If I could go back…to the classroom

by guest contributor Jen Chau, originally published at The Time Is Always Right…

[dedicated to V and Crane]

If I could go back in time to my days as a teacher, I would do things very differently. Isn’t it easy to say we would use a different approach years later, when we are wiser and more experienced!? I know…but a couple of good friends are getting their start as teachers pretty soon and I am putting my thoughts together in hopes that they (and any others) may benefit from the challenges that I faced.

Just to give you a bit of context…I was accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows in late 2001. I had just finished up my first job after college working for a welfare-to-work program. My clients at that job were homeless men and women, most aged 40 and up, almost all in substance abuse recovery, and the majority ex-offenders. While it was tough work (emotionally), I had loved that job –

I started out as a job developer, helping each individual to secure a full-time job while supporting them as they also set up housing for themselves. Halfway through my time there, I became the Director, leading the program, creating curriculum around job readiness, and building out an aftercare program so that we were sure to continue giving support to our graduates even after their nine months with us in the program. I wound up leaving for two reasons. One, was that I started to realize that I wanted to come into this work at an earlier time. Meaning, I starting asking myself, should I be helping to educate our youth so that they don’t get left behind by our systems in the ways that my clients had been? At one point, I was working with a 55-year old man who needed to be able to read job applications. I found myself actually helping him to read a kindergarten level book instead. I started to wonder if I should be with the kindergarteners…how do we let children grow up to be adults who cannot read? The second reason was one of principles. But that’s a whole other story. :)

So, I decided to try out teaching. I had actually loved playing “teacher” with my brothers when we were younger (actually, maybe I just enjoyed the activity of telling them what to do — I gave SO much homework), I absolutely adore children, and I think education is the most important thing in the world, so this wasn’t a stretch. I was so excited. And take note: I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. VERY. Remember that (Gosh, if I was a really bad filmmaker, I would have just put a flashing red arrow above the con man’s head so that you realized he was trouble and expected the scene that was to unfold three scenes later)! I’m just saying…I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Don’t forget. :)

To be continued on Wednesday…

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