Guestblogger Katelyn Stukenberg is a 7th grade language arts teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she is completing her second year of Teach for America. She is a Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) Fellow with Teach Plus in Los Angeles for the summer.
Early in my first year of teaching, there were certainly times when I found myself day-dreaming of the long-awaited summer. My thoughts wandered to mornings of sleeping in, days lounging by the pool, and most excitedly, finally getting to dive into that stack of overdue reading I hadn’t touched all year. During that first semester, a summer break that gave me a mental respite from my life in the classroom seemed like a welcome reward.
However, as the year progressed, I found my ideal summer evolving as my students pushed and challenged me with their hungry curiosity and desire to learn. In my first year of teaching, I expected to deal with challenging students and classroom management difficulties; however, I did not anticipate the lack of support given to teachers in order to overcome those numerous daily challenges. I realized that even the best teachers, without curriculum support, regular feedback and instructional resources, were limited to the impact they could make in their students’ lives. I quickly came to realize the lack of understanding policy makers had of what a day in the classroom really looked like in urban schools. And although there is a progression to reform policies to better support teachers and students, the progression is in great need of teachers to be at the decision making table.
It was then I knew that the work I was doing in education was one I did not want to take a break from—even for the two months of summer. I joined a fellowship with Leadership for Education Equity that placed me to work in my hometown of Los Angeles with Teach Plus, a non-profit that seeks to improve outcomes for urban children by ensuring that students have access to effective teachers. My hope through this summer in partnership with my host organization has been to directly affect the lives of students in a long-term way. I don’t want to come to the end of another school year wondering, as my students leave my classroom, if they will receive the quality education they deserve in the years to come. I want to be part of turning the tide so I know they will.
This summer I have been part of putting together a teacher-led Common Core conference, in which teacher leaders prepare fellow teachers for the new Common Core State Standards. In this process, I have been overwhelmed by the huge appetite teachers have shown for a professional development opportunity such as this one. I have found that I am far from the only teacher taking her summer vacation to continue to improve learning outcomes and the futures of our students; indeed, nationwide, thousands of teachers are continuing to better their craft through these opportunities.
Additionally, I have gotten to take an active part in becoming an advocate for students. As a teacher, I know my role needs to extend outside of the classroom if equality for all students is truly to be reached. It has become obvious that there is a wide gap between what happens in the classroom and what happens at the policy level and teachers are the best insiders for getting an accurate picture of what the students need.
While exploring the world of education advocacy, I have been greatly encouraged and motivated by the fact that I am not in this work alone. I have gathered with coalitions of advocacy groups representing community members including teachers, students and parents who are dedicated to finding solutions in order to ensure equality and access to high quality schools in every community in Los Angeles.
Ask any teacher why they teach and you won’t likely hear about summer vacation. This myth of teachers joining the profession to take advantage of summer vacations is in fact only that: a myth. Teachers don’t come to the profession just to spend summer months basking in the sun and sleeping in. In all honesty, that’s just not who we are. Although we may be stepping out of the classroom, our minds never really get to go on vacation. Our hearts are tied to our classrooms in a yearlong commitment to becoming better educators for our students and to improve the education system they depend on.