Melissa: I am a former 7th and 8th grade Spanish teacher, GED tutor for ages 16-22, and MCAS (Massachusetts state test) tutor for ages 16-22.
Unbound: At what type of school did you work?
Melissa: I worked in two public schools, one county GED program, and one charter school. All were secular, urban schools.
Unbound: Tell me about the demographics of your students.
Melissa: In the public middle schools, my students were mostly African-American. At the GED program, my students were extremely racially diverse. At the charter school, my students were mostly Latino/a.
I am not sure about the breakdown in terms of income level. Many grew up in poverty, but some did not.
It is the education system (and the adults who designed it, work in it, and make the decisions that affect it) that is failing the kids, rather than the kids who are failing the system.
Unbound: Why did you work in education?
Melissa: I worked in education because I love kids and because every day is different. It is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I loved how it pushed me to grow, both as a person and as a professional.
Unbound: Did your worldview and beliefs about religion and ethics affect your work in the school system?
Melissa: Yes, definitely. I have always had a strong desire to “help people,” to work for justice, to try to right the wrongs in the world in the best way I could. This desire drew me to work in urban schools with kids whom the education system had failed and many other adults had abandoned.
My strong belief that it is the education system (and the adults who designed it, work in it, and make the decisions that affect it) that is failing the kids, rather than the kids who are failing the system, drove me to pursue a career in teaching in the hope that I could be different. In the end, I was sad to realize that it is nearly impossible for one individual to overcome the flaws of an entire system, and I left education to find another way to contribute to the improvement of the world.
Unbound: What was the most challenging part of your work?
Melissa: It has taken me a long time to figure out how to articulate the greatest challenge I faced as a teacher. I think Peter Greene sums it up perfectly when he says, “The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this: there is never enough.”
I believe wholeheartedly that the ways we train teachers need to change.
When you are a teacher, especially in an urban school system with high levels poverty, you are acutely aware that every second of every day you could be doing something to make life better for your students. For me, choosing to take care of myself meant losing time that could be spent working for them. In the end, I wasn’t able to live with that feeling, and I burned out very quickly.
Unbound: What was the best part?
Melissa: The best part is the moment the light bulb turns on for a struggling student. All of a sudden, their face lights up, they are happy to be in your classroom, and you are filled with the hope that this one victory will be the difference that pushes this student to realize their full potential. Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, the joy of that moment is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
Unbound: Based on your experience, if you could magically enact one large-scale change for education in general, what would it be? Why?
Melissa: I don’t have a specific policy in mind, but I believe wholeheartedly that the ways we train teachers need to change. Both the traditional and alternative routes to teacher licensure have advantages, but both also have enormous flaws. To a certain extent, teaching will always be a profession that takes years to master, and no one will ever be entirely prepared for it. That being said, I am positive we can do better.