To Identify Role Models as a Teacher, Shelagh O’Neil BA ’20, MEd ’21 Knew Exactly Where to Look

Shelagh O’Neil BA ’20, MEd ’21 head shotA trio of teachers stand out in Shelagh O’Neil’s decision to pursue a career in education. At Lowell Catholic High School, she recalls Ms. [Meredith] Rizzo, her freshman Spanish teacher: “She created a classroom culture where I felt safe to take academic risks, she helped me understand it is okay to make mistakes and was the type of teacher that always made me feel like I had a voice. Coming into a new school setting is scary and I felt as though she made that transition extremely easy. After having her as a teacher, I realized that I wanted to be like her.”

Before college, Shelagh was apprehensive that her “reserved personality” might not lend itself to the profession, but after her first year as an English and elementary education major at Regis, she felt confident she had made the right decision. “If I had to pinpoint one experience at college that I will carry with me throughout my career, it would be my first-ever education class taken at Regis, Introduction to Education, with Sister Mary [Murphy, assistant professor of education],” Shelagh writes. “Sister Mary’s education class not only helped me realize I was 100% sure about my decision to pursue a career in elementary education, her class also helped me open up more with my classmates and professors. At the end of the semester, Sister Mary had every student teach a pretend lesson to our fellow classmates, but they had to pretend to be students within the grade level [they] wished to teach. If you were to tell me at the beginning of the year that I needed to act like I was teaching a class of first graders who were, in reality, college students, I would have laughed [but] that memory is something I will carry with me for years to come.” Sister Mary found Shelagh to be the kind of student “who loves to learn, enjoys challenges and was a joy to have as a student.”

Entering college, Shelagh never anticipated pursuing special education but a special ed class during her junior year and practical experience volunteering at several elementary schools changed her career trajectory. “I really felt as though this was a career I absolutely wanted to pursue after completing my student teaching lecture,” she explains. “Professor [Krista] Macari had numerous guest speakers come to our class (parents who have students with special education, special education teachers, etc.) and talk about the important role that teachers play within the lives of not only students with special needs but their families as well.”

In Shelagh, Professor Macari sees a student who “demonstrated tremendous perseverance and dedication” and “took advantage of every opportunity to reflect on her practice as a teacher.”

After completing her master’s degree in special education at her college alma mater in May, Shelagh will return to her high school alma mater, Lowell Catholic Elementary School, this fall as a 3rd grade teacher. However, she adds, “I would love to one day work in a special education classroom where students and parents feel heard and supported by me.”