School of Education Alumna Spotlight: Katherine Stone '95 (BA), '97 (MEd), Curriculum and Instruction

Katherine Stone
begin quoteI love teaching. I loved USD. I feel like being here made me a better person, more confident, made me feel safe. Id recommend it to anybody.

Tell us about your degree program and why you chose the School of Education.

When I was younger, I used to dance and I wanted to be a dance teacher. When I was 13, I got really sick and I had to quit dancing, but I still wanted to be a teacher. All throughout middle school and high school, it was just a matter of what subject. I was actually better at Math than I was at English, but I thought that teaching math would be redundant and repetitive. My English classes, I think, were where I grew a lot as a person and so I enjoyed English even though I wasn’t as good at it.

For my undergrad program, USD was the only school that I applied to. My high school counselors thought that my family and I knew everything about getting into college, but we didn’t. January of my senior year came around and I hadn’t applied anywhere. So, I applied to USD and I really believe it was God’s plan that I was here. It was perfect for me. 

I did a bachelor's and master's combo, and I didn’t know that I was going to do that until senior year of my bachelor’s program. I majored in English, and then probably in the middle of my junior year they said that I could add a minor in theatre because I had taken so many theatre classes. At the time, I was also acting in the theatre program at USD. I was the lead in both productions my senior year, which shocked everyone because, like I said, I was extremely shy. I minored in Theatre Arts and then at the start of my senior year, I started working with Dr. Bob Infantino, and Dr. Irene Williams was helping me coordinate that. She knew what I wanted to do and she was my undergraduate advisor. She helped me figure out how to work all that in and I ended up doing the credential program as an undergrad, and then when I did the student teaching that was the first step in the master’s program. I finished the master’s program at night while I subbed.

Who was your favorite professor from your time at the School of Education?

SOLES didn’t exist then; it was the School of Education in Harmon Hall. From the School of Education, I’d have to say Dr. Infantino, who was my advisor in the School of Education, was amazing. He helped build me up as a teacher and made me feel like I was very capable and knew what I was doing, and that wasn’t something that came natural to me. His classes were amazing; the creativity and the passion he had for writing really inspired me. Dr. Donna Barnes I also adored and I really enjoyed her classes. Dr. Ed Kujawa taught Research Methods, which was my only B in the program, and I learned a lot in that class; I took a few other classes of his and he was so knowledgeable and approachable. That’s one of the things I loved about it here at USD, undergrad and graduate--how approachable the professors were, how supportive they were, and how they actually got to know us while we were here. Dr. Infantino still remembers me, which is crazy, thinking about how long it’s been--it’s been 23 years since I graduated from USD with my master’s.

What about your favorite class?

I honestly don’t remember the name of the class, but there was one class with Dr. Barnes that had to do with classroom environment, and one of the projects we completed at the end of the class was setting up a classroom. She took us out to one of the portable classrooms out in the back and gave us a classroom, and we had to set it up the way that we would; it was in small groups. I think Dr. Kujawa’s wife was in that class with me. So I had this brilliant idea in high school to have centers (work centers) which is much more difficult to do in high school than what I thought when I was in the master’s program; sitting with one group while four other groups did something is not always successful as you think for high school students. That was really cool that she gave us this hands on experience to go out and move around, and the freedom to do that, that was really exciting. That was a really fun class.

I also really enjoyed Dr. Barnes’s Children’s Literature class. She had us memorize a children’s book and recite it. I did the literary emphasis in the master’s program and so I had a lot of courses on teaching reading and how to increase the level of literacy, which has followed me through my career. I’m a huge Kelly Gallagher fan, met him a couple of times through his trainings--trying to get kids to fall in love with reading as much as possible, which is so hard. You can’t make them do it--that’s the hard thing--you have to try to give your students openings or doorways to fall in love with reading and to learn how to make reading a part of who they are.

Where was favorite place on campus?

Since I was here since I started as an undergrad, I knew a lot of the places. I think my favorite place when I was in my master’s program was Harmon Hall. I was in Harmon Hall a lot and my classes were in the evenings so I wasn’t here much during the day. I loved the Sacred Heart Courtyard, between Camino and Founders; that’s where the Writing Center was, and where I tutored as an undergrad, and that’s where the theatre was, so that’s where I spent a lot of time as an undergrad. Harmon Hall itself had a couple little places that you could study and that’s probably where I spent most of my time during the master's degree because if I was studying at school I’d be studying with someone else, and so everybody would be down there. We’d study at the Hahn University Center, but then it was the “UC”, and we had The Grill. Is The Grill still here?

