Why I’m Returning to the Classroom After Leaving for One Year: A Reader Reflects

Though many of my posts have been about the rewards of leaving teaching, I’m interested in multiple perspectives on this career shift. It’s why I asked Rose, the former teacher behind my most popular post, to share how she’s better off after leaving education and what she misses about it. And it’s why I’m sharing this follow-up post from another former teacher, Melanie.

The first part of Melanie’s story goes likes this: after teaching fifth grade at a high-needs school in Florida for seven years, and considering a store manager position at CVS, she was thrilled to finally land an office job.

One year later, however, she’s decided to head back to the classroom. Here’s the latest on Melanie’s story, in her own words.


I left the classroom last year after years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, years of never being able to please the parents and countless hours of grading papers that my students didn’t even care about. I was so fed up with the way things were going in education that I couldn’t take it anymore — or so I thought.

After one year of sitting in a cubicle, I realize how much I miss being a teacher. The things I miss the most are:

The students

When I had a rough morning as a teacher, it lasted only until my students entered the classroom. Then it wasn’t about me or my rough morning anymore — it was about them. They made me forget my worries by demanding 100% of my energy. I would laugh, cry and yell, all in one day — but that day flew by because my students wouldn’t let it drag. Here in my cube, though, I’m left with my own thoughts. As I work on my tasks, my day doesn’t change much. I never thought I would miss the emotional roller coaster of teaching, but I do.

Sharing

Even though I enjoy the work I’m doing, I don’t work on a team. So there’s no one for me to teach what I’ve learned. It makes me miss my professional learning community. I even tried to start one up at my new job, but it didn’t stick. I miss working with my colleagues on special projects, including the process of reflecting and then revising. I miss finding a great lesson plan and running over to my coworkers’ classrooms to show them. I miss being part of a unit with a common purpose.

The time off

This past Christmas, I didn’t have time to cook and decorate beforehand, and I didn’t have time to take the decorations down afterward. I barely had time to finish my Christmas shopping because I had to work on Christmas Eve. Then I was back at work the day after Christmas. Sure, I have vacation time now — four full weeks of it. But it isn’t what I had as a teacher. I have no Spring Break, and no reason to look forward to summer. Right now, all my close friends are making summer plans and getting excited. I wish I could join them.

What have I learned overall? The grass is NOT greener.

In fact, I think it’s made of plastic. I may not have parent conferences or administrators berating me, but I don’t have a purpose, either. In the classroom, at least I knew I was giving my all to contribute to society. At least I knew that even if the kids didn’t show it, deep down, they did care and were impacted by me.

The industry I work in now is changing people’s job descriptions and telling them they no longer fit the description so they have to leave the job. I’m learning that is a common thing outside of the public school system. I will take new standards and evaluations over that any day. At least then I can feel a real sense of accomplishment and improvement.

I realize now that I didn’t need a career change. What I really needed was to change schools. My administration was bringing me down and I let them get the best of me. Before making this major shift, I should have tried a smaller one first. At least I had one year of making decent money — but I’ve learned that my well-being and sense of purpose in life is much more important to me.

Next fall, I’ll be back in the classroom greeting a new set of students. I can’t wait to meet them.


If you’ve gone back to teaching after trying another career, what was behind your decision? Can you relate to Melanie’s story?

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Teacher Who Left: Why I Am Returning to School (The Answer Sheet)

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From the Classroom to Parliament: A Former Teacher on Her New “London Life”

I’m excited to share today’s guest blog from fellow former teacher theentiretyoflife. She responded to my recent call for submissions from those who’ve found life after teaching, and I’m so glad she did.

After five years teaching primary school in southeast England, she landed a job (on her last day of teaching!) in the Education Service of the Houses of Parliament in London, where she presents workshops and develops educational materials for visiting school groups from throughout the UK.

In this post, she takes stock of her new life — its challenges, rewards and whether leaving teaching was the right move.

For her full story, please visit theentiretyoflife.


It’s been just over 3 months since I began working in London.

Before I started the job, my mind was filled with questions:

Will I like the job? Can I handle the travel? Will I miss school holidays?

Now, I love my “London life.”

That said, it does have some drawbacks compared to teaching — mainly that I have a much longer commute than I did as a teacher.

Where I once had a 10-minute drive to work, my commute is now an hour and 45 minutes each way. This means that I have to get up almost an hour earlier than I used to. So by 6:45, my usual teaching waking time, I’m out of the house and walking to the train station.

Three months in, the 5:55 am alarm — followed by a no-really-get-up-now 6:00 am one — is still painful. But I have honed the art of getting ready in half an hour once I extract myself from the covers at 6:15. Whether I am actually presentable within that half hour is another question, but I haven’t missed the train yet.

The longer commute also means I’m home much later than I used to be. This is only a problem when my friends with children need events to start at 5:00 pm, and sometimes I can’t make it until almost 7:00.

Thank goodness for Time Off In Lieu — my work’s policy of allowing employees to accrue anything over allowed hours as time off. The closest thing to TOIL in teaching is the holidays. You can, headteacher permitting, get time off, but it is a kind gesture rather than an expected norm. Plus, there’s no such thing as working hours in teaching so it’s been quite a shift in my thinking.

Although the longer hours have taken some getting used to, the new job has also offered plenty of rewards. For instance:

My commute has made me a good deal fitter than I was as a teacher. Even though I’m on my feet less compared to teaching, the brisk walks to and from the train have helped me exercise more. I can now walk for miles at a fast pace, making it from Big Ben to sitting on the train in 10 minutes if need be.

In general, my workday is much more relaxed and easier to manage.

At the beginning of the day, I get to decide what I do first. If I’ve observed a workshop, I’ll write it up so I remember what happened. If I need to ring the IT department, I ring it. I have workshops to teach, but when I’m finished with them, there’s no need to mark anything — I just return everything to its proper place and off I go.

And even though I have to be in the office until I’m allowed to go home (usually no later than 5:00), my working day stops! It doesn’t carry on into the night until it’s done like it used to. I leave unfinished work on my desk, switch off my computer and go home.

Because I don’t need to bring work home, I’ve come to enjoy my commute: the seats on the train are cosy, and I love having the time to write, read, watch TV and sleep.

Another perk of the new job is that I now have a thriving social life. Where my evenings once held a large amount of marking, and Sunday afternoons were spent planning, my evenings are now spent with friends. Although I get home substantially later, once I’m home my time is my own. Friday evenings actually begin at 4:00 pm in the pub (and usually a second outing once I get home) and previously panic-planning Sunday afternoons are now spent doing whatever I like.

I even enjoy going to work now. I love teaching workshops on topics like parliamentary procedure, voting and how to engage with politics. And I love being able to write new material that will be used with visiting schools. It’s a pleasure to still be involved with educating future generations about how politics works and affects our lives even though I’m no longer in the classroom.

I also love the eclectic mishmash of the buildings where I work and the privilege of walking through them. Since September, just during lunch, I’ve been to Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park and explored all round Whitehall. I’ve found statues I never knew existed and pockets of garden solitude in a bustling city.

Outside of work, but because of my position, I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, the Cabinet War Rooms and Hampton Court. Every day that I explore some new corridor in the Palace feels like a gift that I can’t quite believe is mine.

The Verdict

I decided to work between Christmas and New Year’s Day, to save my holiday for this summer. I had been wondering how I would find this major departure from the long holiday breaks I was used to.

Actually, surprisingly, I haven’t minded.

Would I like to have been off work? Sure, who wouldn’t?

Do I resent my lack of holidays?

As I stood on the station platform on December 29 at 6:57 am, wearing knee-length socks, two scarves and two pairs of gloves to combat the minus-five conditions, I considered this.

I recalled the lesson planning I would have been doing. The waking up to that impending sense of planning-doom — the way it would take over a few days, and still leave me feeling unprepared.

A little part of me still wanted to be asleep in bed, but mostly I felt glad. Glad to be going back into London. Glad to be away from planning-panic and the stresses of school. I was even glad to be exercising again!

Over the last few months, I’ve met yet another group of lovely colleagues. I’ve embarked on a job I would not have entertained this time last year, and my day-to-day life is a whirlwind away from December 2013. There are challenges, don’t get me wrong…

But when, even though I’m working in what I still think of as the Christmas holidays, I turn around to see this at the end of the day —

— I have to admit, life after teaching is turning out to be pretty good.

 

 

A Reader Asks: Should I Quit Teaching if I Can Make More Working at CVS?

Melanie is a fifth-grade math and science teacher at a Title I public school in Florida
where 79 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch.

She’s looking for advice from fellow educators – past and present – on whether she should leave teaching.

Here’s her story:

After teaching for seven years, I have come to hate my job. 

I dread waking up in the morning. The children put me in a bad mood.  The stress of being held accountable for situations out of my control puts me in a bad mood.  Never feeling like I am successful at my career has put me in what seems like a permanent bad mood. 

