When I graduated college in 2008 with a business administration degree, I yearned to travel internationally and see something new. At the time, I was young and brave and wanted to take on the world. I had an activist mentality and believed that education could be my form of activism- this was my initial motivation for pursuing this pathway. Shortly after, I decided to travel to Chile for six months with a program known as English Opens Doors and this was my first exposure to being a teacher. I knew that in pursuing teaching, there would be a lot of challenges. While it was in some ways what I expected, it was also different. Thinking about challenges that exist is one thing but experiencing them firsthand while inside the profession is another.
When I came back from Chile, I was working for a credit report agency while also applying to teaching programs. At one point, I was going to go to Columbia to teach but those plans fell through. I also applied to Teach for America but unfortunately my application was not accepted. Eventually, while working for Sigma Medical, I found out that an older lady I was training had a daughter who worked for Propel Schools, and I soon became interested in a program via Propel known as the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Residency. In agreeing to teach through this program, my masters would be paid for, and I would have to commit to working in the schools for three years. I decided to apply, was accepted and thus began my journey as the second cohort to go through the Pittsburgh Urban Teacher Corps. I began in 4th grade ELA, moved to 7th grade ELA and then became a history teacher for grades 6, 7 and 8.
Unfortunately, I feel hopeless sometimes because of what I have encountered. When I first entered teaching, there was a tangible energy and spark inside myself to impact students in a profound way. However, as you journey through, this light is sometimes dimmed through this feeling of powerlessness and knowing that there are certain things you cannot control such as administration, systemic issues or even familial struggles. Nevertheless, there are certain magical moments that continue to ignite this light from within. For example, one of my first students recently invited me to his graduation, and this meant the world to me.
The one that immediately comes to mind is programming within the schools itself. Schools are so focused on English, Math and Science and yet there are many other programs, academics and skills that are either ignored or forgotten. As a history teacher, I often feel that my students have had little to no social studies exposure until they get to me in Middle School. Unfortunately, it is the subjects that are not on the state tests that are often forgotten. History is incredibly important, and we need to make sure that this subject area is taught just as thoroughly as the others.Our students are our future global citizens.
Growing up in Carnegie, PA and attending the Carlynton School District, I had exposure to tech ed programs, art programs, typing programs and more. Many of these opportunities/programs are missing from our schools. Even when it comes to special education to an extent, I feel like our students deserve better. In the school district I attended growing up, early intervention allowed for certain academic difficulties to be caught early. I always tell my students that I failed Kindergarten when I was younger. Though embarrassing at the time, I know that had I not repeated this grade, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Teaching students to see things in a different way inspires me. This year we received our first curriculum for social studies. Prior to this, I was creating my own curriculum resources (one of those resources being Newsela.) I remember teaching a lesson during Black History Month (although I teach Black History all year), and we happened to be learning about Ancient India and the caste system. Many students are used to history being “watered down” and I don’t approach it this way. I remember pointing to the pictures of Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks on the wall and telling the students that these individuals fought to end the caste system in the United States. If they hadn’t fought, things would be much different. A lot of the students had never made this connection and by the look on their faces, I knew they had come to an important realization. I live for moments such as these.
I want them to think differently, be creative and take risks! Growing up, we were always told that a specific blueprint would get us to our destination, but I think students need to have their own blueprint. Create your own blueprint.
For myself, I wish to transition into an administrative role. I am hoping to apply to an assistant principal position through Propel Schools and then work on my certification for actual principalship. As a future administrator, I hope to focus on a few important goals. Firstly, teachers and students need to feel supported. At any school, you will have strong teachers as well as teachers who need more support. Sadly, I have seen many look down on teachers who need extra support rather than working with them to reflect and help them evolve into stronger teachers. Building closer relationships between families and schools is also a personal goal. Perhaps having a parent involvement week or creating roles where parental faces are shown would help to build these bridges.
The greatest challenges lie in administration and school structure (both of which are out of my control.) What I love are the relationships I create with my students. Just recently, one of my students, who taught herself how to play piano, invited me to her performance. I attended, met her family and to me this was a very special moment. Supporting students inside and outside the classroom is immeasurable, and it encourages them to think differently and reach outside their comfort zone.
I hope for a world where education is valued like we value money. When we see someone successful, we immediately pay attention, but we don’t see educators in the same light. Education is an extremely important profession, and it should be held in the highest esteem by society.