BY EMILY FIGUEROA, BETA
Bronx Leadership Academy 2
What I have learned about teaching over my two years as a Blue Engine Teaching Assistant:
The most essential piece of equipment for any teachers’ work area is a coffee machine.
Nobody will ever know how to push your buttons more, or do it more often, than your students.
Never give up on your kids and always work your hardest for them, but make sure to take time for yourself, too. You are no good to the kids if you are run ragged, irritable, or too exhausted to make a good judgment call.
If you try to make your class copies the morning of or, God forbid, the period before you intend to use them, it does not matter how large or small the copy job is—the copier WILL jam.
Never get into an argument with a student; they are younger, less wise, and understand repercussions less than you do. Above all else, they need you to provide stability and reassurance that, even in their most immature and selfish moments, you still care about them and are determined to help them learn and be better.
You may think it’s funny; your kids think it’s corny.
Don’t be “friends” with your students! You definitely have enough friends, they probably do, too, and what they need so much more from you is a stable, trustworthy adult that they can look up to and who models and gets them excited for responsible adulthood. A degree of distance is good for that and it doesn’t mean there is any emotional connection lost, it just means there are boundaries.
It takes upwards of AN HOUR to format a SINGLE worksheet. Word has still not caught up with teachers’ brains…
Students will routinely ask: 1) if you are married/have a boyfriend, 2) if you have kids (especially if there are students who share your last name), 3) how old you are (guesses range from 16 to 40), 4) what your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. name is and if they can friend/follow you (they wish), 5) if you are related to the other BETAs (Lauren Gleason, Willy Golden, Aaron Frumkin and I had the kids convinced we were all either siblings or cousins last year, and Alysa Delerme and I are cousins this year as far as the BLA2 kids are concerned), 6) if you are dating the other BETAs, 7) questions not at all related to the lesson you’re teaching.
Never assume knowledge on the part of the students, and go about correcting and informing them in the most conscientious way possible. Sometimes a kid will ask a question that seems obvious or out of left field, but it’s important to remember exactly how young and inexperienced the students are. Not only that, but if we ever ridicule or react incredulously to a student’s inquiry we have shirked our responsibility to help them grow and mature, and we’ve betrayed their trust in us to help them do so.
Every experience with a student is a new opportunity to learn how to be a better educator, and it’s important to constantly strive to know more.
That being said, no educator will ever know it all. Being a teacher means being a constant student.
My two years with Blue Engine have given me the opportunity to learn the practical ropes of working within a classroom, but they’ve also meant that I’ve been able to be extremely reflective about my practice. I don’t think there’s any experience quite like it that would have enabled me to, over the course of two years, slowly learn about public schools, New York City students, and myself in such depth and with such meticulous thought.
With these two years under my belt, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I want to keep learning. I’ve decided to pursue teaching as a long-term career; I’m eager to see what this list will look like after the next two years.