Alanna Phelan '04

Phi Beta Kappa

Alanna Phelan ’04, a Phi Beta Kappa art and archaeology major, teaches fifth grade at the Village Elementary School in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey. She relishes the daily excitement of “seeing things start to click in a student’s head, having a student say, ‘Oh wow! I get it now!’” Fifth graders, she says, “have so much energy and optimism. They are very positive about school. And their thinking is sophisticated enough that you can have genuinely intellectual discussions.”

Another aspect of her profession she appreciates: “Teaching lets you continue to learn,” she points out. “As I prepare to teach different lessons, especially in social studies or science, I’m learning new material myself, and thinking of ways to convey it to grade school students.”

Phelan “always enjoyed working with children.” While an undergraduate, she led story hours for local children in the Costen Children’s Library in Firestone. When she began to realize that “the hour with the Costen kids was the highlight of my week,” she decided to enter the Program in Teacher Preparation. “I wanted to help people through teaching, and knew I’d be more help if I were really prepared,” she says. “I knew I needed professional instruction and a background in education—rather than just operating from instinct.” Observing teachers at work, and having actual experience in the classroom as a student teacher, she says, was “invaluable.” Indeed, her student teaching earned her a Commissioner’s Distinguished Teacher Candidate Award from the New Jersey Department of Education.

Phelan believes the Teacher Prep experience is unique among Princeton’s curricular offerings. “It’s the only program where you have a chance to apply what you are learning in class to a real-world situation, while you are still in college,” she says. “It’s a healthy taste of real life.”

Teaching appeals to many Princeton students, she says, because, “You have a lot of independence and a lot of responsibility—and you have both immediately. In most fields you work up to ‘management level;’ in teaching, from Day 1, you are in charge.”

Plus, “You use your intellect, creativity, ingenuity, and problem-solving skills every day, and you learn to motivate others. Even if you don’t want to be a teacher, the training prepares you to do anything.”