Rebecca Ennis (Tufts ‘18, B.A. in History) is a second grade teacher at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 2 in Brooklyn, New York.
As someone with a history degree, I often thought about teaching one day. I had no teaching experience besides tutoring, and I had worked with teenagers in some museum programs. But I was considering teaching and wanted to see if I’d like it. About a month before graduation, someone from Success Academy (SA) reached out to me on LinkedIn.
Within a few weeks of graduating, I signed on to teach at Success. It was my first job out of college and I’m still here almost three years later. It seemed like a great way to get comfortable teaching at first, and that’s turned out to be the case. I didn’t take a single education course in college, and didn’t have my teaching certificate. Looking back on it, I notice all the skills I learned at SA — especially in that first year.
I was able to learn from some amazing teachers, which made the transition much easier. My lead teacher was really engaging and exciting to learn from. Seeing her in action and getting feedback from her is really what made me comfortable enough to teach on my own. Throughout my time at SA, I’ve had a lot of questions or situations I wasn’t sure how to deal with, but I always found support from my fellow teachers. The ability to lean on some really amazing people has been a great thing.
One of my biggest challenges at first was classroom management. Not only did I have to impart knowledge to my kids, but I had to foster a safe environment with some order and structure. I was given a lot of information and preparation during training, but nothing can fully prepare you for leading a classroom of 30 kids. You have to actually do it to master it.
Something that has served me really well is simply my own education and the knowledge I have on a range of subjects. I was able to share my passion for the content and for learning with my scholars and bring a broad scope of background knowledge to my lessons. That ended up being really important, especially with elementary schoolers. Besides their family, you’re the adult in a scholar’s life and they come to you for answers. Having a strong foundation and interest in math, science, and history was really helpful and eased my transition.
I’ve seen myself grow over the years, too. My first year I tried to do everything by the book, exactly as planned. Now I think my style is much more flexible. I’m able to respond in the moment to what’s going on with an individual scholar or question.
The students are the best part of the job. Watching a classroom full of kids form their own personalities, interests, and likes and dislikes is so interesting. You get to know them so well – who will crack jokes in the hallway or who’s a little shy. At that age they’re developing so quickly, so you see them grow mentally and physically in real time. It’s the most rewarding aspect of teaching.
If any Tufts students are interested in teaching, any public speaking or leadership experience you have is so valuable. Even if that just means being on the e-board for a club, you get to find out what kind of leader you are, what kind of speaker you are, what makes you most comfortable, and use that as a starting point.
I would also say let your passions shine. I think the reason why I’ve been able to connect with some of the students who have been in my classes is because I’ve shown them my interests. For instance, since we name all our classrooms after the teachers’ alma maters, the kids really come to love that college and get invested in it. The admissions department at Tufts sent me a Jumbo the Elephant stuffed animal, and it became everyone’s favorite thing to have on their desks.