Inspired Teaching caught up with Jake Thomas, Inspired Teaching Fellow (‘17), who went through his Residency experience with us last year and is now on staff teaching 4th graders at Bancroft Elementary School. Here, Jake tells us about a job that takes “a lot of time and a lot of heart”, and he shares an alternative way to think about the achievement gap.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I had a lot of awesome teachers in elementary, middle and high school and I really looked up to them. I wanted to give to others what those great teachers gave to me. I admired them because they were really focused on and caring about everyone’s needs. I was also drawn to them; they had a really great presence and they made learning really fun. I decided I wanted to do that for others, by spreading joy in my own classroom.
Why did you choose the Inspired Teaching Residency?
I heard a lot of really great things about the Inspired Teaching Residency and I met a lot of great alumni of the program. The Inspired Teaching Residency’s philosophy is really aligned with what I think a good teacher should be. It focuses on students learning through discovery and exploration.
I have also noticed that while there are a lot of really great and really fun teachers out there, too often getting one of those teachers is a privilege based on where a student lives, or even what they look like. I appreciate that Inspired Teaching advocates for, and believes in the importance of, creating an education system where students of all backgrounds have Inspired Teachers.
What’s something new you have learned during your first few months as a Teacher of Record?
Honestly, I’ve learned that I have a long way left to go, but that I am ready for this! I am a better teacher than I thought I was. I learned that being my authentic self goes a long way. Students know who I am, and they trust me, and respect who I am. This year has shown me how much I learned in my Residency Year, in terms of what makes a good teacher – establishing mutual respect, building trust and communication.
What’s your favorite thing about teaching in DC?
I love the community that I teach in right now. The school that I work at, Bancroft Elementary, is really diverse and has an authentic school culture. The community feel is really genuine, thanks to the families, leadership, and staff. People are happy to be here, and enjoy learning.
What major challenges do you see in education right now?
One thing that I’m really excited about is that at the school where I teach, there’s a sense of urgency to address the achievement gap – or as I like to think of it – the opportunity gap. Not all students have the same opportunities to be successful and I think this opportunity gap is the biggest challenge in education across the country. It’s important to realize that there are students that don’t have their needs met, in the way the system is currently working, and those kids can’t be forgotten. Sometimes those students get pushed aside and buzzwords like teacher effectiveness and metrics like test scores take priority. It’s different at Bancroft, where there is a strong focus on equity.
What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a 2019 Inspired Teaching Fellow?
The program takes a lot of time and a lot of heart. It will challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged before. If you are convinced you want to teach, and if you want to be an Inspired Teacher, there is no better avenue. It’s going to be really hard and really great at the same time.
Learn more about the Inspired Teaching Residency!