College of Education

Catching up with Alumni: Taylor McCarthy


Taylor McCarthy’s volunteers are hard at work flexing their acting skills for the class. They are both barely past their fifth birthdays, but they seem to take the assignment seriously: one student must forcefully pull a toy out of the other student’s hand, while the other must respond in a way that peacefully resolves the situation.


Things go well. They giggle a little throughout, but the mad faces make an appearance. Feelings are explained. Resolution is reached. Without prompting, they “hug it out.” Taylor McCarthy ’12 has had the luxury of spending most of her career in this room, spending the requisite time on reading and math, but always making time to teach understanding and patience.

McCarthy is a kindergarten teacher at Hollis Academy in Judson, South Carolina, a school in the Greenville County School District. She is an alumna of the College of Education’s early childhood education program, and she understands the importance of meeting each student where they are, whether they are native South Carolinians or students who are approaching the state–or the English language–for the first time.

We caught up with McCarthy on a particularly rainy day to talk about her time at Clemson, how she knew Hollis was the right place from the moment she did her student teaching there, and how she is navigating a fork in the road of her career.

When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

I really was not the kid that grew up knowing they wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t teach my stuffed animals; that wasn’t really my story. I just really liked kids, and it felt like the next step was to try education. I was a kid in a candy shop choosing college because they all looked fun and I wanted to go to all of them, but when I visited Clemson, something spoke to me. I knew that this was it, and I just had a peace about it. Education kind of just chose me, honestly. When I started, I didn’t know that I would still be here 12 years later, and I couldn’t imagine doing something different.

Was there a moment in your major where you knew you made the right decision?

Yeah, that was during student teaching. It was absolute confirmation that I was where I was supposed to be and teaching was what I’m supposed to be doing. I really enjoyed all my other practicum experiences before that, and I thought they were wonderful. When I came to Hollis Academy to do my student teaching and began working with the staff and the kids and the community, I realized it is such an incredible place–a special place.

It really gave meaning to all the work that we had been doing up until then. It takes on a different meaning when you can actually put faces to the theories and things that you learn about and see real growth in kids. I realized this is definitely what I want to be doing and these kids are why I want to be doing it during student teaching.

Taylor McCarthy Hollis Academy

What is the thing you love about your job the most?

The thing I love most about my job is the relationships that I build with kids in my class. We come up with class expectations–a class contract–about what we want or expect from the year. Everybody that’s ever been in my class knows that our class is a family and that extends beyond the time that you’re in my class.

The kids from my first year of teaching are going to be seniors this year, which is pretty cool. The class I had while student teaching graduated last year. I am still in a relationship with lots of them. I got to go to a couple of graduations last year and still plan on going to a couple of graduations this year. I’m going to a basketball game tomorrow for one of my previous students who’s in high school and is a senior on the team. Those relationships are really valuable to me and the thing that I love most about being able to teach.

What else stood out to you about studying education at Clemson?

During my sophomore year, I got to study abroad in Italy and go to Reggio Emilia and that was wonderful. A lot of the information and the knowledge and insights that I gained through that experience are now applicable as I teach kindergarten. When I moved from first grade to kindergarten, I was surprised by how often I got the opportunity to actually implement some of the things we were exposed to in Italy in my own classroom. I recognized how impactful that experience was for me when trying to integrate some different approaches as I changed grade levels.

Taylor McCarthy Hollis Academy

How do you stay connected to Clemson?

I’ve been able to stay connected to Clemson University through some of my previous professors. I studied abroad in Italy and, Dr. Stegelin went on that trip with us. I was able to build a good, strong relationship with her. After I graduated, I stayed in contact with her and asked her questions or got her feedback for things; it was really helpful.

What was it like hosting a practicum student?

I hosted Dorsey Winchester, a practicum student from Clemson, last year, and it was such a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed getting to shift my role in the classroom from teacher to the one facilitating for the practicum teacher. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the education that Dorsey was receiving because she was very prepared to step into the classroom and very professional. She was also open to feedback and had this openness to any opportunity for growth. It was a wonderful thing to see in somebody that’s entering the field because this is a field that is ever-changing, and you need to be open to feedback so that you can grow as an educator.

Tell us about the graduate program that you’re currently enrolled in in the College of Education.

I am currently in the M.Ed. in school counseling program, and Ichose that because of my time in the classroom. I’ve been teaching for 12 years, and I recognized over time that my most meaningful and impactful experiences at school were the times where I was meeting kids where they are and building a relationship with them.

Taylor McCarthy Hollis Academy

I love teaching math and reading, but I also really just love being able to help sharpen kids’ social skills and teach them things about life in the world and how to cope and regulate and things like that. So, when the opportunity presented itself last year where Clemson University and Greenville County Schools were collaborating, I thought it was just a wonderful opportunity to apply and, well, I had nothing to lose by applying. I was really grateful to have this opportunity.

Do you see a career as a school counselor?

Yes. I will graduate next year in 2025, and then I will still work in Greenville County Schools, but I’ll be shifting from classroom teacher to school counselor. I think the unique experience that I have as a classroom teacher shifting into a school counselor role allows me to really understand the perspective of a teacher.

So much of the school counselor’s role is collaborating with teachers and supporting them and their kids in class. As a counselor, you can pull a kid out of class and have a conversation with them for 30 minutes, but for the remainder of the day, they’re with their classroom teacher. So I want to really support teachers and teach them the skills to better support students in their class.

I have had the pleasure of a school counselor at my school coming to collaborate with me and help me better support my students, and it has transformed the way that my kids interact with one another and how I interact with them. I recognize the beauty of that and the importance of that, so that’s I thought this would be a good transition for me.

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