I couldn’t sleep the night before school. As a third-year teacher and a career changer, I sometimes still can’t believe I’m a special education teacher at the same public high school my daughter once attended.
This summer I spent time thinking about whether I should continue to be a teacher. Am I effective? Can I be effective in my environment? Am I good enough? Am I honoring my students? Most of all: Am I an agent of change?
I had to ask myself these hard questions because I want to be happy teaching. I really needed to make sure that my heart is in it. The writer Michaela Davis Angela once told me that teaching is a calling. This summer I asked myself whether teaching was MY calling. I didn’t know how I would react or feel once the students were in the building.
Before school began, I was excited to hear Kwame Alexander, a former high school teacher and award-winning children’s book author, speak at Bank Street College. I couldn’t wait to listen and really hear what he was going to say. I was ready. And I was totally surprised by what he said and what he revealed.
He had asked himself the same questions about teaching that I asked myself this summer. He spoke about realizing that one of his teachers, whom he didn’t like because she always gave him C’s, nevertheless had the ability to see him and what he needed. He advised all of the educators in the room to be the type of teacher who learns about their students and pushes them to be better.
On the first day of school, I rushed out of my apartment. My heart was beating fast as I entered the school building. I walked onto our floor, which was full of laughter, chatter and beautiful noise. One of my students shouted at me as I was walking through the hallway to reach my office. It felt like I had never left.
I know that some of my lack of confidence comes from being a career changer. I know how it feels to be really good at your job, and I’m not there yet with teaching. But I know that my students are at the heart of everything I do.
In the coming weeks, I want to research culturally relevant curriculum. I want to begin to use checklists for each major project and unit that I plan for my students. I want to make a promise to give my students experiences in cultural institutions beyond just those they visit on field trips. I also want to figure out ways to ask students how they are doing. I want to leverage my connections in my former career to be the bridge for not only students but teachers as well.
I realize that teachers also need to be inspired and reminded that learning in the classroom is just the beginning of their students’ journeys. After returning to school, I know I am doing exactly what I was called to do.