Current School: Parkdale High School (interning at Glenwood Middle)
Grades Taught: 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th
Subjects Taught: United States History, Integrated Math, Political Issues, College & Career Readiness, Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (interning in English Language Arts)
Alma Mater: Howard University
Number of Years Teaching: 3 Years (Beginning 4th)
How did you initially decide to become a teacher?
I majored in print/online journalism at Howard University and graduated in the spring of 2012 in hopes of being the Washington Post’s next up and coming news reporter. After tons of résumé submissions, very little callbacks and even fewer interviews, I was extremely discouraged. My best friend is a guidance counselor at Parkdale High and told me that he could get me a long-term substitute position while I waited for the journalism world to give me a chance. I took him up on his offer and have never looked back. I decided after a month of long-term substituting that while I loved journalism, teaching is what I was meant to do. My students are singlehandedly the reason why I wanted to become a teacher.
What has been your biggest challenge as a teacher so far?
My biggest challenge as a teacher so far has been juggling all the unwritten responsibilities of the “teacher” title. Before I became an educator—and I think this is a misconception that many non-educators have—I assumed that teaching was instructing kids on material, grading papers, communicating with parents if need be, and that’s about it. And I could not have been any more wrong. Teaching is grading and instructing, yes, but it’s also giving advice, being a role model, listening, tutoring, empathizing, motivating, mentoring, coaching, getting to know your students as actual humans and not just desk-fillers, and so much more. There are seemingly endless different hats that educators wear on a daily basis, and juggling those hats is probably my biggest challenge so far. It’s a challenge, however, that I’m happy to accept.
What has been most rewarding about your teaching experience?
Watching my students succeed is my biggest reward. It sounds cliché, but it could not be any truer. I’ve watched one of my juniors, who had a baby her sophomore year, graduate and take part in a summer pre-nursing program. I’ve watched a student, who would not even pick his pencil up to take a test in the beginning of the year, end up getting a B on his final exam. Without getting into the politics of everything, simply put, my students sometimes are unaware of just how much they can succeed if they put their minds to it. And being able to be that bridge between failure and success and watching them take pride in their work and grades makes the long hours, the frustration and the occasional tears worth it.
Share a funny story or inspirational story from your time teaching.
It was the beginning of April and seniors had a little over a month to ensure they’d pass all their classes in time for graduation. One of my boys—who proudly proclaimed himself as the class clown—was balancing between a low-to-mid C. According to his calculations of his previous grades, he needed higher than that to pass. I was writing their warm-up on the board as they were trailing in from lunch, and when I walked back to my desk, I noticed there was an apple on it. The student came up to me, asked how I was doing and said “oh wow! What a delicious looking apple!” I said, “[Name], did you put this apple on my desk?” He responded and said “of course not, Ms. G! But whoever did sure must care about you.” After a quick three-second stare-off, he admitted “okay, okay, I put it there. C’mon, Ms. G, I really need an 86 to pass this class!” When I laughed and told him to go get started on the warm-up, he sighed and said “fine, but don’t eat the apple. I found it on the floor in the cafeteria.” Spoiler alert: he did well on his final and passed the class.
What is the thing that you want most for your students to know before leaving your class?
I think an expected teacher answer to this question would be “I want them to know how to interpret Shakespeare and who the iconic literary artists of the Harlem Renaissance were” and concepts of that nature. I do want those things; I want them to understand and appreciate all the content-based lessons I work hard to teach them throughout the year. I think above anything, though, I want them to know that they’re valued. I think the first step to respecting others is respecting yourself and understanding your worth. One of the first things I teach my kids is that my classroom is one of respect. We value what everyone has to say, even if we don’t agree, and everyone is viewed as equals, myself included—for the most part! J I think in a number of ways, my students are told—whether it be blatant or insinuated—that they’re less than, and that’s a notion that I want to debunk. I want them to feel like people want them to succeed and truly believe that it’s possible. I want them to walk out of my classroom at the end of the year, not only proud of the academic success they’ve achieved but with more pep in their step, confidence in their abilities and security in their worth.
What advice would you give to other educators?
Listen. All we ever want our students to do is listen to us, and I think we often forget sometimes just how important the things they have to say are, as well. The things they share in class, the conversations they have with peers, even what they write on their assignments says so much about who they are. I think in order to have an effective classroom environment, you have to know your students as best as you can. I like to tell my students that I never want to “lecture” them or talk at them, but instead, I want them to share their ideas, if not equally, even more than me.