“I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity, but I don’t think I would be the best fit for the position.”
Humiliated, I tapped the text to my friend who’d convinced me to interview with one of the few charter schools in East Texas, UT Tyler University Academy, a STEM academy, known for its Project-Based Learning instructional model. I’d just attempted to complete a task that had overwhelmed me as I tried to make my very first Skype call in order to speak to the school’s administrators. I connected, though it was faint and flickering, but could not hear the three women who spoke to me. After pressing an array of buttons on my computer in attempts to solve this deeply confounding problem, I did precisely the opposite of what I had advised countless students to do: I panicked and quit.
Fortunately, that text I sent fell on deaf ears; they wouldn’t let me quit the interview process due to a technical failure. It didn’t take me long to realize that would be a recurrent theme. I was offered a teaching position and became part of the University Academy (UA) family.
I quickly learned that at UA, you never give up. This was a culture where I was pushed to be a better teacher than I thought I could be. That push came in the form of constructive feedback from the highest levels of administration and from my students. It came from working closely with my colleagues, people with vastly different life experiences from my own. It came in the form of the obstacles we ran into as we “constructed an airplane while it was flying”.
That first year at UA, I tried to give up again. I agreed to teach fifth and sixth grades. I’d only ever taught high school, so the shift from talking with students about their driver's licenses and after school jobs to Minecraft and the lunch their mom had packed was startling, as was the way they required my constant attention. It wasn’t long until I found myself, overwhelmed and exhausted, in the office of my Campus Director, intending to quit. For the first time in years, I lacked confidence in my ability to teach and manage a classroom effectively and wanted to run back to the safety of a familiar environment. She read my letter of resignation and, over the next hour, patiently talked me down off the ledge. She predicted that this painful period of growth would yield to a time of success and fulfillment. She put the letter in her filing cabinet and asked me to stay at least another month, then reassess if needed. Fortunately, I persisted despite my defeat, and continued to teach.
In the past five years at UA, I have grown into the teacher I never thought I could be. Not only have I mastered the art of the Skype call, I have integrated a variety of other digital technologies into my lessons and evolved my pedagogy. I’ve presented my own research at educational conferences and visited both Austin and Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators about education policy. I have gained the courage and fortitude to venture out, beyond the confines of my comfort zone.
I’ve worked with the same students – my kids – the absolute highlight of each of my days, for all five years. Certainly, they have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them. I have become better. I have achieved more than I ever thought possible because I was surrounded by a community who encouraged me to keep going and never give up.
And that is why I teach at a charter school.
By Heather Richmond, M.A., English
Master Teacher/Dual Credit Coordinator,
UT Tyler University Academy at Palestine