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Voices from the field: teaching’s challenges and rewards

Growing up, I loved everything that came with attending my local public schools in Milledgeville, Georgia. From a very young age to high school, I had several supportive teachers and remember them advocating for me when the opportunity to participate in things like educational field trips and Advanced Placement classes came up. Having caring adults who challenged me, while being supportive and encouraging, made all the difference in how I viewed my future.

I never envisioned having a career in education. I graduated college with a degree in exercise science. However, after graduation, I wondered how I could make the biggest impact on the next generation. I heard about City Year through a friend of mine and something just clicked. National service seemed like a catalyst for supporting healthy communities and I wanted to be a part of that movement.

As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I worked with one particular student, David*, who struggled with his classes and attendance. When he came to school, we met often to review math concepts and talk through ways he could improve his grades. I could see that the distractions in his home life were preventing him from achieving in the way he wanted to.

The change in David didn’t happen overnight. But the more we spent time together, the more he opened up to me. We talked about life lessons and school lessons, and mainly, I just listened. I believe that extra mentoring support helped to increase his confidence and build a new perspective on what he wanted for his future. My connection with David helped me realize that no matter how difficult some days might be, my professional journey would continue in the classroom.

After my two years of City Year service, I joined Teach for America to become a teacher in the same Tulsa school I previously served in. One of my biggest priorities as an educator is helping each student build a positive mindset that will help them overcome adversity. Even though I am very focused on the math lessons I’m there to teach, I don’t forget to nurture the other parts of a student that make them best prepared to learn. Of course, I’m here to teach them math, but I also want them to grow as a person and a leader. Their thoughts, hopes and dreams matter, and each and every student has the power to change the world around them.

It’s no secret that being a first-year teacher is hard. I’m up very early, preparing my classroom and making sure my learning environment is ready for my students. I’m there in the afternoon, grading homework and thinking about ways to reach the pupils who could benefit from extra support. I’m in constant communication with parents who want to make sure their child is reaching their full potential. There’s a lot of responsibility in being a teacher–wanting to make sure that you’re making an authentic connection with each child. But every tough moment is worth it. When I hear a student exclaim that they figured out a new math problem; when I see their beaming faces for doing well on a test they studied hard for; or when a student that has been more reserved says “Good morning, Ms. Lango,” my heart soars.

My biggest piece of advice for any new teacher is to accept the ebb and flow that happens when you’re developing your teaching style and creating bonds with your students. My City Year experience prepared me to focus on the small wins, and how much they matter in helping students reach their full potential. Having days that are challenging–that’s okay. Each day is going to be different, but ultimately, teachers are making a difference, and for that, we should be proud.

As for me, no matter how hard the work is, and no matter how late I’ll be up doing lesson plans, I will always put in the time necessary, because every student deserves the opportunity to have something great in their lives. I want them to envision all that’s waiting for them beyond high school–all that’s there for their taking. I want them to know they can count on me to listen, to be there encourage them along the way. Through thick and thin, I’ll be there.

*Name has been changed to protect student’s privacy.

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