Two semesters ago, I started in my Professional Development Sequence with a passion and enthusiasm for teaching. I couldn’t wait to get inside a classroom, couldn’t wait to invest in the lives and the growth of children. I wanted to see their horizons expand and wanted to see their eyes light up as we discovered something new and exciting together.
But something entirely different happened.
Day after day, I was torn down and discouraged. I experienced the heartbreak of teaching at a low income school, teaching at schools where teachers had given up and stopped fighting for their students. I was thrown into the midst of schools full of deficit language and curse words directed towards students. I was surrounded by children who knew that no one believed in them, knew that no one was fighting for them.
It felt hopeless. I felt lost and trapped, and left my second semester wanting to do anything but teach.
I came into this semester, my last and final semester of student teaching, with little hope for a reconciled relationship with the profession that had once stolen so much of my heart.
I walked into Scarlett Calvin’s room at the beginning of the new year, unexcited and unsure how to tell her that this whole teaching thing probably wasn’t for me, that I was wrong when I told the College of Education that I wanted to be a teacher, that she should probably ask for someone else to work under her because I really didn’t want to be here.
But over the last month, something has changed. My enchantment with teaching has returned, my passion for education reignited. UT Elementary is unlike any school I have ever experienced, and something different from what I have ever known is happening in the fifth grade classrooms of Scarlett Calvin and Mary Ledbetter.
The dynamic of an entire school shifts with the addition of just a few small ingredients: love, compassion, and tenacity.
Every morning, students walk into UT Elementary knowing that they will be greeted with the warm welcome of a hot breakfast and hugs from the school administration during morning assembly. Community is central to this school’s rock solid foundation. Students are greeted by name and welcomed into a safe place- somewhere they are free to dance (as done every morning before 7:40), be with their friends, and be themselves.
Before the school day even begins, you can tell that something different is happening here.
The rest of the day is spent learning and growing. Never before have I been inside a school where students are so eager to learn. The foundation of their excitement is found in genuine, authentic, hands on experiences.
History flies off of the pages of a textbook as students in Mary Ledbetter’s class examine primary documents and debate the pros and cons of the colonies declaring independence from Britain. The Declaration of Independence is paraphrased into a break up letter to The King from his angry ex-girlfriend (America), and the Revolutionary War turns into a back and forth tug of war between the Colonies and Britain. Eleven year olds are fully invested in the history that lies behind them, and are fully invested in the adventure that lies in front of them. They are not just being taught, they are living it, they are experiencing it, and they are loving it.
Language arts is not an independent subject, but rather, it ties everything together. Language is the tie that binds us, the strings that weave everything together. History is nothing without the language to express it, science is nothing without the language to share it. We don’t pick up a textbook and analyze the pieces, we open a book and we get lost in the story, we fall in love with the characters, we jump into the conflict, and we empathize with the injustice.
Science is not a rote memorization of safety procedures, but rather, it is the reason why everything is the way it is. We don’t fill out a worksheet, we discover new things, we research better ways to do what we’re already doing, we talk about the world’s problems and we advocate for change. We advocate for a better way to do things, because we know the scientific implications of what the world is currently doing. We are scientists, we are advocates, and we are the beginning of a revolutionary generation.
A month into my last semester of student teaching, and I am back in love with teaching. My teachers have become my mentors, and they have inspired me to care, to question what I know about teaching, to invest in the lives of my students, to teach not for test scores but for understanding. They have shown me what it looks like to go beyond teaching, and to fully dive into the lives of students who so desperately need them.
Teaching is a hard profession. It is one of little thanks and of little monetary pay off. But as much as it is exhausting, it is rewarding, and it is worth it. Two months ago I would have cried if you told me I had to teach when I graduated, and today, I would be honored to enter into this profession, and to follow in the footsteps of these amazing teachers.
Thank you, UT Elementary, for showing me that it is worth it, that teaching low-income students can be done successfully, that my students are worth fighting for. Thank you, Scarlett Calvin and Mary Ledbetter, for investing into my life the same way you have invested into your students. Thank you for pushing me to be better, for challenging me to do more. Thank you.
If you want to learn more about UT Elementary and the amazing teachers who make it all possible, check out these links:
You can look here to read more about my philosophy on teaching.