I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. My own journey within the public school system was a positive one. I was very fortunate because I attended CAPA (Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts School) in High School. I attended this school with a concentration in Literary Arts. As a result, I dabbled in poetry and even had the opportunity to produce my own play. Perhaps It was in these moments when I realized that creative expression for all students is incredibly important. I knew I wanted to do something that related to writing and when I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh, I was able to combine this love and also lean hard into the importance of cultural diversity. There are many teacher preparation programs that do not talk about the importance of diversity and equity, and I feel that Pitt really centered these topics in their coursework.
Ultimately, I attended the University of Pittsburgh and enrolled in the CASE program (Combined Accelerated Studies in Education). I graduated with my Masters in 2019. Upon graduation, I knew I wanted to try to stay local while also finding a job that allowed me to serve a Special Education population. The school where I accepted my first teaching position and where I currently work, is Provident Charter School, which is a school for students specifically with dyslexia or other language-based disabilities. I have taught 5th grade for the past three years and this coming year I will be teaching a 4-5 loop.
The school where I teach is a safe place for students who receive special education services. In a sense, it allows me to develop my craft as an educator as well as grow as an activist for students with disabilities. Most of our students (70%) have an Individualized Education Plan and come from around 40 different districts in Western PA. It is unfortunate that this school has to exist because all of the students attend because they feel their home district is not serving them to the fullest extent. In some Pittsburgh schools, reading instruction is more of a “blended” model. Our school is very much rooted in the science of reading and has very explicit phonics instruction that not every student would need, but which serves our kids who need that focused intervention. We utilize the Wilson Reading System, and it has been amazing to see our students finally finding success with reading.
Though many individuals continue to leave the field at alarming rates, the experience I have had with my colleagues at Provident Charter School is an absolute dream. We have a 1 to 6 student ratio and as a result, these small class sizes allow for differentiation for all of our students. I realize not everyone has this experience, but if done correctly, co-teaching can be such a powerful experience for the students. My co-teacher and I happen to have complementary strengths and at any point in the day, I am able to bounce my ideas off of another person. Everything about my co-teaching experience makes the big and the small things more manageable.
Ironically, my perspective of charter schools has changed since college. It is nice to be part of a system where the school higher-ups are approachable by staff members, and it is nice to feel heard and to foster new ideas that can be implemented. In addition, we have a smaller teacher to leader pipeline with many of our teachers going on to hold leadership positions within the school. Because this charter school is newer, there is a very fresh perspective on what education should be and a willingness to reimagine the system.
I experienced the best Pittsburgh Public had to offer. I was in the gifted program which then fed into advanced and AP courses in High School. Unfortunately, when I was in high school, I knew many students who could not get into these classes because they were not on the same track. Personally, I feel like there is no opportunity I was given that every student shouldn’t have been given in regards to academics and experiences. I sincerely hope that one day enrichment is more equitable across race and disability. In fact, it is our special education students that need these classes the most.
Overall, our school systems have problems that are reflective of the problems within the larger Pittsburgh community. There is racism that is still very much alive in terms of resources, class sizes, academics and opportunities.
A professional goal I have is to create a partnership between schools in the Pittsburgh area. Creative written expression and a collaboration within the community/a place to give kids the opportunity to show off their voices is imperative. For my students, there needs to be a balance between creative experiences and direct instruction.
I like to remain busy year-round due to the fact that I am an individual who thrives on routine. Currently, I am teaching the ESY summer program through my school and loving every minute of it. However, I do try to connect with nature as much as possible. I love going backpacking through state parks. Even more importantly, I have learned that in order to stay balanced, I need to advocate for myself and the rights of teachers everywhere. We deserve–and more importantly, the students deserve–small class sizes, administrative support and resources.
As we move on a precipice as a society politically and socially, I just hope that the people who are talented and looking to enter the field are well received, well-resourced and well-supported. I think there is a lot to be said about the impact of a community of teachers. Managing student behavior and juggling family and colleague communication along with the seemingly endless other teacher responsibilities can be stressful at times. Standards continue to get higher and less developmentally appropriate for our students. Despite all of these challenges, having passionate “marigolds” leading the field creates hope for the future.
In the future, I would like to see a strengthened teacher pipeline to support and diversify the field. The field of education needs to be made more attractive to people, and it needs to be held with the highest honor and esteem. Finally, I hope ALL of our students know how much we care about them. We do everything for them and for their growth. They are our future, and they deserve our strongest efforts.