As a teacher, I believe you must never stop being a student at heart…

As a teacher, we are asked to reflect on our practice. For most of us, this is something we do all day long after each lesson and each class. It is because of this practice that I would like to start my #chooseNMSA at the beginning of the second year of my teaching journey. My decision to begin at the start of my second year –or better yet, my decision to come back for another year of teaching at NMSA—marks the point in time when I knew that I was truly home and was living the dream that most adults will never realize: I have a job doing what I truly love to do.

After my first year, I was exhausted; I did not anticipate the late or sleepless nights, all of the work I would have to do outside of school, or how emotionally draining the teaching profession would be. Yet on the last day of school as my first set students were walking out of my classroom, all the love I felt for those kids, my job, and this school was truly apparent to me. Working at NMSA allowed me to learn so much about teaching and also allowed me to gain a true vision of my personal and professional goals. It is for this reason that I cannot see myself teaching anywhere else—this is why I #chooseNMSA.

As a teacher, I believe you must never stop being a student at heart. You have to constantly be seeking out how to grow and change in order to keep up with everything evolving around you. You must know your students inside and out; this means knowing how they tick, what makes them flourish, what is going on with friends at school, and what is happening at home, because it all effects them and how they learn (and we know that in middle school some of these things change daily!). You have to learn how to accommodate for students, how to take a bad worksheet and make it an interactive activity everyone can get into, and how to relate abstract concepts to basketball or shopping to make it relevant to them. I had to learn that when students got upset with me, it wasn’t necessarily me they were mad at and that these kids need love as much as they need math. I also learned that even as a first year teacher, who plastered a smile on my face most mornings, poured myself an extra cup of coffee, that the students appreciated that I came to school every day to teach them. I learned all of this with the support of the people around me because we were in it together. That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Only at NMSA, have I felt that each and every one of us has a vested interest in these students. Everyone from Joyce and her team, to our wonderful admin support staff, to our content coaches, APs, Vicki, and Dr. Pollack and Dr. Martindale. Because we all want so much for our students, I feel that the district has reached beyond them and invested in us. As teachers, we are encouraged to learn about everything and anything we feel is pertinent to our content and profession. We are pushed to think outside of the box. We are encouraged to dream big and reach higher. Our leaders, especially Vicki, see that to be the best teachers we can be, we must focus on ourselves as well so that we can be the best for our students. Without her vision and passion we wouldn’t be pushed to learn from teachers all across the country, to add a little genius to every class, and to be runners on her bus (which my Fitbit is thoroughly enjoying!). That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Finally, at NMSA, I have learned so much about myself.  I have learned that there are people who will support me in my weakest most vulnerable moments. I have learned that our students are our biggest cheerleaders and appreciate us even if they never say anything. I have learned that a lesson can go horribly wrong and completely off plan; however, it was mostly in my head. I have learned that my love of data and excel is real and one of my favorite parts of my job.  I have learned that I need to spend less time trying to be “perfect” and that I need to be me. I learned that everyone else in the building has bad days too, even if I thought it was just me. I learned that some days you have to reach down deep inside and pull something out you didn’t think you could (ask Lang about Jesus Nelson- it was the story that made me understand this). I have learned how to be stronger than I ever thought I could. I have learned that unless you are a teacher or close to one, no one truly knows or understands what we do. I know that I am crazy to love working with middle schoolers in the most unsure time of their lives.  I have learned that at the heart of teaching is love.  That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Nowhere else, not another job, not another profession, and not another school, would I have learned all of this- especially in one year. Nowhere else would I be supported as a whole person, not just a teacher or employee. Nowhere else would I feel that I have a family when I walk into the building, where we are all here for each other and the students who walk through our doors.  I can truly say that even after a long, draining day, I wake up the next morning knowing that I am going to walk back into my classroom and do it all over again because I love it here, and I couldn’t see myself growing with any other family.

I #choose NMSA.

-Stephanie Cullotta

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