I’m tired of not being recognized for good work.  I am tired of not being able to “move up” in a company even though I work hard.  I am just tired!

While I was in college, I was a shift manager at CVS.  I have recently gotten in touch with my old store managers and I have been given a window of opportunity to become a store manager myself, starting out at $10,000 more a year than what I make now with my master’s in education.  I’m not sure whether I should take this opportunity.

When I think about store management, I start feeling happy.  I enjoy daydreaming about mastering my job duties and being recognized for them.  Everything about this seems appealing except for the hours. 

I am only 28 years old, and I want a family one day.  Teaching offers a great schedule for having children, with holidays, weekends and evenings always at home.  Store management does not offer such a stable, family-friendly schedule.

Can anyone provide me with a perspective that may help me make a decision?

Thank you!

Those who teach or have taught: What advice can you offer Melanie?

I know that lots of teachers work retail jobs on nights and weekends or during the summer. Do you find retail work relaxing compared to teaching? How else do the two compare?

Here’s my take:

Both retail and teaching require standing on your feet for hours. You also need to interact with large groups of people, manage a wide range of personalities, and cater to people’s needs and complaints in both situations. I know this from making Blizzards at Dairy Queen in high school, checking through long lines of customers at Target in college, and teaching high school for seven years.

So working in retail full-time will be tiring too, but in a much less personal (and more manageable) way. Sure, you’ll have to deal with old ladies complaining about discounts that didn’t scan, or hear kids whining to their parents, but those kids won’t be complaining to you or about you. They are no longer your responsibility. I think that could be really freeing.

But you won’t get to do much creative or intellectually challenging work. And you won’t feel the joy or accomplishment that can come from a great lesson or a funny moment you share with your students.

You say you want to be able to spend evenings and holidays at home when you have kids, but I don’t think that means you have to stay in teaching right now, or that you can never go back to it if you leave.

You’re only 28! What if you try the retail job for a year? You can go back to teaching when, and if, you’re ready. In the meantime, you can try something new, get your energy back and make more money.

15 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself on the First Days of School

Whether you’ve been back for a few weeks, or just a day or two — you did it!

You made it out of bed at an ungodly hour, rocked a fresh first-day outfit, and presented your Teacher Self to a new crop of kids.

You’re taking attendance, writing those first parent e-mails, planning lessons, doing lunch duty, attending meetings, assigning first homeworks, and collecting first homeworks.

Maybe you’re teaching a brand-new course this year, or taking on a new responsibility as coach or advisor, too.

Through all of this, you’re delivering instruction to multiple groups of differently abled, very distractible kids.

So, please remember — it’s OK if…

1. You don’t know most of your students’ names yet.

2. It takes you a full five minutes to remember old students’ names when they say hello in the hallway.

namesticker

It’ll come to me…

3. Your desk is already a mess of papers.

This week's grading

100% authentic piles of grading

4. You didn’t have time to make that perfect bulletin board / seating chart / welcome letter like you’d planned to do.

marvelous-multiplication-bulletin-board

I’ve never made a bulletin board this pretty. Ever.

5. You already had to change a lesson because the copier was jammed or occupied.

jammedcopier

Sad sight for sore eyes

6. You already had to change a lesson because the computer / projector / DVD player / TV / internet didn’t work.

test colors TV

“Hey, who here is good at TV stuff?”

7. You forgot to turn off your phone during class.

8. You forgot to go to the bathroom, even when you had a minute.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

Should’ve gone during prep!

9.  Your perfect “first days” lesson was not the raging success you’d envisioned.

10. You haven’t had time to catch up properly with your colleagues because of all the work that needs to be done.

11. You’re already grading or playing on your phone during the first full faculty meeting. (Do as I say, not as I do…)

facebook-30-iphone-app_1

Official story: teachers don’t have friends or use Facebook.

12. Your second-day outfit was not as polished as your first-day outfit. (Soon, you’ll be proud to have made it to school with matching socks!)

13.  You didn’t have time to make lunch and/or dinner.

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

School lunch it is…

14. You didn’t have time to make that doctor’s appointment.

15. You’re already falling asleep on the couch when you get home!

It's OK to be dog-tired!

It’s OK to be dog-tired!

Remember, teachers do heroic things, but you’re still human!

Rinse and repeat if you’re a first-year teacher.

Also: what would you add to this list?

