Brittany John TF ’17: Finding your voice as a teacher
During her first year of teaching, Brittany John WW NJ TF ‘17 struggled to define her personal style as an educator.
“The idea that teachers need to be a certain way with students led me to be insecure in my decisions and to constantly fear that they don’t respect me,” says Ms. John. “While some of it was internal, there were external voices too, saying that I needed to be meaner, stricter. While I had a lot to learn as a new teacher, losing that confidence in myself, my identity, and my decisions made it more difficult to be successful.”
Ms. John is now in her second year in the classroom and teaching biology at the Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Millville, New Jersey. To help other new teachers who might struggle with confidence as they enter the classroom, she decided to share her experience. Her essay, titled “Teach Like Yourself,” will appear in The New Teacher’s Guide to Overcoming Common Challenges, to be released by Taylor & Francis Publishing in 2021.
“In the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship graduate program, I learned about the importance of reflecting and processing your decisions each day,” says Ms. John about building confidence. “The decisions that I make every day are going to be a lot better if I spend the time to reflect.”
As a way to reflect, Ms. John keeps a journal. She also relies on her friends and colleagues to help her consider and improve her teaching.
“A huge aspect of being successful as a new teacher is having a community of support. Because of the WW Fellowship I have that. It’s critical for a teacher to be able to process their feelings, thoughts, or ideas with other teachers,” she says.
Another aspect of being a successful educator, Ms. John says, is establishing good relationships with students.
“One day, a student told me she chose me as one of her role models for an assignment in another class of hers,” recalls Ms. John. “She wrote about how patient I was with every student and that no matter how difficult a student may be that I still respond respectfully. While other teachers might look at that as me being too soft or weak, she saw it as being patient. It meant a lot to me.”
Ms. John still has a lot to learn as she settles into the teaching profession, but she is happy to be pursuing a career she has long been passionate about.
“I had a positive experience in high school with my science teacher, which made me interested in teaching. There was a time in college when I had second thoughts but learning about educational inequity really pushed me to want to be a part of the solution,” says Ms. John. “I looked for opportunities that were aimed toward educational justice and providing high quality education for kids that usually don’t have access to it,” she says regarding what ultimately drew her to the Fellowship.
“If you’re passionate about education, influencing young people in a positive way, and building relationships, I don’t see any reason not to go for the WW Teaching Fellowship,” says Ms. John. “Any challenges that come your way you’ll be able to move past if those core things are present.”