Melissa Schieren never planned to become a teacher but has found it to be one of her most rewarding experiences. Melissa teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in a NYS Alternative Assessment 8-1-1 program at Paul Puccio School at Maple Hill and just graduated from the Foundations of Teaching and Learning I MicroED program. Melissa joined the Questar III BOCES team 7 years ago as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and is now in her first year as a teacher, something that was never in her initial life plan.

Melissa went to college to become a Microbiology MedTech where she spent ten years of her career. Fast forward through life, she found herself as a single mom of three, looking for a career option that was also conducive to her children’s school schedules. She accepted her first education-related position at Ichabod Crane Central School District. After some staff changes and the encouragement of a former colleague, she found herself applying for a TA position with Questar III. She first joined the Special Education team at Red Mill Elementary School, and when Paul Puccio School at Maple Hill opened, made the transition there with the rest of her colleagues.

Melissa joined the FTL I program last January, which included 3 courses over the Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters, totaling 9 credits. After seeing her success at both work and with the program, Questar III asked her to consider teaching a classroom this school year.

“At first I was a little overwhelmed, especially while simultaneously doing the FTL program,” said Melissa. “Here I am going back to school later in life, I haven’t been to college in a long time. I did great with the first 2 courses, and I’m not going to lie – the last one was a bit more challenging because I’m also in a new position with a lot more responsibility. Finding that balance between taking the course, but also knowing that I’m taking it for what I’m currently doing, what I want to continue doing, is really a great motivator.”

On top of taking over a classroom midway through the FTL program, Melissa also has a busy life at home. She is a single mom of three teenagers who are also active in their own school. She is on the Library Board and Zoning Board for her town and is an active parent at her children’s school.

“I’m proof that even a busy single mom of three can balance this program if they really want to,” said Melissa. “The UAlbany professors are great, they work with you, and they understand that you have a life outside of class. I was sure to speak with my professors about my new teaching position this Fall, and they were very understanding that the work for my students right now, needed to come first.”

Melissa has always had an interest in returning to school for teaching. She’s always loved kids but was led to a science degree in college. She’s now using this as an example for her own children.

“I have kids in 9th, 11th, and 12th grade”, said Melissa. “I’m showing them that if I can do this now, then they can too. And that goes for anybody! You can do anything you want to in life, even if it means changing course at some point. There’s always an opportunity. Joining this program was me setting an example for my kids, pushing myself to see if I could do it, getting satisfaction out of doing well, and then being looked upon by my employer and respected enough to be offered a teaching position.”

The program has also provided Melissa with networking opportunities. Simply by being in the FTL I program, she was exposed to teachers outside of Special Education, learning more about the programs and services Questar III offers students. She looked at that as a chance to open her mind to new ideas within the organization and potentially, other teaching paths she may be interested in pursuing in the future. Having people like her in the program also provided outlets for connection and support. After some encouragement from another FTL I graduate, she decided to move forward and sign up for FTL II.

“The FTL program has brought me confidence,” said Melissa. “If I wasn’t already in the program, I’m not sure I would have had the motivation and confidence to take on teaching a classroom. I encourage everyone to try it. I’m the result of an employer seeing an employee take advantage of their offer, and then offering you more opportunities because of it. Not every employer offers these types of opportunities, so take advantage of them while you can. I want to do what I can to be here. I think they’re a great employer, and I want to be a great employee. I think this program can be great for me, and great for them.”

Foundations of Teaching and Learning is a partnership between Questar III BOCES and UAlbany. The program is designed to assist career and technical education (CTE) teachers and teaching assistants to meet the current New York State requirements for Initial and Professional CTE Certificates and Level II and III Teaching Assistant Certificates.

The next FTL I program will launch in Fall 2024 and is available to Questar III BOCES staff at no charge. The program will now also be available to staff in our local districts, as well as those working across the state. Those looking for more information or interested in enrolling should contact Gregory Portanova at

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