When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
I realized I wanted to be a teacher when I was student-teaching. I got in my car after a long day and started crying, probably from a mix of exhaustion and an emotionally-charged school day. As the tears rolled down my cheeks I started planning in my head for the next day. That was when I knew I was in for the long haul.
What keeps you in the classroom?
The excitement of working with high school students in a government class in extraordinary times like these has me hooked. Maybe I am an adrenaline junky, but other lines of work just seem boring. I also may suffer from arrested development in that I enjoy talking to adolescents and learning about their world view.
What character qualities make great teachers?
Great teachers come with all kinds of qualities. A teacher who inspires and helps one student may not work for another. That being said, there are a couple of qualities that I have noticed many of my colleagues have that I aspire to have. One is being a good listener and the other is patience. Some teachers are better at holding court and others at creating dynamic spaces where students take the lead but teachers who can really hear students and have the patience to deal with what arises in a class are usually pretty successful.
What is your favorite part of the school year? Why? [You can’t say summer or recess!]
I always like early November and March, which are the midpoints of our semesters. This is the sweet spot for me where the students and I know each other better but we still have the energy and commitment for some of our more ambitious class projects. November is also when my government students and I head to Atlanta for the YMCA’s Youth Assembly.
Students roleplay legislators in the Capitol building for three days. It is one of the most exciting things I do with students because this is when they really develop their passion for democracy and see that it is a contact sport. I also like March because it is when my Beta Club students and I head to convention. This year my Beta Club co-sponsor and I created our own three-day convention in Atlanta and we took students to The Carter Center, The King Center, The Alliance Theater, The High Museum of Art, and other Atlanta hotspots to learn about the rich leadership history in our state. I love being in the classroom but also think it is crucial to get students to see the connections of what happens in our school to the real world.
What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
I once had a student, who almost never spoke, tell the class that I was like a puppy. He claimed that I seemed cuddly and sweet but if you started to play too rough I had sharp little teeth.
What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
I use technology in my classroom but only when I can integrate it in a way that truly enriches a lesson. I began to get more comfortable with digital literacies through my work with Tech Matters, which is part of the National Writing Project.
Tech Matters awarded me a grant and training at California State University. When I returned from California, I piloted several programs at Apalachee High School, which earned my class and I national recognition from the College Board magazine.
My favorite project was when my students created mini-documentaries on everything from teen pregnancy to growing up Hmong in Barrow County. When I first started working with technology it was all about blogs, wikis, and iMovie, but nowadays I find that we use the students’ phones for all kinds of things.
Phones are basically mini-computers and we use them to evaluate the media and compare the way different news sources report political stories. I also text the students (sometimes too much in a day if you ask them) through Remind 101 with class updates, articles to read, and general class information. I like to use my class website as a way to keep in touch and communicate about all that is going on in our classroom and sometimes beyond. This year I played around with Pear Deck for review and Google Classroom a little bit for turning in work. We also utilize Google Docs for essay writing and collaborative work.
Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
I describe my morning routine as being shot out of a cannon. I get up at 5 a.m. and run with a rotating group of people depending on the day of the week. I try to finish my run by 6:30 and then there is stretching, showering, getting dressed, eating, coffee, news, dog-walking, and packing lunch for a departure at 7:25. It’s chaotic and totally dependent on my husband’s support because he makes the coffee, breakfast, and lunches. I have tried to simplify. Cutting my hair short helped, but I am always rushing out the door. I leave my classroom every afternoon or evening completely set up for the next day because there is no margin of error for me in the morning.
What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
It depends on the student, but I try to be affirming and not offer advice unless asked. I have realized that many times students just want to be heard and if they are listened to they often figure out what they need to do. That being said, I can usually see something pretty great in every student and I do not hold back on telling them how I think they are special and worthy.
What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
I think I offer other teachers encouragement but mainly in the form of listening in a nonjudgmental way to what is happening in a teacher’s classroom or world. Teachers inspire me because this job is so hard and requires endless amounts of energy and passion. I think other teachers can usually feel that I am with them and believe in what they are doing. If I see a teacher losing their cool or beating themselves up about something, I try to help them reframe. If their students are not able to complete a task or are not responding to a lesson, then I try to encourage that teacher to be present with what is happening and work from there. My husband often tells me to “Take it down a notch” when I am discouraged. This is my cue to remember that a lot of discouragement may come from expectations that are not being met. This is not to say lower the bar but instead to meet students where they are and then help them get up that hill.