10 Reasons Septima Clark was a Badass Teacher

Septima Clark was an educator and activist who made enormous contributions to the civil rights movement. Here’s why she deserves just as much fame as Dr. King (and why he thought so, too):

1. She rose from humble beginnings — and the legacy of slavery — to start teaching at age 18.

Septima Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1898. Her father was born into slavery and didn’t learn to read and write until he was an adult. Her mother was a washerwoman though she was educated as a child in Haiti.

Clark was the second of eight children. Because she couldn’t afford to attend college, she got her teacher’s license after graduating high school in 1916. It was the start of a 40-year career as a public school teacher.

2. She was deeply committed to professional development.

After her husband died in 1925, Clark moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and sent her son to North Carolina to live with his grandparents. Though it was a painful separation, it allowed her to keep teaching and pursue a college degree.

In the summers, she studied at Columbia University in New York, and at Atlanta University. She earned a bachelor’s from Benedict College in 1942, and a master’s from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1945.

3. She never let racism dampen her commitment to teaching and social justice.

In 1916, when she realized she couldn’t work in Charleston because black teachers weren’t allowed to teach there, Clark left the city and began teaching in John’s Island, South Carolina.

When a 1956 state law demanded that she give up membership in the NAACP or lose her job, she moved to Tennessee, where she became the director of education at Highlander Folk School and remained an active member of the NAACP.

4. She fought tirelessly for the fair treatment of black teachers in her home state.

Clark campaigned for a law allowing black teachers to work in Charleston’s public schools, which was passed in 1920.

She also worked with Thurgood Marshall on legislation that gave black teachers equal pay in Columbia, South Carolina.

5. Clark helped thousands combat racism through education.

With a loan from the Highlander Folk School, Clark helped found the first Citizenship School on John’s Island in 1957. In addition to providing social justice training to civil rights activists, Citizenship Schools taught literacy as a means to civic freedom for poor blacks who had never received schooling. They learned practical skills, like how to fill out driver’s license forms, read the newspaper, and open a bank account.

Clark with a student in Wilcox County, Alabama thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com

Clark with a student in Wilcox County, Alabama
http://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/tag/septima-clark/

By 1970, there were Citizenship Schools all over the South — nearly 10,000 teachers and 200 schools in all.

6. She paved the way for the (recently gutted) Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Through the workshops she led at Highlander, and the curriculum she designed for Citizenship Schools, Clark helped thousands learn to sign their own names and read the Constitution so they could pass literacy tests designed to exclude blacks from voting. She also taught them to read and understand the voting laws in their state.

Clark at one of her Citizenship Schools in South Carolina. http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

Clark (center) at one of her Citizenship Schools in South Carolina.
http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

7. Threats of violence and jail time couldn’t stop her.

Though she experienced troubling incidents — including being physically threatened by the KKK in Natchez, Mississippi in 1965, and getting arrested for teaching integrated classes in 1959 — Clark pressed on.

“None of those things discouraged me,” she said.

8. Her teaching inspired Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Four months after attending one of Clark’s workshops at Highlander, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white man — and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. Parks said of Clark, “I wanted to have the courage to accomplish the kinds of things that she had been doing for years.”

Clark (left) with Rosa Parks at the Highlander Folk School in 1955, right before the Montgomery bus boycott. http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

Clark (left) with Rosa Parks at the Highlander Folk School in 1955, right before the Montgomery bus boycott.
http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

John Lewis, another famed civil rights leader and current Georgia Congressman, was also profoundly influenced by Clark’s teaching at Highlander.

In his memoir Walking with the Wind, he writes, “What I loved about Clark was her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach, and the fact that the people she aimed at were…the same ones I could identify with, having grown up poor and barefoot and black.”

When Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he had Clark join him at the ceremony because he felt she deserved just as much credit for her work.

Clark has remained a relatively unsung hero of the movement. Lewis admits: “Her name might be generally unknown today, but she was a powerful influence on many of us during that formative time.”

9. She was an outspoken feminist.

Clark criticized the men she worked with who dismissed her and other women’s contributions to civil rights, calling their sexism “one of the weaknesses of the movement.”

In 1958, she spoke to the National Organization of Women about black and white women’s shared struggle against male domination.

She even encouraged the use of birth control in a time when the matter wasn’t openly discussed. Clark realized that too many black women and children suffered from having large families without adequate resources.

10. After retiring in 1970, Clark continued to fight inequality and serve her community.

In 1976, she won the back pay and pension that was denied to her when she was fired from her South Carolina teaching job in 1956 for being a member of the NAACP.

Clark in her later years laureltobyedison.com

Clark in her later years
http://www.laurietobyedison.com

She served on the Charleston County school board from 1975 – 1978, when she was nearly 80 years old.

