I’m about to finish my 7th year teaching!
And if I am being honest, I never expected to make it this far. When I decided to become a teacher, I thought it was a temporary thing. I wanted to teach, don’t get me wrong. I knew for a fact that I wanted to give back to struggling communities and help young people. But at age 21/22 when I started applying to teaching fellowships, I thought I’d do my good work for two or three years then move on and do something else.
I became a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows program. I interviewed in December of my senior year in college, and was accepted a few weeks later. So at age 22, after years living in rural Pennsylvania and studying Latin and Creative Writing at a liberal arts college, I found myself up and moving to New York City by myself. I’d only been to NYC a couple of times before that, and mostly I’d just went to the Met Museum on school field trips. I had no money, no car, and no clue.
My first apartment in the Upper East Side, where I stayed during my (extremely rigorous, trial by fire) Teaching Fellows Summer Training, was a complete disaster. So I started my first ever blog to document the insanity of it all (all the hyperlinks in this lead to my old blog posts on Tumblr!)
It took me 8+ interviews to secure my first teaching position and even then I was only offered a one-year position at a high school in East Harlem that was closing down due to low achievement and non-compliance at the end of that year. I’d be lying if I said I was NOT terrified of not only teaching older students as a 23 year old, but also teaching students with moderate-severe disabilities at a the lowest ranking high school in the district. But finding a position during the hiring freeze of 2011 was not easy, and there was something about the principal and special education supervisor at that school that made me believe that it was, really and truly, the place for me. So I decided to make the absolute best of what I’d gotten.
I found an apartment in Brooklyn with some amazing ladies, and some adorable kittens. I learned how to cook and dress like a grown up. I tried to do my absolute best in my graduate classes, which I took at night after teaching all day. I ran on 5 hours of sleep, turbo shots in extra large Dunkins coffee, and a lot of youthful adrenaline.
And I did what I still believe to be some of my best, most creative work in that purple-walled Special Education classroom on 100th Street. I developed a behavior tracking and rewards system to keep my students working hard and practicing life skills on a day to day basis. I planned a supportive reading unit around the novel The Hunger Games, and it was amazing what some high-interest books did for my student’s reading levels. I integrated video, audio, images, and kinesthetic activities into my history curriculum. And I developed amazing, supportive connections with my students. My class was so, so amazing; they all had some pretty intense learning needs, but also had so many talents and passions and ideas to share. They came from a neighborhood and lifestyle that was so, so different than mine, but every day that I showed up, lesson plan in hand and a smile on my face, helped them to build trust in me.
Speaking of lesson planning; I have never, ever lesson planned the way I did that first year. Because I was new, I felt that I needed very detailed lesson plans for every. single. day. I also taught two subjects and had almost no prep time during the day. So every night I sat up late, planning lessons and creating materials from scratch. My roommate’s kittens kept me company; see photo evidence below.
In between all that… I explored. New York City is the place to be in your early twenties. And the beauty, history, and energy of that place inspired me on a daily basis.
There were huge, huge ups and downs. My schedule and caseload changed every few weeks; every time I fell into a good groove, some new policy threw a wrench into it. And let’s be real; it’s not like I didn’t deal with major behavioral issues in my classroom. I distinctly remember the sound of one of my student’s fist hitting another student’s head. I struggled to keep up with the workload, lost a ton of sleep, ate like crap, and got bronchitis three times. I taught many ineffective lessons in between the effective ones. I made mistakes.
In the end, I got through. My students ended up doing better on their end of year exams than they had under any of their previous teachers. And my perseverance and creativity caught the eye of a professor who matched me up with a new job at a middle school for the following year. I started jogging a little bit, and started thinking maybe, just maybe, this teaching thing might be a long term gig:)
I could not be where I am now as an educator or a person if I hadn’t braved it through that first year teaching. I also had some seriously rough stuff going on in my personal life that year, but I approached each and every day like a race I was determined to finish despite like, not totally feeling ready. SO if there are any new/young teachers out there, know this; IT GETS BETTER. And if there are any friends/siblings of new teachers out there, send them a congrats! They deserve some love for getting through one of the hardest professional experiences there is.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of personal history.
Happy almost summer, everyone!