On Wednesday I went to Tuscaloosa to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy, the high school where I used to teach.
“Hold up, you were a teacher?!” you ask. Why yes, yes I was. When I was finishing up my undergraduate degree, I applied for an advertising teacher position at a Tuscaloosa high school. For interview-skill practice only, mind you—I had never considered being a teacher and had zero experience, and I sure as hell didn’t have a teaching degree or certificate. But then I got a job offer. Um, wut?
I kick myself for not having started a blog back then like my professor recommended—it would have been great to write out my thoughts at the time (read: vent), and be able to reread them now. I have enough stories to keep you entertained for days, and if you want to grab a beer one day I’ll share them with you. In the meantime, here are some thoughts about my past life:
Rewards – People are right—being a teacher is extremely rewarding
Sharing my passion—There’s no better way to reinforce your knowledge of or reignite something than to teach it to others. My students came into my class not knowing—or caring—about advertising. They left knowing how to write ad copy, design posters, and develop cohesive campaigns using various media. My heart sang the first time a student ran up to me to share her opinion of a commercial she saw.
Gained confidence—Let me tell you—it is hard to be a teacher. You have to hold everyone’s attention and make class entertaining and cater to different learning styles and make sure everyone is on task and not about to fight. All while exuding confidence. High schoolers can smell fear, so don’t you dare show weakness. That year helped me become a better communicator and speaker.
Self-discovery—I learned something surprising that year—I actually liked teaching! Despite the daily suck, my Type A personality loved creating lesson plans, writing the curriculum, and grading papers all while having long vacations. I now know that I’d love to go back and be a professor one day.
Struggles – It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it
No experience—Imagine having a week to learn how to teach, write a curriculum from scratch, create lesson plans, and figure out how to handle troubled kids in gangs who are practically your age. Break into a sweat yet? Every day was trial-and-error and brought new learning experiences. Honestly, I made it up as I went along. I might not be a teacher, but I am an A+ bullshitter. No one knew my real age or that I was a lost little puppy in way over my head.
Environment—Y’all. Tuscaloosa isn’t all championships and football. There are some seriously depressed areas and troubled kids. It was challenging to learn which rival gang members were in each class, or how to handle a student missing class every day because he was suddenly homeless, or what to do with a senior who read on a second grade level. Oh, and there was that time a student threatened my life, and that other time a student attacked me and was arrested.
Lack of resources—Put a group of 25 high schoolers in a class with only eight working computers, no textbooks, and a new teacher, and you get a recipe for disaster. There weren’t enough funds for all of the teachers to have what we needed, and the programs struggled because of it. I danced an intricately-choreographed routine between watching the students in the lab and the students drawing with markers all while trying to keep my sanity.
That is why I am so excited for this new state-of-the-art school with cutting-edge technology. The students will be able to graduate with all of the skills needed to enter the workforce if that’s what they choose, and the teachers will be able to provide them with the best learning experience possible.
Days later, I am still floored by the new Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy. It’s better than I could have dreamed. And seeing the excitement and pride on the faces of the teachers, students, and community members on Wednesday almost made me want to go back. Almost.