My Journey from Student to Teacher and Back Again
I knew I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was young growing up in the Philly suburbs. I loved to go to school, and I was a bright student. I focused on my work and completed all tasks assigned to me.
My favorite part of school was when my elementary teachers would read books aloud. I also enjoyed writing stories. For a while, my aunt and uncle rented a house behind my elementary school. I would walk to their house after school and spend afternoons and weekends helping with my younger cousins and my sister. I would play “school” with them, and I would teach them how to read and how to do math. I even created pretend tests for them.
Because of my positive experiences in school and all the time I spent with my cousins, I decided I wanted to be a teacher.
In high school, I continued to work hard. I took the required courses and I studied for exams. My high school did not offer many courses for students who wanted to become teachers. I did a lot of babysitting outside of school. I learned how to take care of children and young babies through firsthand experience.
When I attended college at Penn State, I decided to major in Elementary Education and to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. I took courses in Elementary Reading and Math, Music, Art and Classroom Management. I passed all my courses with ease. It was an exciting time in my life because I got to be more independent and make new connections with others. In the summers, I worked with children at a day camp and enjoyed every minute of it. I thought that all my experience babysitting and working at summer camp would be enough to help me be successful as a teacher.
Everything changed when I started student-teaching. I thought I was prepared to teach, but I was wrong. The students in my inner-city school didn’t listen to me because I had never actually practiced classroom management (even though I learned about it in class). I felt that my mentor teacher didn’t like me from the very first day and was very unhelpful. I think she saw me as weak because I didn’t have any classroom management skills and I didn’t want to yell at the students. She didn’t take the time to get to know me and did not help me to build on my previous experiences caring for children.
My supervisor didn’t know how to help either. It was much more difficult than I thought to make a successful transition from student to teacher. I cried every day after school because I felt like I was failing as a teacher. The whole experience was so upsetting that I considered giving up on teaching entirely, but I pushed through and made it to graduation because I was determined to finish what I had started.
As I look back to my college experience now, I ask myself, “Why didn’t I spend more time observing in schools before beginning student teaching? Why didn’t I get a chance to watch great teaching in action as a young adult? Why was I thrown into student teaching without practicing classroom management skills?”
My experiences left a negative impact on me, and I was extremely nervous to start a new job. I’m glad I applied and got the job because I had much better mentor teachers that I had had during my first year of teaching. My mentors took the time to get to know me and were exceedingly kind and caring people. They guided me and helped me to become a better teacher. They didn’t expect me to know how to do certain things or glare at me when I made a mistake. They gently corrected me and helped me to build my confidence with the students. I learned classroom management skills and learned how to get the students’ attention.
I continued to improve as an educator by studying Reading Education and English as a Second Language in graduate school at Vanderbilt University. I honed my skills to teach children to read and write. I learned how to use multiple assessments (formal and informal) to figure out what a student already knows and where to start instruction. With the help of some excellent professors and mentors, I learned that teachers are also still students and can continue to grow every day. My professors viewed themselves in the same way, as both learners and teachers.
During graduate school, I worked as an assistant to a professor and helped to instruct undergraduate students. The professor gave me a reflection script and carefully explained how she guided student teachers to reflect on their own teaching and how she tried not to tell them what they did wrong. She wanted student teachers to talk and reflect on both the positives and negatives of their lessons.
This experience helped me to gain a growth mindset when it comes to teaching. A growth mindset allows me to understand that I can continue to learn and get better at what I do every day.
Today, I am successfully teaching reading, writing, speaking and listening to multilingual students at a public school in Silver Spring, MD. I get to know my students and I welcome them into my classroom. I try to meet them where they are and take them to the next level. I enjoy seeing their growth. I continue to take professional development courses and to attend webinars so that I continue to grow as a teacher.
I am forever a learner and a teacher. Because of all my experiences, I am a much more confident teacher, and it helps me to stay excited about teaching when others are feeling so burnt out.
I decided to join the new Hadassah Educators Council to pass on this message to other students who aspire to become teachers. A growth mindset can make all the difference in becoming a successful student and teacher.
I am excited to be a part of the Hadassah Educators Council. The founder of Hadassah, Henrietta Szold, started out as a teacher and the Council is a wonderful way to continue her legacy. I hope that the Council helps build connections among other Hadassah members across the country who are teachers and allows experienced teachers like me to become mentors to first-year teachers and high-school and college students who aspire to become teachers.
Five Tips for New and Aspiring Teachers:
- Build connections with mentors and students.
- View yourself with a growth mindset.
- Spend time observing other teachers.
- Practice classroom management skills
- Continue to learn and ask for help when you need it
Sarah Ruden is a member of the Steering Committee for the Hadassah Educators Council. For more information, visit this link.