University of Pittsburgh, M.Ed.
I was blessed to have amazing educators in my life from elementary school up to high school.
I recall my first grade teacher, Mrs. Lipkowski, giving me a nickname, Riss, and making me feel so welcomed and comfortable in the classroom. In forth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Thorn, would give me extra supplies and materials so that I could play “school” at home and set up my make-believe classroom in my family’s tool shed. In high school, Mr. Miles, aka Mojo, prepared controversial, thought-provoking lessons that required all students to challenge their beliefs and think outside of our small, central Pennsylvania town.
As you can see, I cannot say one educator or instance inspired me because when I look back on my educational experience, there were countless educators who have impacted me in both small and large ways. They all contributed to molding me into the adult and teacher I am today.
I am currently a first grade teacher. I have been teaching first grade for five years; this is my sixth year. I briefly substituted in a K-2 EBD classroom at Langley K-8 in Pittsburgh before relocating to Miami.
I cannot imagine not being in the field of education because I know that there are students who depend on me to be there. They depend on my consistent presence and structure and my unconditional love.
I love what I do. I love planning for teaching. I love teaching. I love the ah-ha! moments my students have when they finally grasp a concept. There is so much joy in the classroom. There are so many magical, sweet moments in first grade. These moments or memories are what keep me in the field of education.
I teach for the fourth largest district in the nation and for four years, I taught at one of the lowest performing elementary schools in that district. The demographic of my school was 89% African American and 9% Hispanic. 100% of our students were from low-income households. The inequalities and injustices were certainly present. One of my biggest complaints is that the students who go to a lowest performing school in the district need to attend school for an extra hour each day. That means that 6 and 7 year olds are in school from 8:25-3:05 which is a full hour longer than their peers in higher performing schools. Our kids are exhausted and energetic and this extra hour is not developmentally appropriate. It is simply implemented in the hopes that test scores will increase and school letter grades will increase.
In addition to this, our district purchased an online platform and required all first graders to spend two hours per week on the platform. However, I would have 23 students and at best 5 working computers in my classroom. Whereas higher performing schools in our district had one-to-one devices and most families within those schools had devices to utilize at home. Unfortunately, there were times when our class would be asked to stop instruction so that students could log into the platform and “get their time” on the platform in order to be in compliance. I was literally asked to stop teaching my lesson.
The last injustice or inequality that comes to mind is that the teachers at the lowest performing schools are “prescribed” what and how to teach. We have a lot less autonomy to be creative, hands-on, or project-based and are often encouraged to assign worksheets the district provides. This clearly impacts the students’ education and is not an optimal way to teach first graders.
To shift the field towards equality and justice, I believe teachers, especially teachers in large districts, need to stand up and be the voice for their students and families. It is hard to go against the grain or be seen as “causing trouble.” It is often easier and less anxiety producing to sit back and do as we’re told. However, it isn’t the ethical thing to do. I am big on creating strong relationships with the families of my students. Creating that partnership and building trust allows us to be a team. I start off as the voice for my families, but my goal is to empower my families. Encouraging parents to use their voice and sharing important information with them so that they can learn to advocate for their child’s educational experience is crucial. Having the families’ backs when they are not happy with the educational experience their child is receiving is important too. In general, I think we shift the field towards equality and justice by empowering parents and families, sharing information, and creating strong partnerships.
I hope that one day all teachers will feel valued, seen, and appreciated.
We do not teach for accolades, and we do not go above and beyond for recognition. Teaching is a demanding job. It is often a job that consumes our evenings, our free time, our thoughts, and countless other aspects of our lives. I hope that teachers can come together to support one another and build one another up; through this support, I hope that our districts and educational leaders can find a way to show their support too. As this mutual respect and support builds, I one day hope that this profession and teachers in general will be truly valued in our communities. Instead of seeing teachers as “babysitters”, I would like to see our communities hold teachers in the highest regard. We are well-educated individuals who are building up an entire generation and the future of our country before your eyes.