Education graduate Elisabeth Farrel builds relationships, responsibility in middle school

by | Jan 2, 2024

Farrel is teaching sixth grade math at Windsor Middle School, where she helps her students balance newfound freedom and personal responsibility.
Elisabeth Farrel
Elisabeth Farrel graduated in December with a bachelor's degree in education. Farrel is already putting her degree to use as a full-time math teacher at Windsor Middle School in Imperial, Missouri. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

When Elisabeth Farrel began thinking about her future career, she did her best to explore all the options available to her, but she kept coming back to the same answer.

“It runs in my family,” Farrel said. “My mom was a teacher. My grandparents were both teachers. So, I always kind of knew that that might be a possibility in the future. Most kids don’t like school, but there was just always something about school – I excelled in school, and I liked being there. As I got older and I was starting to think of a job I might have, teacher was always the first thing I could ever think of.”

Now Farrel is embarking on a career in education that has been years in the making.

In December, she graduated – a semester early – from the University of Missouri–St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with a focus in middle school math, and a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College. She’s already putting her degree to use as a full-time math teacher at Windsor Middle School in Imperial, Missouri.

“It really did go by fast,” Farrel said of her time at UMSL. “Even though I graduated a semester early, it feels even shorter than three and a half years. I can’t believe I’m done with college.”

Farrel graduated from Mehlville High School and began her college journey during a difficult time – the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most students at the time, Farrel had to adjust to online learning and courses, but she quickly settled into her place at UMSL.

The university’s affordability and flexible courses, which ultimately made it possible to study during summers and graduate early, appealed to Farrel. She also enjoyed being able to stay close to her family in Mehlville.

At first, Farrel considered focusing on high school math, but she quickly realized high school would not be the right fit for her. She also knew that she didn’t want to teach elementary school because she wouldn’t be able to focus on one subject. Eventually, she settled on pursuing middle school math.

“I think math is objective,” she said. “I much prefer teaching an objective subject as opposed to a subjective subject like ELA or social studies. I like that there’s typically one way to get to an answer. Being able to teach that – in my head – seems easier than having to teach all of the other sorts of ways to do other subjects.”

In the College of Education, she found a group of supportive, likeminded students and instructors.

“They were amazing, and every single person I met was just so helpful and welcoming,” Farrel said. “Going into education, especially now, can be scary, and a lot of people are making it sound very scary. So having people to lean on at the college was just really great. It has been such a great experience.”

Farrel said Luann Domek, the clinical educator who oversaw her student teaching, was particularly helpful.

“We had a lot in common,” she said. “She taught in the Fox District. That’s where I did my student teaching, and she taught sixth grade math, which is what I currently teach. So, just getting to know her and then her helping me along the way has been great.”

After student teaching at Fox Middle School for a semester, Farrel went to Windsor Middle School where she began teaching full-time, which was possible through provisional certification. Normally, Farrel would have student taught with another teacher four days a week for the semester. However, she enjoyed being able to jump into a full-time role and felt ready for the challenge thanks to the College of Education.

“I think, honestly, sometimes it can be better to learn by yourself,” she said. “I was really, really grateful that I at least had one semester of student teaching before I was able to do this. Having that semester of student teaching, going through the teacher education program, definitely prepared me to step into the water this semester and do it on my own.”

Farrel has learned that connecting with her students on a personal level is especially important as a math teacher.

“I teach math; I mean, that’s not students’ favorite subject,” she said. “That’s definitely not what most students would say they love. So, building those relationships is really the best way to get through to them. It’s also, in my opinion, the best part of my job. I look forward to seeing those kids every day and just hearing what they have to say.”

It takes a proactive approach to build and maintain those relationships. Every Monday, Farrel asks her students what they did over the weekend. Not everyone has to share, but she makes a point of calling on every student who is willing to do so. She also makes an effort to attend students’ concerts, plays and sporting events.

“When they see you at the event, their face just lights up,” she said.

Personal responsibility is also a priority in Farrel’s classroom. In sixth grade, students are moving from class to class for the first time, and it’s also the first time they have multiple teachers. She said it means more freedom for students, but it also means more responsibility if they want to succeed.

“In math, we take notes every day, and I tell them, if they take good notes, they’ll be able to use their notes on the test,” Farrel said. “But then the test comes along, and some students haven’t taken good notes. That’s just one lesson of, ‘Hey, if you’re being responsible and making sure that you’re paying attention during class, you’re gonna have that when you need it. But if you don’t, you won’t.’ So, I think responsibility is a huge theme, especially in the sixth-grade classroom.”

Farrel is continuing to work full-time at Windsor after graduation and eventually plans to attend graduate school to further her education.

“It feels weird that I already have a job,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s also a great feeling at the same time.”

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