitlin wants to make sure that this does not happen within her own school and hopes that the knowledge she has gained with this new degree will help her do so.

Part of what made the program as worthwhile as it was, is that Dr. Joseph Renzulli, a Professor at UConn, was the creator of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model that many schools nationwide have adopted. This means that UConn is one of the best places to complete a degree focusing on enrichment. She said that although her school does not follow the Schoolwide Enrichment Model she has been able to bring elements of it to her classroom environment. Caitlin became recognized for her hard work in the program when she won the award for the highest score on the first comprehensive exam. She said that when she looked at the program that was one of the clear things that she could achieve and she made it a goal to accomplish it. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic she was not able to be recognized at a banquet like in years past, however, she still feels the same sense of accomplishment.

 One of the things that she has been focusing on since she began working on her degree is how to get students to think about their own thought process. Many times she has found that her students do assignments and if they get bad results on them they are confused at why it happened. Caitlin wants her students to have a better understanding of what led them to not do well on the assignment so that they can do better on future ones. She said that this has helped her students, because instead of them just reading over the revisions highlighting what they did wrong , they can actually learn how to not make those mistakes again. 

The class that she has changed her approach on the most is her Early College Experience class (ECE). This is a class full of students who are prepared to take a class at the college level where there is more expected out of them academically. This used to mean that doing a lot of writing was the primary focus of the classwork. This makes sense as it is meant to prepare the students for the rigor of college and get them to the level that they are able to write good papers for their future classes. She has realized however that she wants to give her students projects that allow them to express themselves and be more creative than a research paper would allow them to. Last year, while the students were reading Fahrenheit 451 she gave them an assignment where they would critique society in their own way. She said the students really enjoyed having this opportunity to be expressive in different ways. Due to the success of this assignment Caitlin wants to increase the amount of projects that make the students think in different ways than a traditional paper.