CSU undergrad student fills in at Fort Collins High under trying circumstances

Holly Martin’s student-teaching semester last fall was probably more intense than that of her fellow teacher candidates in CSU’s School of Education.

The undergraduate student stepped in to teach in the classroom of a Fort Collins High School teacher who passed away unexpectedly in September.

Martin earned her CSU undergraduate degree in natural sciences with a teaching endorsement in biology education in May 2016. She was enrolled in the Center for Educator Preparation in the School of Education, where students shadow licensed teachers even before beginning the teacher preparation program. By the time a CEP student takes on the student teaching experience, they have approximately 200 hours of in-classroom training under their belt.

Holly Martin and family
Holly Martin with her family, left to right, brother Kyle, mother Sherri, Holly, father Ted.

Martin began her student-teaching experience at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, working alongside Fort Collins High School science teacher and CSU alumnus Matt Foster.

‘Great teacher’

Only a month into the semester, on Sept. 16, a FCHS science teacher died in a car accident. When they were notified, members of the FCHS Science Department met to discuss options for covering classes for the remainder of the semester.

“It was best for the students to have a good teacher placed in front of them immediately,” Foster says. “Finding a long-term substitute could be a time-consuming process. I witnessed Holly teaching in my classroom, and I saw a great teacher. What was best for FCHS students was to place Ms. Martin in those classes.”

“That Monday afternoon, both Assistant Principal Emily Dunn and science department head Rick Blas called me to let me know that the team wanted me to take over the classes,” Martin recalls.

Blas, who has degrees in chemical engineering and education from CSU, and Dunn asked Martin if she was comfortable taking on the challenge, and assured her that the school would provide a lot of support.

“I told them I’d do anything I can to help, that I’d be more than willing to step in and take over classes,” Martin says.

‘Steady and strong’

“Holly stepped up big into a really difficult situation,” Blas says. “It was hard to face the kids after losing a teacher, but she is steady and strong. She hardly ever asked for help, even though we as a department wanted to help.”

Her first day in front of the class was an emotional one.

“We didn’t talk about science,” she says. “It was basically like starting the semester over—we did a lot of ‘get to know you’ stuff, nothing serious.”

Holly Martin
Holly Martin

She says her colleagues were invaluable resources, offering materials and ideas for what Martin should teach during each unit and helping her with curriculum planning for the rest of the semester. Since Martin was not permitted to teach unsupervised until she had 15 weeks of lead-teaching time in the classroom, FCHS hired three retired science teachers, and one of them was present in the room at all times.

Continuing this spring

Once Martin completed her teaching licensure requirements in December, she was hired as a long-term substitute and is teaching at FCHS this spring.

“I’m glad they trusted me enough and had faith in me to even consider having me step into the classroom,” she says.

“She’s far beyond abilities of typical student-teacher or even a rookie teacher,” says Blas. “Holly is way beyond her years in her abilities. She performed like a rock star; the kids really like her. We’re psyched that she has been hired for the rest of the year—it helps with consistency for the students.”

Adds Chad Kuhlman, another FCHS science teacher and CSU alum: “Holly has handled this situation with poise, confidence and professionalism rarely seen in a pre-service teacher.”

The School of Education is part of the CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.