ASHLEY MCDONALD

English II | Westside High School (2020-21), Bellaire High School (21-22) | Houston ISD

Charles Butt Scholar Alum, Rice University

As the 2020-21 school year came to an end, ten Charles Butt Scholar alumni in their first years as Texas teachers shared their learnings and reflections with us. The stories, struggles, and triumphs showcased in this Q&A portfolio provide an honest look at what it’s like to be a new teacher.

Q What have you seen over the course of this school year that gives you hope/optimism about Texas public schools?

A Throughout the school year, I’ve seen students coming in person ready to connect with others, which gives me hope for this coming school year. I know that many are nervous that the social and emotional growth of students has been terribly stunted due to virtual school, but I’ve noticed that students are coming to school ready to talk and interact for the most part. I was expecting absolute silence and little initiative to interact when my students started to arrive in person, but my students have been actively looking for opportunities to talk. While I definitely do have some students who are very shy and quiet, they are slowly coming out of their shell and are eager to answer questions when asked. I don’t know what the upcoming school year will look like, but I’m hopeful that it’ll be filled with the talking, laughing, and joking that my students and I have been missing dearly.

Q What advice or encouragement do you have for teachers starting their careers in the 2021-22 school year?

A Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I know we tell our kids to ask questions all the time, but it’s equally important for teachers too. Especially when starting your teaching career, there’s a learning curve that is much easier to handle if you reach out to others for help. With the current teaching environment, we’re all in, we all feel like new teachers and need to collaborate and turn to each other for help.

Q Thinking about the 2020-21 school year as a whole, what was your greatest lesson, either about teaching or yourself as a professional?

A My greatest lesson has been that you don’t need to be the perfect teacher. Especially at the beginning of the school year, I felt pressure to be an outstanding teacher. Usually, I put this pressure on myself, but I also felt like the kids deserved an outstanding teacher because of the circumstances and the terrible things some of them were going through. We all knew that learning on an online platform isn’t ideal for everyone, so I thought I had to be perfect and constantly innovative and engaging in order for my students to learn anything or even remotely enjoy school.

However, now that it’s May, I’m quickly seeing that it doesn’t matter how “perfect” my lesson plans are or how many fancy programs I can fit into a lesson. What’s mattered to them is that someone cares even though that someone is behind a screen (or if the student is in person, that someone is talking to a screen the majority of the time). With the pandemic and sudden isolation and social distancing we’ve found ourselves in, my kids feel lonely and unheard. Building relationships has always been the name of the game when you’re a teacher, but I let my pride and ego get the best of me in the beginning and thought I had to be perfect. In reality, I just needed to be myself and share my personality with them. I guess, in the end, that could be the definition of the “perfect” teacher: a teacher who cares and makes sure that their students know that they care, because that feeling of being loved and cared for is what the students are going to remember.

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