Job: Geometry Teacher, Teach For America
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Kat and I were connected by Madi, another YoPro Know interview. As it turns out, Kat and I have met before at a New Years party several years ago, further proving my theory that we are all interconnected. Hearing Kat talk about the moment she realized she needed to go into teaching, and then her story since college, was exciting and I hope will inspire others to go into this branch of teaching or into any field for that matter. Her take on "the next step" is important for us to hear, especially those who might be scared of taking that step.
Give us a little background and tell us how you ended up in New Orleans.
I grew up in a couple of different places, mostly on the east coast, but I ended up going to high school in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of D.C. I wanted to see another part of the country for college and experience a different environment, so I pretty much only applied to colleges that were far away. The University of Texas was not only far away, but it also had a great Communications & Journalism program and I was planning on becoming a journalist. So I got to Texas and I loved the big city and the hustle and bustle, and really just everything about it.
As I was getting into my junior and senior year and sort of figuring out my next steps, I realized that out of all of the opportunities I had in college, my favorite two included being the editor of my school newspaper and being a writing coach in the journalism school. That started to sink in, and I knew that I needed to figure out how to teach. I still loved writing, but I realized the most fulfilling experiences I had were the ones where I was helping other people develop and become better writers, not just writing stories myself. That’s what made me realize Teach For America (TFA) was the right next step for me. It sounded like a good fit for me since I knew I wanted to practice teaching and live in a new place, which was important to me. After realizing this was what I wanted, I kind of put all of my eggs in one basket and applied for several TFA spots until receiving my job offer in January of my senior year. Two years later, I am now a geometry teacher for 11th graders in New Orleans, so it has all worked itself out.
Tell us about your Teach For America experience so far.
So you caught me on a good day. Like most people, when you have a good day, you feel inspired by the job. On my good days, my experience is awesome. Every single moment is filled with joy, which I think is the thing that is so beautiful about schools and just working with kids in general. The best part of my experience and is what keeps me working those extra hours is seeing kids be joyful and happy while learning. I can think of so many examples, like today for example. I checked my mailbox and there was a teal card from one of my students. He had written about why I was his favorite teacher and it truly made my day. He said something like, “I can tell she is working hard every day to make our education better.” Those are the things that make it rewarding for me.
What hardships have you experienced in your role?
Just as there are small moments of joy, there are also small moments of hardship. I would say, however, that the hardships are more systematic and are larger difficulties associated with these types of environments. My school is going through some transitions right now, which is directly related to not having enough money. The school leadership has had to make really tough decisions about which staff can stay, and whether we have to lay anyone off or make any movements around the school at this time. Any business has to make changes and restructure when it is needed, but it sort of shakes up the whole group. I’ve seen a lot of stress put onto these teachers, like myself for example. I recently had to take on additional responsibilities as a 23-year-old second-year teacher because of these changes and it’s not easy when we are already working extra hours. My hardest days look like me just being stressed because of these additional hardships, and it seeps into my teaching, which then permeates to the kids.
How has this experience shaped what you plan to be doing next?
This is such an interesting time in our lives where we find ourselves being fulfilled by different things and we are all looking to see where we will make our next steps in the world. On my good days, I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life. What I am currently doing feels right and comfortable for me now, so there are days where I ask myself, does this feel right because it is right at this particular time, or is it right because this is what I should be doing for the rest of my life? Will this continue to fulfill me for the rest of my life? So I guess my answer to you is that at this moment, I just want to continue to get better at this. I see myself getting better every day and kids will benefit from that, but I will say that I am always self-reflective and ask myself whether I can see myself continuing to work in education or moving somewhere else. As a 23-year-old, I can definitely see myself pivoting at some point in the future, but that can all change.
What is it like moving to a new city like New Orleans?
I would say that I really lucked out when I joined TFA because of the built-in cohort that came with it. We spent the summer after college during training together, so I definitely took advantage of having that group in my first year. They are all great and we are all still good friends, but I will say that as I have settled in about a year into this, I have noticed the newness has kind of faded. It has made me wonder now that the newness is gone, how do I actually make new friends and what do I really want to spend my time doing? When I am being lazy, I just sort of default to work being my life and that's it. Though I do have a lot of responsibility within my job, it takes a little bit of extra work for me to figure out how to make new friends and how to develop the current friendships I do have now that I am out of school. I know how important it is to not forget that. I’m very adamant about relationships so that I don’t wake up one day and think, if I didn’t have this job, what would I even be doing in this city?
What has been the most surprising thing since you entered the working world?
I think one thing I was surprised by is how much can happen in a day and how many great and/or annoying things can happen to keep me interested and on my feet. Every day is so dynamic, so I have been pleasantly surprised by how much goes on in your life, even if you are roughly doing the same things every day. There can still be a lot of change and things going on even with a mundane schedule. This whole conversation is making me think of something I saw the other day. Lauren Graham, the actress from Gilmore Girls, was being interviewed on one of her books recently. When asked why she wrote her book, she responded with, "It just happened. I believe if an idea starts bubbling up, I better give it some attention, a deadline, and some structure." It is kind of how I imagine the next ten years will be for me. If something catches my attention and starts bubbling up, I might as well put some time and energy into it, and something will grow from that.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
– Your college experiences can help you recognize your true passions and what you are good at.
– Some days, you will love your job. On other days, you still need to be self-reflective and understand that a different path could be out there for you.
– Don't put all of your time into work so that you are left without relationships to go to once outside of work.
– If something catches your attention and starts bubbling up, you might as well put some time and energy into it, and something will grow from that.
Check it out: Teach For America, Talking As Fast As I Can, The University of Texas at Austin