Alumni Spotlight: Pat LaClair M’18

February 28, 2024
Izzy Quam '25

The Alumni Spotlight Series is a new feature to highlight Saint Michael’s alumni far and wide. Answers have been lightly edited for style and clarity.   

Pat LaClair M’18 received his Master’s in Education with a focus in Curriculum and Instruction from Saint Michael’s. He is now the Program Director at UP for Learning, a non-profit with the mission of empowering youth and adults to reimagine and transform education together. 

Patrick LaClair

What was your favorite class or academic experience while at St. Mike’s?

I think my favorite experience was the final Capstone research project, and the work that went into that. It was my first taste of academic research, which I’m now excited to continue as a doctoral student in education (I’m in my fourth year of getting my doctorate in Education at UVM). I recall how rigorous and challenging the process was at St. Mike’s, but also how supported and connected it felt. Nothing is quite as satisfying as doing something really challenging alongside a caring community — that’s what completing the capstone research was like.  

How has your career progressed since graduation?  

When I began my program at St. Mike’s, I had just started my first job as a part-time teacher at Lamoille Union High School. I taught Latin and Roman history, and I also worked in the IT department fixing my fellow teachers’ computers, because there were not enough students enrolled for me to have a full teaching schedule.  

My learning at St. Mike’s definitely helped me grow as a teacher, in ways that drew more students to my classes: Learning Latin is often seen as a very “traditional” subject, but my time at St. Mike’s helped me shape my curriculum into something much more student-centered. Through games, songs, in-depth explorations of culture and language, and just solid teaching practices, I think I succeeded at making a challenging, niche subject something that every student could learn and enjoy.   

Having students who were so excited and passionate about learning something as potentially mind-numbing as Latin made me wonder, “Why can’t all classes be like this?” The answer is that all learning can be and should be engaging and meaningful and fun, but there are some parts of how our society approaches education that make it really hard for all students to find that connection and meaning in school. That realization (which came about in no small part thanks to my time at St. Mike’s) has led me to think more broadly about my role as a teacher and educator.  

Since graduating from St. Mike’s in 2018, I focused less and less on Latin, and more on how to help students take charge of their own learning. I was able to join some amazing educators working in Lamoille’s EPIC program (which stands for “Educational Path I Choose”), helping students meet learning objectives through personalized projects; I worked for a year refining our school’s proficiency-based learning practices; and I developed and taught Lamoille’s Capstone graduation courses, where every graduate explored and shared their learning about something they were passionate about.  

After ten years at Lamoille Union, I decided to explore other opportunities in education. This year I started working with UP for Learning, a non-profit with the mission of empowering youth and adults to reimagine and transform education together. The work often takes the form of collaborating with school teams (comprising students, teachers, administrators, and others) to explore issues at their school, analyze data and implement a plan of action based on community input. UP for Learning works with dozens of schools in Vermont and is increasingly working with teams beyond Vermont as well. The focus of each project is unique: Some teams are focused on implementing restorative practices, others on equity, or student voice and leadership, or school culture, or youth physical and mental health. It is really engaging and energizing work, as these teams are working collaboratively to change their schools in ways that benefit youth and adults alike.  

How have you used or currently use what you learned at St. Mike’s in your profession? 

One thing I loved about my education courses at St. Mike’s is the way that they balanced the practical and philosophical aspects of teaching. The course readings and projects were all directly applicable to my daily work as a teacher. Working on my M.Ed. meant that I got to spend a lot of time improving and reflecting on my lesson plans and classroom practices. On multiple occasions, I submitted something as an assignment that I then turned around and used the next day in my classroom. That’s a great example of praxis, or learning through doing. It is amazing how the professors at St. Mike’s really model how to make learning relevant and meaningful. 

While I still use so much of the curriculum design and instructional knowledge I developed at St. Mike’s, I increasingly value how my M.Ed. experience prepared me to think holistically about education. My work with UP for Learning is about supporting youth and adults to develop their own holistic sense of what education can be for them. That often means interrogating existing practices and structures in schools (from discipline to teaching practices to schedules to student-teacher dynamics, etc.) and exploring how education can be more equitable, meaningful, and engaging. I don’t think I’d be as prepared to do that work without the philosophical foundation I got during my time at St. Mike’s.   

Favorite memory of your time at St. Mike’s? 

Definitely anytime our professors would have us share our learning in ways other than writing. I definitely had class projects that involved poetry and singing, improv, games, and dance! A bit outside of my comfort zone, but definitely memorable! 

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