IU freshmen aren’t the only ones starting a new adventure this semester – recent School of Education graduates also begin their journeys as first-year teachers. We will be profiling these alumni as they begin a career of changing lives through teaching. Our first profile is written by Rebecca Tessarolo, a fourth-grade teacher at Clyde Miller P-8 in Aurora, Colorado.
In second grade, I was the star math student, but my comprehension held me back. I slid by skimming pages and "fake reading" until my second-grade teacher showed me how much she cared about me. The moment my mom told me Miss Gunnerson set up a book club for the two of us, I was determined to change someone's world the way she changed mine. Then I realized why change one life, when you can "be the change you wish to see in the world," and change them all. I was committed to using my students' strengths to embrace their different abilities and learning styles. The School of Education at IU helped me do that.
Preservice teaching experience
Arriving at IU as a Direct Admit, I felt at home. Similar creativity levels in math classes, endless passions for educating wandering the halls and the eager minds preparing to teach the youth swarmed the School of Education. My Spanish minor and computer education additions allowed me to feel well-rounded and ready for diverse demographics and/or resources.
- The required law class inspired me to see a behind-the-scenes of education where I received an internship position with the Illinois State Board of Education during the summer.
- Career Connections provided me with guidance and support to fulfill my new dream of teaching across the country as a first-year teacher.
- Communication for Youth-Serving Professionals course prepared me for parent interaction, support, and the important of the "triad' (teacher, student, parent).
- The Armstrong Teachers panel provided me with voluntary professional experience I could never pass up as I knew in future years I was going to be drained from PD.
- The Computer Educator License Program was another opportunity I had the privilege of joining my sophomore year. Aside from joining a community full of exponentially intelligent and technologically-talented teachers, I met my best friend. Together we could explore different technology devices, tools, resources, and apps while sharing our passion for teaching. You never know who you're going to meet in your teacher prep courses; the preservice teacher who sits next to you on the first day could end up being your best friend. Everything happens for a reason.
However, the Global Gateway for Teachers program was my favorite and more cherished experience I wish every preservice teacher could take advantage of.
If you asked me to join the Global Gateway program as a freshman, my family and friends would laugh and tell you I've never even had salad because the various textures made me nervous ... how am I supposed to survive in another country across the world? After conquering that milestone, Global Gateway became my biggest goal, personally and professionally. I was the butterfly-in-the-stomach type nervous about joining this program; but then again, so was I about coming to IU, and you couldn't pay me to go back and enroll somewhere else. The Global Gateway program challenged me to step outside my comfort zone and truly embrace culture outside of the Midwest. Teaching in New Zealand gave me the strength to challenge myself, explore the unknown, and take risks inside and outside of the classroom.
Choosing where to teach
I was nearly offered a job in my dream district when my dad suggests continuing my EDventure in another state. While terrified and clueless where this new challenge was going to take me, I realized he wasn't wrong. I spontaneously decided Colorado was going to be the home of my first classroom. The community or demographic didn't matter to me. What made me choose Clyde Miller P-8 School was the staff support. During my first school visit, the principal made sure to introduce me to people I might be in contact with including the tech, instructional, and math coach. While their positive attitudes and encouragement filled the halls, the gym teacher also introduced herself as someone who would love to help anyway she can. Clyde Miller was the absolutely best option or me and I could not be more blessed to have the encouragement and support from past, current, and, now, coworkers, teachers, professors, friends, family, and colleagues.
First week as a first year
While I've been overwhelmed since Day 1 Orientation as the only first year teacher at the school, I have had the support reassuring me everything is going to be OK.
My instructional coach, math coach, principal, teaching team, and family have my back. Today, one of the other fourth grade teachers wrote me a post-it during our staff meeting simply saying "breathe" (with a bible verse) and just smiled. I realized I am never on my own and never will be, as we're all for the kids.
Here's a good first year horror story: My first Friday, I woke up early hoping to get to school earlier to prepare something fun. Change of plans when I locked my keys in my car. Yes, I was late, but my staff and students had my back. The other two fourth grade teachers took my students to breakfast and three of my students greeted me at the door; with arms open wide. These students grabbed my bag, coffee mug, lunch box, and extra supplies I had brought in and placed them on my desk to give me a big hug and say, "It's okay Miss Tess, we're just glad you're here!" The humility from my mistake turned into love, and my filled arms were now wrapped around my new kiddos.
Later that day, I decided to implement a letter-writing activity a teacher in New Zealand to really get to know my students and learn what is most important to them. "Dear Miss Tess" became the highlight of my Friday. Their journals were filled with joy and love for learning and getting to know me. I understood a few of their background stories, but excited to learn more as the year continues.
One of my favorite parts about my classroom is my theme of travel. Traveling has become a major part of my life as I realized how important it is to explore outside the classroom.
- My desks are set up and labeled (1A) like and an airplane in lines (serving a dual purpose, avoiding table conversations or across the room).
- The students have boarding passes they use to enter and exit the classroom, so I know who is here and where.
- We have "in-flight duties" teaching the students responsibility and community.
- I have flags from every country boarding the ceiling to embrace the diversity in our classroom.
- Our schedule is labeled as our Daily Itinerary, and every day we explore a new state, which will then be followed by countries (making up for the lack of time we have to teach numerous social studies topics).
As you can tell, my experiences at IU and overseas have impacted and influenced my first year as a teacher beyond words. I continue to confide in my past professors, mentors, and friends as I depart this EDventure.
My tips for future teachers
- Find a staff, community, or school who will support you, not drain your passion.
- Make the classroom yours. It's your office, make the walls come alive implementing your passions.
- SELF CARE. Get a hobby. Do something other than school and prioritize it after school. I have discovered my love for yoga and need for a massage after surviving a stress spell. Find what encourages your deep breath.
- ASK QUESTIONS. Write down what you don't understand and email or go to someone who you think could help you or direct you to someone who can.
- Love your students. No matter their background, they need you.
- Write yourself a letter before your first day of teaching remembering what sparked your initial passion. From there, place it in somewhere safe and convenient you can reference after a long, draining day.
- Embrace your differences. If something works for you, make sure it's okay you can do it that way and keep it consistent. (I plan day-to-day because I feel more content and comfortable thinking about only one day at a time; my colleagues don't all do that.)
- Socialize with the other teachers. Whether your teaching team or completely opposite grade level, you never know who you might click with. Find a TBF (teacher best friend).
- Professional Learning Community. Here's what I have to say: create and use a teacher twitter, connecting with professional educators around the world. However, don't slip into the Instagram-perfect-teaching posts because you will stress yourself out trying to reach perfection. We're all different and remember, that is GOOD.
- Give your students a reason to come to school. Whether it's turning your classroom into an airplane or fist bumping, make sure your kids want to be there or it's going to be a difficult day for everyone.