The faculty/staff cafeteria used to be next to the student cafeteria there in the back, that’s where we used to go eat every day. I miss the apple dumplings; Tuesday or Thursday they would have apple dumplings every week and my roommates and I would walk down here to get the apple dumplings. They were really, really good. Ha ha. Because I come here every year with my students and take them on a tour, I’m very familiar with the changes on campus, and they’re beautiful, but it’s still nostalgic to remember what it used to be like. I know one of the most beautiful places on campus right now is the lookout, the garden behind the Peace and Justice Center, and that used to be a rugby field! We used to watch people play rugby, or lacrosse, soccer, or whatever, on that field and you had that view from campus-- you could see everything from campus because that building wasn’t there. I think the views become more special because they are harder to access, but I always take my students back there when we come for the tour. 

When you were in your master’s program, did you have the opportunity to get involved with any clubs or programs on campus?

Just the Writing Center. I did that my first semester but that was pretty much it. I was working and my husband’s dad had passed away in the fall of 1995, while I was doing my student teaching and my husband went back to school. I ended up living with his mother because she didn’t drive and she was devastated. Her two daughters had already moved away, and my husband was the youngest, so it was really hard for him to go back to school in Kansas. I was teaching, going to classes, doing the Writing Center, and taking care of her. Then after the student teaching, I was subbing every day, doing the classes, and taking care of her. 

Did you study internationally at all during your time at USD?

No. I came out of my shell in college but not that much. I never considered it during undergrad and it was not required during my master’s. I want my kids to do it; I think it’s an amazing experience. I had never been off the continent until March of last year; my husband and I chaperoned an EF tour for some students at my high school and went to Italy and Greece. That was the first time I had ever been outside of North America, so it was amazing. I definitely would like to travel more. I think the travel abroad experience is great. 

Tell us about your journey since graduating from the School of Education.

I finished the master’s degree in 1997 and I was hired that year to teach at Rancho Bernardo High School. My husband proposed the night of my very last class at USD, which was over the summer following Commencement…We had started dating my junior year; we met up at a friend’s Labor Day party and started dating. So we dated for four years before he proposed. We always agreed that if we were going to get married we would wait to finish school, so that’s why it was so cool that he proposed that night. I got home from that night class, Dr. Barnes’ class, and I came home and said, “I’m done!,” Because it was that summer after graduation that I had to do just one more class, so that coming home and filling exhilarated and “I’m really done,” and then we got engaged. After the year of teaching at Rancho Bernardo High School, we were going to get married that summer and couldn’t afford to buy a nice house down in San Diego. We moved up to Murrieta and I interviewed up there and got a job up there right away. We moved up there, everything all at once, and I’ve been in Murrieta ever since! 

When I see those amazing alumni spotlight stories in the USD Magazine, I often feel, “Wow, they did that?” and all I’ve done is teach high school. I know I’ve done more than that. I’ve designed curriculum. In this culture where testing has become so aggressive for kids, I fight really hard to protect our students in our whole district against it, so I work as a DLSI (Data Leadership Skills and Curriculum Instructor). I’m the main person at my site who works with the district for those four categories to try to coordinate what our teachers are doing with the board’s vision. I analyze and design aggregate data and give it to teachers to figure out how to use it. I’m also fighting to make sure we’re not gathering data to just gather data. I’m pivotal in my district in terms of how that type of thing goes. Last year, they made us do I think 7 or 8 different standardized tests in the year to prepare for the CAASP, and this year I negotiated it down to 2.

And a lot of teachers don’t want to invest the extra energy and time it takes to fight those battles. The school that I’m at now, I was on the leadership team that started the school, so I was the first lead teacher in the English Department and I did that for the year prior to opening, plus six years after, so I did that for a long time. The last year that I was lead teacher I was also starting to work on common core curriculum. When common core was adopted, our district didn’t want to adopt curriculum. They wanted us to create our own curriculum, so I was working at the district developing 11th grade curriculum and putting it all online for teachers to access. Based on ERWC based modules from CSU, I supplemented and added thematic units, so doing that along with being lead teacher was a little too much. So I stepped back from lead teacher and now I’ve just been doing that sort of thing with the district ever since. It’s a lot; I missed a lot of school for it. Last summer I had four trainings; had to go to a CSU training, a standardized based grading training (AP summer institute here at USD), and then I had AVID Summer Institute. So I do a lot of extra things that take a lot of extra energy…my husband’s always telling me to say no.

And it’s crazy, you never know how you touch kids through all the work and advocating you do. Every once in a while, you have a moment where you find out how you have touched a student. I had a student who graduated 10-12 years ago, and a couple of years ago he wrote me this big long email. He had joined the military after high school, got out and is now working as a contractor with the military, and he wrote me this big long email. He explained to me how, when he was in high school--he was actually making up 10th grade English with me when he was a senior--and he was going through this horrible, horrible time, but he said that I was the person that made a difference for him. He went on my teacher webpage and saw my wish list and sent me EVERYTHING that was on my wish list, like five huge boxes of supplies that were on my wish list form Amazon. I’m still using the tissues he sent. He emailed me explaining why he was sending me everything and then I wrote him. I was so grateful, but I had no idea…not only did I not know what he was going through (because he was very quiet about it), but I had no idea that I had touched him like that. That I had made that difference for him. And the past two summers he has written and asked what I need for my classroom. I told him we call him my fairy god-father here at the school. Ha ha. It’s like those students…and most of them don’t reach back out, you know. I’m guilty of not reaching out to Dr. Infantino; I never let him know, I just felt like he wouldn’t know who I was, you know? But it’s really great when you do have those moments where you find out that you made a difference and that you reconnect. So that student and I write back and forth. 

