A Chat With An Old Teacher

A student teacher sat down with an old teacher and asked a few  questions:

1. What originally got you interested in teaching?

While living in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was asked to teach English in the village school. I was immediately drawn to the challenge (and sometimes futility) of teaching. The experience ran counter to the common assumptions I had always heard about teaching. I left Peace Corps service and entered a fellowship program at the University of Michigan that placed returned volunteers in Detroit Public Schools classrooms. That experience revealed the similarities between the challenges in Third World classrooms and those in our impoverished U.S. schools.

2. What have been some of your hardest challenges during your teaching career?

Compliance and money. The public school system is a labyrinth of policy upon well-intentioned policy, creating a quagmire for students and teachers to navigate. From common assessments, to textbook contracts, the classroom is subject to an onslaught of non-instructional distractions. Coupled with dwindling resources, the public school teacher is working harder than ever, while receiving unprecedented scrutiny.

3. What do you tell people when they ask why you are a teacher? Or why you do something that does not have a large salary?

Public service. I explain that I’ve always been drawn to the honor of public service, be it law enforcement, healthcare, or education. It can be a wonderful way to (hopefully) make a living wage while contributing to the welfare of the townsquare.

4. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Students’ academic gains (of any size) and the exquisite relationships with children and their parents that are an essential ingredient to teaching and learning.

5. How did you choose where you began teaching?

Detroit is my hometown. Also, I am a product of the Detroit Public Schools. Timing was key, too, as the Peace Corps Fellowship was centered in the Detroit Public Schools, and the district was in dire need of bilingual teaching candidates (I returned to Detroit fluent in Spanish after serving in the Dominican Republic).

6. What is one piece of advice you would give to a college student studying to be a elementary teacher?

It is imperative that you get into as many K-12 classrooms as possible. Substitute, volunteer, visit, anything you can do to breathe in the reality of a classroom. Too many of us enter public education with coursework, degrees, and perceptions of the vocation without intimate experience of the hallowed ground of learning: the classroom. Get there.

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