Big thanks to Zinn Education Project for this post idea. Check out their page on Clark’s book Freedom’s Teacher, and their teaching materials on the civil rights movement!

Sources

Interviews with Jaquelyn Hall (1, 2)
King Center
AKA Authors
U of South Carolina — Aiken
Safero
StateUniversity

Everything he needs to know, he learned in 4T.

It’s been more than two months since my last post! To help make up for that gap, here’s a story so good, I think it’s movie material…

Almost 40 years later, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein still remembers the feeling of community in “4T,” Paul Tamburello’s fourth grade class at Pierce School in Brookline, Massachusetts. “He knew all of us, and had high expectations for us,” Jeff says. “He was really good about letting us know that he saw what we were doing, whether it was doing well or misbehaving.”

Jeff (right) learns to use chopsticks in 4T.
photo credit: Paul Tamburello

Though he graduated from 4T in 1974, Jeff kept coming back to visit his old teacher, even throughout high school and college.  During these visits, Jeff recalls, “He would always say, ‘What do you remember from 4T?’ Then he would use that information to think about how to approach the class.” This commitment to continual improvement inspired Jeff, who began working at Pierce – first as a recess aide, and then, after graduation from Stanford, as an apprentice teacher to Tamburello for two years, beginning in 1987.

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello's apprentice teacher Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello’s apprentice teacher
Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

On the experience of having Jeff back in his classroom as an aspiring teacher, Paul Tamburello writes:

I was used to training student teachers but none with whom I had this kind of history. I hesitated. Was my work good enough, rigorous enough, to keep him engaged? I knew Jeff held me in high regard, maybe even considered me a role model. It’s a long fall from a pedestal to the solid, hard earth. Finally, I took the advice I gave my students. Don’t be afraid to try, maybe even fail.

(…)

There were days I shook my head and grinned in wonder. Jeff’s initiative was taking our relationship into rich uncharted territory. This was giving the term “student teacher” a whole new dimension. It would give us things to talk about for years to come.

By our second year of co-teaching, it was, “Jeff and I expect you to…” or “Mr. Tamburello and I expect you to…” as we ran the classroom. Jeff may be the only kid in America who got a post-graduate degree in fourth grade. It was the richest experience of my 34-year career.

In 1992, Jeff finally had his own classroom: he began teaching Social Studies and English at Brown Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts — only five miles away from Pierce School. Mr. Tamburello continued to guide his student of now 18 years:

“I would emulate a lot of the things I learned from his classroom, including his sense of discipline, and the positive environment he established.” Jeff adds, “Now, when I would go back to visit, he would still be trying new things, and this would give me more homework to do as a teacher.”

Jeff’s memoir about these experiences, On My Teacher’s Shoulders, was published in 2012.  On his decision to write a book about Mr. Tamburello, Jeff says, “A big motivation was to honor the different, but related types of impact he played on me over the course of 30 years. It was not a static relationship: each time [I came back] there was something different that I had to learn and he had to teach me. I feel very fortunate that he had the strength and humility to let me know what he was gaining each of those different times. That helped me understand the reciprocity of shared important experiences.”

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) at Paul's retirement partyphoto courtesy of Jeff Kelley Lowenstein

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) in 2012
photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Many of us are fortunate to have had teachers who’ve shaped us for the better, including what kind of teachers we are and aspire to be. I also love how this story highlights the lifelong learning and cameraderie that can grow between teacher and student — and how the distinctions between these roles can blur in exciting, unexpected ways.

Have you kept in touch with a teacher long after leaving his or her class? Have you returned to teach at a school you attended?

A Kind of Dreaming

I wore green and white to school today, for the students and faculty of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

Like so many others, I’ve been struggling to process last Friday’s horrific shooting: I’ve refreshed the Lede blog on the New York Times website countless times, read opinion piece after opinion piece on gun control, and tried to articulate my own point of view as a teacher and education writer.

As storytelling animals, we immediately grasp for “Why?” — especially when it can’t be understood.

For now, I’d like to remember the story before the story, about the people who served their school with pride and selflessness well before the world was watching.

As Tim O’Brien writes in The Things They Carried, “…in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.”

Victoria Soto, 27, taught first grade at the school for five years. She lived with her mother, brother, and sisters in Stratford, CT. She loved teaching and her pet labrador, Roxie. She was studying for a Master’s degree in Special Education.

