I never imagined starting my teaching career remotely — but finishing my master’s degree in 2020 coincided with the start of the pandemic. Part of me wanted to wait and hope it would end soon so I could begin my career exactly as I had envisioned it: in my own classroom, with all my students learning in person. The other part of me knew that was unrealistic, and I desperately needed to work to pay off my school loans and meet other life expenses. So I went in full force, taking a remote assignment teaching a 5th-grade special education class in a New York City elementary school in September 2020.
Five years of college did not prepare me for teaching 11-year-olds through a computer. I went through the motions every day, but I never felt like I was reaching my full potential as a teacher or truly making a difference in the lives of my students like I thought I would. I kept reminding myself that this period would only be temporary.
One whole school year went by. I never got to meet my students in person. Although the school year was completely different than I had imagined, I was still able to make amazing memories and share laughs with each of my students. Optimism became my greatest attribute that school year. My optimism led me to stay at the same school and give it another try.
When the 2021-22 school year began, the utmost excitement and energy filled the air. It was worth the wait. I was finally teaching in person. Seeing the smiling faces of students and staff on the first day of school felt like a dream.
Now I am in my third year of teaching, and it has been the best year yet. I have an amazing group of diverse, well-rounded 5th-graders. I’ve been able to organize classroom celebrations, invite parents into my classroom and take my students on field trips! We’ve made so many memories already.
When we went to the Bronx Zoo to learn about endangered animals, I found out, to my surprise, that many of my students had never been to the zoo. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be the first person to take them. Their faces were lit up with excitement the entire day. We spent the weeks after our trip brainstorming ways we can help save endangered species.
Of course, not every day starts off on the right foot for all my students. But it’s my job to try to help them turn that around as much as possible by the end of the day. Recently, a parent reached out to tell me that in previous years, their child didn’t want to go to school in the mornings, but now the child wakes up eager to go and doesn’t want to miss a day.
I find great fulfillment in being able to ride with my students on their emotional rollercoasters — they’re comfortable enough to tell me how they feel and express their concerns to me. I’m reassured each day that I can make them feel safe and comforted.
I’m happy I stayed in this profession in this big chaotic city. I’ve realized that the most important part of my job is fostering my students’ well-being. I am ready to see each of them flourish, as I know they can and will.
I truly feel the difference I am making in the life of each of my students. As the years go on, I am excited that I’ll be able to watch their growth. I am happy to say that I am now here to stay.
Valued Vocation is the pseudonym for a third-year special education teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx.