Fulfilling the Promise and helping students learn

Rachel Jackson, a Chicago Public Schools third grade teacher, entered the teaching profession ready to make a difference for her students and community. Jackson understood, then and now, the profound impact that teachers have on their students and their ability to succeed, both in and out of the classroom. However, was she prepared to fulfill such a role?

With the help of her NTC mentor, Jackson was able to not only better understand where her students were–socially, emotionally, and academically–but how she could best reach them and have a true, beneficial impact on their lives.

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Q: Why did you enter the teaching profession? What did you expect from this type of job?

My mother is a teacher. I always grew up admiring what she did and how she moved. School was a very popular game for me and whoever was around for playdates. I knew I would always become a teacher but I also want to put more into the community.

I expected the job to be difficult. One thing I did not realize was how emotionally taxing loving someone else’s children was. It is necessary though.


Q: What were your impressions upon receiving your teaching assignment? Did you feel prepared to teach in a high-needs district like Chicago?

I was assigned to teach in Chicago Public School and am, myself, a former Chicago Public Schools student. I was familiar with the challenges and advantages I would be facing. I felt completely prepared to teach in a high-needs district because I was raised in that very same high needs district.


Q: What did you expect from your first year of teaching and how did that play out or not?

Again, I expected the job to be difficult. Between instruction and the social and emotional aspects for both myself and my students.

To help with this, my plan for my first year old teaching was to be completely kind to everyone. Every single person in that school had more experience than me, and I wanted to be in a position to learn from them. I wanted everyone to take me under their wing. Ego gets no one anywhere. In my first year teaching I acknowledged that I was a novice, humbled myself, and learned from the experienced people.


Q: Were there any particular challenges you faced that were unexpected?

A particular challenge I faced that was unexpected was the extra time outside of the school day I needed. Lessons needed to be prepared, papers needed to be graded, and students are constantly on the minds of every teacher. I was usually the first one in my school and the last one to leave. I would be in the building for around 12 hours a day. One day my principal came and politely encouraged me to leave and have a social life. I’m grateful for her as a boss because I needed that wake up call.

Teaching is taxing and rewarding, so a balance between life inside and outside the classroom is so important. But such balance isn’t built into a teacher’s DNA–it’s something that you have to learn overtime. Teachers easily become completely overcome and overwhelmed by everything they want for their students.


Q: How did you initially feel when getting assigned a mentor?

I was beyond excited to be assigned a mentor. My first thought was “the more the merrier”. I felt that the first year of teaching is something none of us should be doing on our own. I was so happy for the extra support.


Q: What did you and your mentor work on throughout the year? What did you find most useful, and how did that impact your teaching?

There were many lessons my mentor weaved throughout my first school year. The main ones that stick out when I’m looking back are organization, teaching with intent, and respectful classroom management.

In my heart I’m completely organized, however, when applying some of the organizational skills to my classroom, my mentor saw a gap. It was hard to hear at first. However my mentor not only pointed out a gap, but she had solutions.

Another major strategy my mentor taught me that positively affected my teaching was really being aware of my assessments. If you’re not teaching with intent and analyzing assessments, you are not teaching to the full potential. I learned excellent, quick strategies that got me out of the building at the end of the day quicker than before.

The final value I learned from my mentor was that my students are humans too. Sounds simple, however, rephrasing “kids” and “students” into “young human beings” severely changed my discipline and how I spoke to my class.


Q: How did you see your students change from your pre-mentor teaching to post?

I believe my first class of students grew with me. My mentor teacher reminded me I should not be embarrassed to be new. My classroom and my students presented their own family unit, who I learned from, just as they learned from me. I even introduced a lesson that my students would say over and over: “clean, family, unit.” They would correct each other when there was trash on the floor, try their hardest to treat each other like a family, and when we went places, our class was together and in order like a unit. The following years I instilled the same three values. I am grateful that my mentor pointed out what my students needed and how I could better structure and manage my classroom around these key values. This helped me be a better educator and my students have a foundation of expectations every day.


Q: How did you change as a teacher with a mentor?

I grew up. It was too easy for me to blame a mistake on being a first year teacher. My mentor was there to (lovingly) silence my excuses and challenge me to grow.


Q: As NTC looks forward to its next 20 years of working with districts and educators, what do you think NTC can focus on? What impact do you think they can make in the future?

NTC should focus on creating more mentor positions. I want everyone to have the same positive impact I had. I know a few teacher friends that are jealous of my first year support and they should be. I would not be solid in my fifth year without NTC.


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