Teaching Fellows Wear Many Hats

Ashley Kirklen is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Eastway Middle School in Charlotte, NC

Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned to be able to perform many roles.  As a Teaching Fellow you have to be able to wear many hats. Two of the hats that you’ll wear the most are educator and confidante.

First, let me put on my educator hat.  When I put on this hat, students don’t think I am as cool and “real” as they would like me to be. They tend to say things to me like, “Ms. Kirklen, you’re boring” or “You just don’t understand what it's like to be in middle school” as if I miraculously teleported from kindergarten to my 20s!  Though my students can be a bit dramatic, I understand why they cannot relate to me when I am wearing my educator’s hat.  I remember thinking my teachers were in this little box and they were only teachers.  In my mind they didn’t have other responsibilities, they didn’t have problems, and I didn’t see them as human.  When I saw my 10th grade Spanish teacher smoking a cigarette as she pulled out of the school parking lot I felt like someone had just told me Santa Clause was not real!  Now I am one of “them” and students have the same ideals about me.   A student once saw me out at the grocery store and looked at me as if he’d seen a ghost.  Of course he probably thought that I bought my groceries from the magic teacher store that we all go off to in abyss so we are not seen by our pupils.  This hat is great for teaching lessons, but not so much for relationship building with the students.

Next, there’s the hat or role of confidante.  This role was not in plain text when I read the Teaching Fellow job description, but it happens to be my favorite!  When I put on this hat students trust me and they begin to open up in a way that they don’t feel they are able to with morning teachers.  As adolescents, they go through so many emotions and ups and downs (more of the latter), so they need to know that someone is in their corner.  I must admit, sometimes I would rather they didn’t spill their middle school beans to me about who’s dating who, issues in their homes or questions about everything from A to Z.  Other times, I am grateful I can be there to listen and give sound advice.  Just when they think their teenage world is crumbling to pieces, I assure them that I have a PhD in adolescence and if I made it through, so will they.  I am also happy to debunk some ridiculous myth they heard from their friend in 3rd block.  A student asked the other day if it were true that students in college have to go to class from 8:00am to 3:00pm like in middle school.  I sparked her enthusiasm for higher education by explaining that in college students are able to make their own schedules which usually consist of 3-4 classes per day.  There’s a privilege to wearing this hat, you become human.

On both sides of the coin it can be challenging, but is always rewarding.  There is a time for each role to be played and it’s inevitable that you will have to play both.  I didn’t only sign up to teach, I signed up to care.

“You can pay people to teach, but you can’t pay them to care.”  ~Marva Collins

What other hats do teachers and Teaching Fellows wear?