Year of Graduation: 2011
Current Position: Middle School English Teacher, St. Clement School, Chicago, IL, Master's in Education, University of Notre Dame
Please give a brief description of your current position:
I teach 7th and 8th grade literature and language arts in the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. The school is one of the city's many old parish schools and has been in the neighborhood for decades. As a middle school advisor in a Catholic school, we work to provide our students with leadership sensibility and independence going into high school, keeping faith at the center of all discussions. Besides teaching, I've enjoyed coaching cross country as well.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
I found out about the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at Notre Dame while a sophomore working in the Career Resource Center. The program combined the kind of service I wanted to do after graduation: faith-based, community-orientated, in the U.S., with a rigorous reputation for excellence in the field of education. ACE recruits students to become teachers in under-resourced Catholic schools around the country to help serve communities in need, while simultaneously working towards a M.Ed., and completing coursework for the graduate degree over a two-year period. I had the privilege to teach at Resurrection of Our Lord School in New Orleans, a place I'll always remember. The two years in ACE were easily the most challenging of my life, but also provided the greatest reward. As I completed ACE, I wanted to keep growing as a teacher and move closer to family in the Midwest. I searched for a variety of schools and was lucky to accept a position at St. Clement in Chicago. I loved the experience of living outside the Midwest and being able to return with a broader perspective of the country.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
I've found the most important quality in my teaching career has been a willingness to take risks and ask questions of others. Reach out to professors, principals, peers, anyone you can talk to about opportunities to better yourself as an educator. Talking to others also allows you to build networks that can bring up opportunities for you down the road.
What skills are important in your field?
Teaching will humble you in ways you never thought possible. Working to grow as a teacher demands that you make mistakes on a daily basis, and that you identify your mistakes, brush yourself off, and get up the next day ready to try again and be better than the day before. Patience is a necessity, both for yourself and for your students. In light of teaching in a Catholic school, I do believe that loving your students is at the heart of what you do every day. You'll have days where you really may not like your students all that much, but it's crucial to remember that you are working to support this person's growth as a human being, and you do that by showing them unconditional love.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
More than anything, my time at Saint John's provided great people and professors to model what it meant to be an educator in the fullest sense of the word - someone who goes beyond simple instruction and embodies a love for learning and shares that with compassion, firmness, and curiosity: Tim Miles as a cross-country coach supporting all runners to improve, whether you were at the front or back of the pack; Heidi Harlander in the Career Resource Center instilling a sense of professionalism and holistic career exploration; Fr. Rene McGraw encouraging us to keep our doors open on Tommy 4 to get to know each other and build a sense of (sometimes rambunctious) community; Steve Wagner, Emily Esch, and Tony Cunningham encouraging our philosophical discussions in class, all the while sharpening our writing and thinking skills. The list could go on, and I have moments of recollection at unexpected times, realizing that I've come to adopt a small quip from this professor, or a small mannerism from that coach, or a habit of work from that advisor, not knowing I'd internalized some of these wonderful characteristics. I have no doubt they'll continue to appear as I spend more time teaching.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
Any teacher can tell you the joy they experience spending time with students and watching them grow. Being able to share in their growth in curiosity and personality is an experience like no other, one which I have enjoyed immensely. I've also found I enjoy middle schoolers. They are quirky, love to play, and have a growing sense of themselves and their place in the world. While middle schoolers certainly have their more "challenging" days, it's been a great reward to remember what a time of growth this is for them developmentally and how much of an impact good teachers can have on their lives because of it. Besides seeing the students each day, getting to spend so much time re-living wonderful stories and sharing them with students for the first time is a reward literature teachers the world over get to have every day.