It’s a very thankless job in a way, but even if that happens once it makes all the years easier. Because it’s not easy; there’s so much politics and so much that makes it difficult to do what’s best for the kids. I made sacrifices with my own kids where I wasn’t there, do too much at school, grading papers at home, stuff like that, and I feel guilty about that then something like that happens and it makes me feel that it was worth it. 

How have you stayed connected to USD and SOLES?

I respond every year to the request for donations. The Teacher Appreciation Week alumni breakfast that I went to last year was really, really nice. I do bring my students to USD every year…we bring them to San Diego State, San Marcos, and USD because we want them to see both private and public. I personally just love coming back every year. I haven’t really done a huge amount as far as working with SOLES or anything like that.

How has your time at the School of Education impacted your career and your career goals?

I think the professors here, like I said earlier, they really cared! As a high school teacher, I often hear from my students, when they come back to visit, how “the professors don’t care, they don’t do this, they aren’t there for office hours, they won't talk to me,” and I never had that experience here at USD. The professors were caring and available, supportive, and that’s what I want to be as a teacher. Some of my high school teachers were like that, too, so I was really very lucky, and that shaped me. Also the way that the classes were run, the autonomy you were given to learn…they treated us more as if they were mentors than filling us with information. They guided us through the acquisition of information and that’s something I try to do as a teacher, as well. The classes, the assignments, the questions that were asked were always open-ended. I never felt like people were fishing for me to do a certain thing and I felt like I had the freedom to learn the way that I needed to and to form my own opinions. I just felt really loved here at USD! And that’s kind of how I approach being a teacher.

Do you see yourself moving into a different role?

I’ve had other opportunities to!  A few years ago there was a position that opened up, and my old principal was at the district office, and I was told the position was pretty much written with me in mind. My children were just getting ready to go to high school and I didn’t want to leave the campus right when they got there. I’ve chosen to stay in the classroom for now, until my kids are done. So I’ve got four more years until my youngest graduates from high school. I don’t ever want to be a counselor, or an assistant principal, or a principal, or anything like that. The administration side of it does not fascinate me at all; I think it’s too many hours and too much stress. I really love curriculum and instruction, and teacher support, teacher mentorship, coaching, and things like that, so it’s possible that in the years following my youngest’s completion of high school I might move out of the classroom and do that. But then again, when I start thinking about it I think about all the students and I would miss them so much! They are what make everything worth it. So I don’t know, we’ll see in four years how I feel. I have about 15 more years until I can retire so…my husband wanted to retire in 10 years and I’ve talked him up to 15 so that we can retire more comfortably. 

If you could offer a current SOLES student advice, what would you say?

Take risks; make the most out of every opportunity you’re given; don’t be afraid to ask questions; and find a mentor. As an AP teacher, one of the things I’m seeing a lot of is that there are mentorship programs for the AP teacher; I mentor AP teachers that come to my school. Collaboration is huge. New teachers feel like they have to do everything by themselves to prove that they are capable, and it’s so not worth it to put all that energy into creating your own wheel--feel free to build off of what others give you. I guess my biggest advice for a teacher is always do what you feel is best for your kids, even if it means breaking away from what your colleagues are doing, or fighting against what your district/school wants you to do. Do what’s best for your kids. There are also ways to do that and continue to keep your district on board.

Anything else that you want to add?

The biggest thing to me about why I became a teacher is that I have the ability to make a positive impact on kids’ lives--that’s the most invaluable thing I think I can do with my life. I never wanted to do anything else. There were a couple of years where it was really hard and I wondered if maybe I should just do something else…and I couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to do. I’ve actually had problems with my eyes. I had cataract replacement before I was 40, so I have monocle vision--one eye set for distance and the other set for reading. Recently the vitreous detached from both of my eyes, so I have these veils that go across my eyes, so sometimes it can be hard to read. At times I’ve wondered, “what if I get to the point where I can’t teach?” I mean, I teach English. I collect over 3,000 essays a year. What if I get to the point where I can’t read anymore? That scares me to death, but that’s where I might move into the district level if I felt like God was pushing me to. But for now I’m struggling through it!

I love teaching. I loved USD. I feel like being here made me a better person, more confident, made me feel safe. I’d recommend it to anybody. If you can go to USD, go to USD!

Contact:

Amanda Gonzales
amanda@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4539

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