Laura: I teach 11th and 12th grade English.
Unbound: At what type of school do you work?
Laura: I work at a suburban public high school in northern Virginia.
Unbound: Tell me about the demographics of your students.
Laura: My students are generally economically affluent and ethnically diverse.
Unbound: Why do you work in education?
Laura: I love English, and I love my students. Every day, I get to discuss challenging texts that open up their perspectives on the world and themselves, and every day, I get to help them find their voices as writers and discover that they have powerful stories to tell.
Unbound: Do your worldview and beliefs about religion and ethics affect your work in the school system?
Laura: I have students from a wide range of religious and cultural backgrounds, so I try to remain unbiased and impartial so that they know my classroom is a safe place where they can articulate their opinions without feeling judged. However, I do sometimes pose discussion questions or assign texts that are designed to get them thinking outside their comfort zones.
Most of the decisions that affect my daily life are made by people who have no idea about the daily stresses and joys of being a teacher.
Unbound: What is the most challenging part of your work?
Laura: On a practical level, it’s time. I typically have 130-150 students, and, especially as an English teacher, I’m on a seemingly never-ending conveyer belt of grading papers.
On a philosophical level, however, it’s feeling defeated and marginalized by a society that doesn’t fully understand what my job really encompasses. Most of the decisions that affect my daily life are made by people who have no idea about the daily stresses and joys of being a teacher. Whether it’s standardized testing or the new teacher evaluation system or the fact that I often have to spend more time justifying why I’m a good teacher instead of actually being a good teacher, it’s easy to feel like a cog in an overly-mechanized system.
Laura: My students. They are amazing human beings, and I adore them! Sometimes after a long morning of meetings and spreadsheets and data and committees and 80 other tasks that leave me demoralized and exhausted, knowing I get to close the door of my classroom and teach my students keeps me motivated. It reminds me why I do this job.
Unbound: Based on your experience, if you could magically enact one large-scale change for education in general, what would it be? Why?
Laura: I would create a system that identifies, fosters, supports, and yes, incentivizes, young teacher leaders. So many bright, amazing young teachers leave the profession within the first five years for a variety of reasons: lack of respect, low pay, stress, and little to no opportunities to advance and gain influence beyond the sphere of their classrooms. We need to work to keep these teachers in the profession, because they are the ones who will ultimately defeat the antiquated, painful stereotype of teachers as complacent and un-invested people who couldn’t succeed in any other career and went into teaching for the summers off.