Lauren Rousseau, 30, was a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook. “Lauren wanted to be a teacher even before she went to kindergarten,” her mother said. Besides teaching, Lauren enjoyed music, dance, and theater. She made cupcakes in celebration of the new “Hobbit” movie, and had been planning to see the film with her boyfriend on Friday night.

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, was the principal of the school for two years. She often shared school-related Twitter updates on everything from band concerts to professional development workshops. Sometimes, she dressed up as the Sandy Hook Book Fairy. Dawn met her husband George while she was an assistant principal and he was a seventh-grade math teacher. She had two daughters, three stepdaughters, and 11 grandchildren.

Mary Scherlach, a 56-year-old school psychologist, was preparing to retire after 18 years at Sandy Hook. She was married for 31 years, and was the mother to two daughters in their 20s. Her hobbies included gardening, reading, and theater.

Meet a Real Teacher: Daniela Flores

Meet the amazing Daniela, a fourth-grade Spanish and English teacher in Grapevine, a suburb of Dallas, Texas.  Daniela’s past life as a journalist shapes her teaching, as does her experience as an English Language Learner.

And I think I’ve got a new motto: GOYA/KOD!

Type of School:
Title 1 Elementary School

Years taught: 3

Number of students this year: 35

 

 

You left a position with a prestigious news agency to become a teacher. What motivated your choice, and what have you realized about its impact?

I had a great journalism professor in college whose passion for the profession was so palpable I was ready to take on the world when I graduated. After college, I got to work with and learn from some of the most talented journalists I’ve ever encountered. They had that passion, too. It took me a while to admit to myself that while I liked what I was doing and have a huge respect for the work, I didn’t feel the same way they did about journalism. I wanted to find my passion and that led me to bilingual education.  In the years since, I’ve realized I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

You teach a bilingual Spanish class. What are your students’ backgrounds? Can you explain what bilingual education means, and give us a snapshot of your class?

My students are mostly either from Mexico, or first-generation Americans with Spanish-speaking parents. We follow a dual language enrichment model at my school. This means my fourth-grade students receive half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English.  Our goal is to educate bilingual and biliterate 21st-century learners.

Your family is from Monterrey, Mexico and you grew up speaking Spanish. How does your background inform your teaching?

I think my background helps me understand my students because I lived the same thing they are going through. I know how exciting, difficult, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding the process of learning a new language can be. I always use that to guide my teaching. Perhaps more importantly, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re between two cultures. I use all of this to create relationships with my students and guide them in taking the best from both of the worlds they live in.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

Interacting with my students. Their enthusiasm and dreams fill me with hope for the future. Their calls for help remind me how important it is to have someone who believes in you. Last year, a student said to me, “Ms. Flores, I’m a girl with so many dreams. I want to be a lawyer, a chef, a teacher, a vet…” My job forces me to see the world very realistically, but my students allow me to see its endless possibilities.

If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

I would remove the extra pressures that take away attention from my students and their learning. The students are the reason I got into education.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?

To quote “Bad Teacher”: “Shorter hours, summers off, no accountability.” Not only are those ideas false (!), they would not be the reasons anyone who really believes in education would become a teacher.

What teacher made the most impact on you and why? What would you tell him/her now?

My main journalism professor, Dr. Robert Cole. Even though I did not stay in the world of journalism, he taught me you should be passionate about what you get up to do every morning. Seeing his love for journalism led me to find my love for teaching. I was nervous he would be disappointed in me for leaving journalism, so I didn’t tell him.  Now I realize he would be happy I found my calling. Today, I want to tell him I’m still following GOYA/KOD*, just in the world of education. Thank you for showing me what loving what you do looks like, Dr. Cole.

*Get off your ass and knock on doors!

What advice do you have for aspiring or beginning teachers?

Surround yourself in greatness. Find the best teachers at your school, in your district, on Twitter, anywhere, and learn everything you can from them.  Also, don’t forget about yourself. When a former journalism colleague who had been a teacher gave me that advice, I had no idea what he meant. But you’ll figure it out very quickly!

“A little praise” Goes a Long Way

A thank-you letter to a teacher, submitted after my first post on the topic, caught me off guard: it wasn’t from a student, as I’d expected, but from a mom.

While I do appreciate parents’ verbal thank-yous, and gifts from students on behalf of their parents, I’ve never gotten anything quite like this:

“It’s just what I needed…I could teach for thirty more years with this letter in hand,” says Keri Benton, an elementary school teacher in New Hanover township, NJ. In her five years of teaching, she’d never received such a detailed letter, either.

What could we accomplish if more parents expressed gratitude to teachers?