Why 2013 made me a better teacher than I would have been.

As I sit on my cozy couch enjoying one of my most relaxing exam weeks ever, I cannot help but feel nostalgic that next semester will be my last at Western Carolina University. My nostalgia is not lonely, however, because excitement for student teaching accompanies it. My part-time internship has given me a taste of what teaching is like, and I’ve loved every minute of it! While I would be lying if I said I had no apprehensions for what is to come, I feel like I could not be more prepared given the year that I have had. In pondering 2013 and how much means to me, I’ve come up with 4 things I did that I truly believe will make me a better teacher than I would have been otherwise.

1. Studied Abroad:

My life is full of memories- different places, people, and cultures fill my mind, and not a day goes by when I do not think about just how much I want to see the world. However, my study abroad program in Valencia, Spain this summer sticks out more than any other travel endeavor I’ve experienced, international or domestic. Because I was in the city for an extended amount of time, I was able to truly immerse myself in one of the most vibrant and bold cultures. I returned to the United States with a different perception of the world. My family and friends often tease me when I do “Spanish things” like holding my coffee cup a certain way, but my newfound perspective is more than just that.

I would need an anthology to list all that I learned overseas, but I can sum up my time in Spain as it relates to my chosen profession of education: it made me more globally-minded. I learned that our world is becoming incredibly transnational, and I quickly realized I did not know as much about other cultures as I should have. Since then, I have have vowed to make my classroom global, and talk about a plethora of issues about the world (Western and non-Western). I am ecstatic to teach Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala in my British Literature class next semester, and I cannot definitively say I would teach it in that class had I not gone to Spain this summer and figured out just how important a global education is.

A related experience that has also influenced my global philosophy of education is the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Karyn Dickerson’s presentation on global education. I was amazed by the things her students have accomplished and by their love of learning about cultures apart from their own. It was incredibly affirming to hear such a renowned educator speaking of the same pedagogical characteristics that I stay up late thinking about… the innate human curiosity that makes me love teaching so much.

2. Met Ron Clark

There is a reason Ron Clark is one of America’s most famous teachers. After hearing him speak this summer at my Teaching Fellows Senior Conference, I found myself doing things in my teaching that I would not have doneΒ  previously. For example, I wrote and performed a rap for my students about passive voice. Judging by their laughs and engagement in the lesson, I’d say they were not too traumatized.

I know that teacher burnout is a trend, especially after the first few, incredibly taxing years of their careers. Now that I have seen what it looks like to truly love the profession, I know how to keep myself and my students from getting into a slump. I am hopeful that I will eventually get to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta to see even more great teaching in action.

3. Attended the Annual Convention for the National Council of Teachers of English

I can still remember a phone call I received in April from a classmate telling me our proposal about Social Media in the classroom had been accepted to NCTE’s Annual Convention. To this day, my co-presenters and I question whether or not we were accepted based on a computer glitch. Nonetheless, the conference taught me a variety of lessons I can take into my classroom.

First, it reminded me of how it is to be a student. While I have done several presentations in college, I have always felt confident standing before my peers and friendly professors. During my public school career in which teachers had the opportunity to scrutinize every ounce of effort I put into my projects and often did so… not so much. I revisited this apprehension when my co-presenters and I walked into our presentation room and found out just how large it was. Knowing that the room would be filled almost entirely with scholars, graduate students, or in-service teachers, it took a lot for my co-presenters and I (undergraduate, pre-service teachers) to deliver our work. The whole time I was standing at the podium, knees knocking and palms sweating, I reminisced a phrase I commonly tell my own students: “Fake it to make it.” We did just that… we completely disguised our nerves and delivered a presentation I was genuinely proud of. Now, I will be more empathetic to my students when I assign them similar tasks, because I will remember what it was like to be in their shoes.

Secondly, I was able to attend a lot of great conference sessions that will undoubtedly transform my classroom. Among my favorite were one about Hip Hop/Los Corridos in the Language Arts Classroom and another about graphic novels. I probably would not have used these materials on my own, but the presenters had witnessed so much success with these techniques in their own classroom that I have to give them a try. I now understand the gravity of professional development, because education is such a moving target, and the best practices change rapidly. My two friends (whom I was blessed to do our presentation with) and I are enthusiastic to submit proposals to next year’s convention, because we learned so much at this year’s!

4. Ran for WCU’s Homecoming Court

I’m sure you are probably wondering, “How does Homecoming Court make someone a better teacher?” It is a valid question. Each day in my classroom, I tell my students to take risks… to live outside of their comfort zones and to not be afraid of failure. Running for Homecoming Court forced me to do just that. Each year, between 20-30 ladies from across campus campaign for the honor of being represented during our annual Homecoming Football game. I was grateful for the opportunity to be one of the five selected from the original number. While I did not win the coveted title of queen (one of my dearest friends did :] ), I was so thankful that family and friends saw something in me that I did not see in myself. They convinced me to fill out the preliminary paperwork to get on the ballot. I want to be that person who convinces my students to take these types of risks, and I can now share just how rewarding that experience can be.

Come January 2nd, I will be in full time internship. I know I will try new things and fail immensely, but I also know that there will be those indescribably beautiful moments that I will treasure forever. Plus, I have learned to value failure as an integral part of evolution and growth. Above all else, I know that several young, formidable minds will be entering my classroom, and it is my responsibility to give them confidence. I am so grateful for 2013, because I know I would not be as ready to tackle student teaching without it. Here’s to making 2014 an even more monumental year for this educator in the training!

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