CHRISTEN SMAJSTRLA 

History Teacher | Heights High School | Houston ISD

Charles Butt Scholar Alum, Rice University

Q What does your teaching life look like right now, and how are you handling it?

A Right now, I am a high school teacher in Houston ISD. We just started a hybrid system on October 19th, and I have about a fourth of my students face-to-face. Thankfully, I am able to use technology, and that has made teaching fun. I believe I am handling it as well as can be expected for a first-year teacher.

Can you share one recent moment or memory that encapsulates your experience or communicates what is most meaningful about your job right now?

I have one student that messages me every day to say good morning or to have a good day. He does not have to do that, but since I always speak to him in class and value him, he goes out of his way to make me feel appreciated. It is extra special when he says that my class is his favorite one.

How has your education prepared you for this moment?

My education, both from Rice and Raise Your Hand Texas, has prepared me for this moment by having me focus on the students. In many cases, kids are treated as a number or someone to fill a seat. To me, I know they are much more than that. I can appreciate their stories and bring that into my teaching.

What is one way you’ve supported your students recently?

My family has a long history of mental health issues, and that means I make it a point to take care of my students’ mental health. I am willing to talk to students after class, to listen to their struggles, and to be an open ear. I promised my students that if they ever need me, all they would have to do is call. I will answer. I do not want any students of mine to feel they are struggling alone.

Given the good, bad, and ugly of 2020-21, what do you love about teaching right now?

I love seeing the “goodbye Ms. S” and “have a good day” in the chat when class is over. I love being the teacher that kids come to when they are scared or confused. I love being there and going through this hurricane of a year with my fellow teachers. The way that so many teachers have stepped up for our students is honestly amazing. I would not want to be in any other profession.

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