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Teacher Feature – Ms. Jessie Curry

February 2, 2017

(The 2012 cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows with Ms. Jessie Curry, standing seventh from right. Photo credit: Mara Duquette.)

This January, Inspired Teaching spoke with Ms. Jessie Curry. A 2012 Fellow of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, Jessie has taught at Capital City Public Charter School since her year in training as a resident teacher. She is currently the Vice President of the Fellows Advisory Board.

The Inspired Teacher Certification Program is now accepting applications for its 2017 cohort of Fellows. Learn more at www.inspiredteaching.org/teacher-certification.

Inspired Teaching: Why do you connect to the mission of Inspired Teaching?

Ms. Curry: I was always a kid that really enjoyed school. It came easy to me. It wasn’t ever an issue. Even if I had teachers who weren’t great, I was able to fill in the gaps myself. Then I had a lot of experiences where I was working with other groups of kids – especially working at the Boys and Girls Club in Des Moines, which serves a really diverse population. I’m from a small town that is not diverse at all. Being able to be exposed to other kids, hear their experiences, how different their life was than mine, I could see how important education was. Not everyone gets a great school experience, and it’s so important for being successful in your life.

Now as an Inspired Teacher, I work with kids who come from a lot of different backgrounds, with different needs. It’s just as important for all of my kids to have someone who is pushing them to be their best self as it would be for someone who is coming from a very affluent background, who doesn’t have the same kinds of needs. No matter where you’re coming from, you deserve to have someone who believes in you and is pushing you to become the best version of yourself – not just to be book-smart, but really to be the best you. Without education, you don’t have a path to follow. I feel like it is part of my responsibility to help kids find their path.

What does a great classroom look like to you?

In a great classroom, a lot of the focus is on the students, instead of the teacher. You’ll see a lot of student choice. The work being done is challenging, whatever that looks like for each kid – it might not be the same, but it’s always academically challenging. There’s a lot of group work happening in different ways. Kids look really happy to be there. They’re excited by challenge and not shut down by it.

What brought you to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program?

I’ve always loved working with kids, but growing up, I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher. After graduating college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I heard about City Year from a friend. It felt like the perfect opportunity to do something meaningful, but also to have more time to figure out what career path I wanted to take.

I ended up working in a fifth grade classroom. Then I truly realized the power of teaching – getting to see teachers do different things and see how sometimes those choices were really great for kids, and sometimes they weren’t. Being in the classroom full-time for a year, working with kids who were struggling, was really rewarding.

Once I decided to become a teacher, I knew I didn’t want to go to graduate school because one big part of what I learned with City Year was the value of trial and error and learning through doing. I didn’t want to take classes and not get to do hands-on work with kids. I looked into alternative certification programs instead.

Inspired Teaching’s approach to teaching and their view on children, looking at the child as a full person, was really attractive. Their focus on social-emotional skills and getting to look at more than just data when looking at a student – knowing that data is important, but there’s so much more to a kid – that’s what pulled me to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program over other programs.

How would you describe your experience training to be a teacher?

I credit Inspired Teaching with helping me figure out the kind of teacher I wanted to be. One of the biggest pieces of that was getting paired with my lead teacher at Capital City Public Charter School [a residency partner site]. While the missions of Inspired Teaching and Capital City are not identical, they’re very much aligned. Both take a whole child approach in that there’s an emphasis on academic rigor and proficiency, and an equal emphasis on social skills and learning things like: how do I solve problems, how do I think about things in a new way, how do I express myself to others, how do I listen to others, interpersonal skills. All of those things are considered equally important in the development of a child through their school years.

My lead teacher really became my mentor, guided me, and helped me figure out how to be a good teacher. That was one of the biggest pieces of value for me: getting to watch her and learn from her. My residency year was a really positive experience. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I felt super supported the whole time – whether it was from my lead teacher or my mentor.

The cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows also became a huge support system. I made fast friendships within cohort, because going through this experience is something that no one else can understand. It’s a hard program – you’re essentially working full-time and taking classes full-time. I moved to DC without knowing anyone and without any family in the area, so I found the cohort to be especially impactful. It became like a family. I’m still connected to a lot of my cohort members, and I enjoy catching up and seeing them at various events throughout the year. Even as people have started moving away, those strong friendships are still there.

How have you stayed connected to Inspired Teaching since completing the program in 2014?

One way that I still stay connected with Inspired Teaching and the people in my cohort is through the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB). I was involved in starting FAB, as a way to stay connected with my cohort and to encourage others to stay connected. It has been cool to be on FAB for a few years now, and see how it’s changed. At first, FAB consisted of all people from my cohort. We would get together once a month and basically hang out and talk about how to get more people involved. Over the years, adding people from different cohorts has been really exciting.

I’ve loved getting to know other Inspired Teachers and learning about their experiences. I like being a leader. As a Fellow, I have a voice in Inspired Teaching and what they’re doing. I get to plan fun things, develop professional development opportunities, think of ways to bring Inspired Teaching to more teachers.

Now, I’m also a lead teacher for a 2016 Inspired Teaching Fellow at Capital City. At first, I was very nervous. I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially because of how great my lead had been for me. Working with my resident has been really amazing and confidence-boosting. I don’t know everything, but I know many things. It’s nice to know that I can help someone find her path as a teacher.

I’ve learned and grown a lot, too, in ways that I wouldn’t have without a resident. Because I have someone with me every day and I’m responsible for showing her the ropes of teaching, I have to think carefully about everything I’m doing, the intentions behind my decisions, and I have to be able to share that. The experience has helped me become a more reflective teacher. It has also taken me back to the basics. Revisiting those elements of teaching is really valuable.

I’m really happy to be able to give back to the program in this way. It has been important to me to stay connected to Inspired Teaching. The Inspired Teacher Certification Program did such great things for me that I want to be a part of continuing that legacy for other people.

What advice would you give to teachers on their first day?

Always take note and remember the little moments of joy that you have. It’s not always going to be perfect. You will always be able to find moments of joy with your kids, and that’s what you should hold onto.

This interview has been condensed and edited at the approval of the interviewee.

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