This summer, Inspired Teaching Spoke with 2017 Fellow Eshalla Merriam to learn about her experience as an Inspired Teacher the program so far. This school year, Eshalla will begin her first year as a teacher of record teaching 4th grade English Language Arts at J.O. Wilson Elementary School.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I always knew I wanted a career where I would be able to help people. I went to college undecided and I was thinking about a lot of different fields. Ultimately, I had my first experience with children through Reading Partners and I was so nervous. I hadn’t worked with kids before, and I’m the youngest in my family, but as I started working with kids, I came to learn just how much they would look forward to our time, especially those who joined begrudgingly at first. By the end of the year, when I saw how much their confidence had grown, I knew this is what I needed to do.
What attracted you to the Inspired Teaching Residency’s model?
I graduated college with a degree in Psychology and I wanted apply to DCPS then and there, but it wasn’t possible at the time. I took a position as a Teaching Assistant and jumped around in a couple of teaching jobs, but I wasn’t leading a classroom until I started a position at a local charter school. I realized that although I had been independently developing my practice, there was still a lot of room to grow. I knew I needed to get more experience. Then, I discovered Inspired Teaching. When I first read the description for Inspired Teaching, I was blown away because it was exactly what I would have dreamed of, and it was real. I’ve talked with a lot of people who were specifically drawn to Inspired Teaching’s alternative approach, but I just really wanted to get into the classroom. Once I got into Summer Institute, I realized the philosophy would also really help me grow.
What was a specific moment at Institute when it clicked that this was the right program for you?
After the first day, I went home that evening and when I was asked how my day was, I started panicking. I thought that we just played games all day and I didn’t know how that would help me be a better teacher. I remember thinking, what did I just sign up for? But then as Institute continued, the Inspired Teaching staff highlighted how the way they introduced all the games had meaning, and that was what we were really learning, we weren’t merely playing. That was a light bulb moment for me. I was experiencing learning and not just having it delivered to me.
How have you grown throughout your first year as an Inspired Teaching Fellow as a resident teacher in the classroom?
For me, as somebody who had been in the classroom before, the Residency Year was just so helpful to be able to see different teaching styles and understand that teaching is full of challenges and there are many ways to approach them. Learning from and observing other teachers was reassuring and gave me the confidence to find my own footing. Everyone is finding their own path.
How do you plan on being a changemaker as you start your career as a teacher of record?
I’d like to make education more practical and applicable to students’ lives. Teachers feel really bound to the curriculum and to meeting benchmarks. While those things are valid to an extent, the standards can really pigeonhole you. This pressure can prevent you from acting on moments in the classroom that lend themselves to a great discussion. While teachers indulge in those moments, we shouldn’t have to see them as an indulgence. There needs to be more freedom to investigate relevant and applicable issues. Sometimes the pressure to move on is too present, and while sometimes is it appropriate to move on, I want to incorporate more freedom to investigate relevant and applicable issues with my students.
What is one of your favorite memories of school?
I’ve actually thought about my favorite memory as a student this summer. I was a really shy kid and at some point in my very early elementary age, we read Talking Eggs, and I just loved it. I could not get enough of this story. Without directly saying anything, I must have shown that I had connected with the story because my teacher recognized that I loved it and she gave me the book! I wasn’t angling to get it, but I was delighted. Every time I get the chance I read it – which I did this summer.
When you think beginning your first year as a teacher of record, what are you most excited about?
I’m so excited to have my own classroom and be able to take things in the direction that I like. I’m also excited to incorporate things from the residency year because I have so many tools in my tool belt now, and a line of thinking that my lead teacher brought me through and things echoed in our cohort. I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I’m excited to put these things into practice.