Prior to my final semester in high school, I felt conflicted about the idea of teaching. My whole life I watched my mother teach countless students in low-income populations, where she had both positive and negative experiences. Growing up, I wanted to do anything except teach; it was at the bottom of my list of career choices. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when I volunteered in my mother’s classroom, that I found the joy in teaching. I felt as though this was something I was called to do; I felt like I found my fit.
Throughout college, I had observed, volunteered, interned, and taught mini-lessons at various low- and high-income classrooms around Austin, Texas. I learned from teachers with different styles of teaching, all with their own unique teaching philosophy embedded in their work. All of these experiences led me to and prepared me for my semester-long student teaching adventure during the spring of my senior year, an adventure that left me with unforgettable memories.
As a student teacher, I worked in a classroom, full-time, with the guidance of a seasoned mentor teacher. Even with training, I was extremely nervous for my first time teaching daily lessons. “What if I’m terrible at teaching? What if the kids hate me? What if my mentor teacher hates me? What if I hate teaching?”
My nerves were eased when I started my semester in a lovely, well-behaved, first-grade classroom in a middle-class suburban school in Austin. My mentor teacher was patient, kind, smart, and experienced. She answered all of my questions and entrusted me with the freedom to discover my own teaching style. The reality of teaching didn’t seem so scary anymore, as I became more confident with the help of my mentor and my faculty advisor.
I was fortunate to have been placed in a school that encouraged hands-on learning, had resources available for every student, and had an active parent community, but I was constantly reminded that not every school was like this. Hearing from my classmates and reflecting on past experiences in other schools, I became aware of how many differences exist in the resources, and economic and human capital levels of schools in Austin. I knew that if I wanted to teach after I graduated, I would need the skills I learned while student teaching to succeed in any school environment.
I fell in love with teaching during those four months of student teaching; specifically, the idea of running my classroom and helping students from all backgrounds. As the semester progressed, I started discussing career options with my mentor, professors, career services staff, friends, and most importantly my parents. By the end of the semester, I was excited about teaching a variety of students and knew this was the right move for me. In my heart, I knew I was ready to become a full-time teacher, because of the valuable lessons I learned while student teaching. The support system I had created during my time as an undergraduate guided me toward life after graduation. This experience of student teaching and my community at school made me see that I wanted to teach before I did anything else. I was young and passionate, and student teaching showed me where in the community I was needed.
Following student teaching, I was fortunate to find a teaching position in a low-income area in Austin. Although it was a difficult teaching 90 fourth-graders every day, I remembered the hard lessons I learned in student teaching, and what my mentor teacher, faculty advisor, and mother would say to me. I soon realized that the support system I found during my time in college was still there when I became a full-time teacher. These people were still able to answer my endless questions and advise me during those hard moments. Thinking back on my undergraduate career and journey to becoming a teacher, my time as a student teacher was one of the most important moments for me. Student teaching allowed me to explore my future career and make connections that last to this day.
Bernadette Labrado is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a summer 2017 intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.