September 24, 2015
(Photo: Center for Inspired Teaching)
A conversation with Vilona Nicks, a 2014 Inspired Teaching Fellow and early childhood teacher at Patterson Elementary School (DCPS):
“As a teacher, you always want to make sure you’re having fun. If you have fun and you love what you’re doing, then your students know that, and they respond. It’s a better environment for everyone.”
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergrad & Major: Howard University, Psychology
Favorite Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Favorite Sports Team: LA Lakers
How would friends describe you?
Dramatic. I think that might be why I wanted to be an early childhood teacher. I love to gasp at things and find the drama. I’m empathetic, and I’m always optimistic. Even if I’m freaking out internally, if someone brings a problem to me, then I’m the one who says “ok, we can work this out.”
What do you like the most about teaching early childhood students?
Everything is so funny to them! I was sitting on the carpet with my students, and we were listening to songs, and sometimes they’re so loud you can’t hear the music. And as I was about to reprimand them, I looked around at what they were doing, and they were just happy and LAUGHING. And that made me laugh. They’re so excited and willing to learn. And they really want their independence. They want to be asked to help and contribute.
What drew you to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program?
I was looking into different programs, and I applied to Inspired Teaching. And then we started the interview process, and I absolutely fell in love with the program. I loved that it focused on students and student inquiry. I felt that the program also focused on me as a person and how I could use my strengths and my background as assets in my teaching. The program really made sure that I was ready for my own classroom by providing this residency year.
For someone who’s not sure what it means to have a residency year, how would you describe your experience?
I think it’s great because it helps me figure out what works for me as a teacher. I think that’s what a residency year is for – you figure out who you are as a teacher, what things work for you, what things don’t work for you. And this practical classroom experience helps you grow your practice. After being an education aide for a school year, I thought I was ready for my own classroom. But after my residency year, I saw how much more I have to grow.
Of the 4 I’s – Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, Integrity – is there one that you get the most joy seeing in your students?
Integrity. I think that once you have integrity, you can build the others. If you teach a student integrity, then you teach him why education and learning is important for him. You’re not focused on getting a prize for doing what the teacher said; you’re focused on making good choices because that’s who you are as a person. That skill is something I always focus on. When a student makes a choice, good or bad, I always ask, “Why’d you make that choice? How do you feel about it?” I love seeing growth in decision-making in my students.
What was the selection process for the Inspired Teacher Certification Program like for you?
I loved it. It wasn’t like any other interview I’ve been on. I went in, and I was very nervous and right away we started a team building exercise building a tower of balloons, and I was like “ok, this is different from anything I’ve ever done.” And that really helped ease my nerves.
For people considering applying to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, what would you tell them to consider? How would you describe the reality of being a first year teacher?
It’s very difficult. A lot of people don’t understand that. I have one friend who keeps telling me, “Well, you just teach little kids, so what’s so hard about that?” And I’m always like, “are you kidding? Come on a field trip! Then you’ll know.” It’s a very, very tough job, and you really have to want to do it and love it. You really have to love your children, and you have to be able to remember that when things get tough – because they will.