My College Story: The True Value of Education

Shannon Whitney tells her college story about attending the University of Florida

Shannon in Australia / Shannon Whitney

Shannon Whitney grew up in Northern Virginia, but moved all the way to Florida to go to college. She attended the University of Florida for both her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree, which she earned in the field of education. Shannon has spent the past 11 years in the classroom, teaching both 5th and 6th grade students. After deciding it was time for a change, she is now Student Caffé's newest team member.

Q. What made you choose the University of Florida?

Growing up, I had several (four) aunts and uncles who attended UF. Our family is pretty close and they practically raised me as a Gator. I grew up with the gear as well as stories about their amazing college experiences. When it came time to apply for college, I knew I wanted to attend a big school—my high school was tiny and I just wanted a different college experience. It seemed only natural to apply to UF, so I applied early decision, which is binding. I got accepted and was thrilled!

Q. Did you follow any nontraditional paths throughout your education or have experiences that weren’t similar to those of other students?

I think I followed about the most traditional path one can follow. I declared my major (education) my freshman year, and followed the path to both degrees to the T.

Q. You received degrees in education. How did you choose teaching as your first profession?

I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was young, I did whatever I could to work with children—I babysat, volunteered at the local daycare center, volunteered as a dance teacher, and volunteer coached a soccer team. When I left for college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and worked to achieve that.

Q. What is the greatest lesson you learned from your education?

While I learned a lot about myself throughout college, I think one of the most important lessons I learned was about the differences in people and how to work with everyone. Whether it’s differences in learning styles, motivations, interests, etc., we all bring something valuable to the table. As an education major, I took many classes in development and psychology, which helped me learn about and embrace all types of students and people [in general]. It’s been a valuable tool that has served me well in my career.

Q. What was your greatest challenge during college? How did you overcome it?

Probably becoming independent. I always believed I was an independent person (my parents joke that when they dropped me off at college, I just waved and walked in), but actually leaving home and going out on my own was a huge adjustment. I knew nobody when I arrived at [the University of] Florida, so I had to do a lot on my own. Obviously, I met some of my closest friends while there, but realizing and embracing that massive change was so important.

I also had to learn time management and organizational skills. Being alone, I had nobody there to check up on me. My cousin gave me some of the best and simplest advice before I left. She said, “Go to class.” Simple? Yes. Important? Definitely. Difficult? Absolutely! When you’re developing your independence, making the choice to go to class is huge. I chose to go to class for me, not because my parents said so. That small step led me to develop my time management and organizational skills.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had done differently with regards to your own education?

Two things. First, I wish I had done a study abroad program. By my junior year (when educational classes were in full swing), I had lost the opportunity because none of those classes were offered as part of any study abroad programs. I wish I had realized that earlier and taken advantage [during] my freshman or sophomore year. Second, I wish I had minored in a subject. As I now try to change fields in my career, I find myself back in classes that I could have taken to meet certain requirements as an undergrad.

Q. Being a teacher is a lot of work. Do you have any special tips on time management?

Time management is a difficult skill for many. If it’s not your strength, then you have to give it your full effort and attention. [As a teacher] I kept an agenda or calendar on me at all times. I recently found it, and looking back, noticed that I not only made time for my classes and homework, but also for social outings. I scheduled everything to make it so that I got my work done, but still had plenty of time with friends. Keep a balance, but also keep a schedule.

As a teacher, time management is incredibly important. Whether it’s fitting a lesson into a certain block of time, finishing a unit on time, or making sure all “skills” are taught by year’s end, there’s a lot to keep track of. In my planbook, I had everything laid out for weeks or months. That said, it’s also important to be flexible. Things happen, and you have to be willing to adjust your original plan to meet new demands.

Q. Is there anything you wish you could tell your former students?

Just that I hope I instilled a love of learning in them and that they go far in life. While I may not have been the best or their favorite, I want them to know that they were important to me and I worked hard to ensure their success.

Q. How do you hope to use your education in the future?

For the past 11 years, I’ve been using my degree exactly as it was intended: to teach students. As I transition to a new role (whatever that may be), I hope to bring with me everything I learned as a teacher: I am a motivator, counselor, collaborator, writer, editor, creator, manager, leader, team member, and so much more. Teaching has given me an incredible opportunity to develop a variety of skills, and I hope to bring those to whatever new positions I enter. At Student Caffé, I also hope to bring my educational expertise, experiences, and connections to help the company grow.

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