My school is in the process of interviewing prospective teachers for the next school year. Last week I wrote about a question we ask prospective teachers about feedback.
There is another important question we ask at the end of each interview:
“Why do you want to work in this school?”
This question tells us a lot about a teacher’s commitment to teaching our population of newcomer English Language Learners, as well as how much they’ve researched our school and what they like about it.
I’ve recently been considering my answer to this question. Why do I want to work in my school?
Years ago, teaching at a public high school in Brooklyn, I asked a veteran colleague why he had taught for so many years at the school. He himself had graduated from Stuyvesant High School, one of the elite, top public schools in New York City. I wondered why he wouldn’t want to teach in an elite high school like the one he himself attended.
“I feel that I’m making more of a difference here,” he told me. “The kids at Stuyvesant are going to do great no matter what. But if I can help a kid here, and they graduate and go on to college, that could completely change the outcomes of their lives.
I was inspired by his answer and it became my answer as well. For several years afterwards, I worked in high schools for over-age, under-credited students, and then worked with newcomer English Language Learners. I was inspired by the difference I could make in the lives of students who had significant challenges.
However, my answer has recently expanded.
This week, two 9th grade boys who have had their share of discipline problems came to my office. They looked serious.
“Miss Nariman, can we speak to you?”
“Sure,” I said, expecting them to complain about an “unfair” teacher or a consequence they had received.
They looked at each other and then one began to speak. “We want to have a basketball tournament. The kids are going to be really stressed after exams and it would be really fun and good to de-stress.”
I was not expecting this.
I saw how I had initially labeled the boys because of their past, rather than see them newly—and I remembered that students with discipline problems are often untapped leaders. My answer to the basketball tournament was “yes.”
Our students struggle with a lot: learning English, being frustrated by difficult classwork, behavior and self-control, the social complexities of being a teenager in a diverse environment. However, within all of these challenges, our students are dynamic human beings who continually surprise us with their leadership abilities.
Why do I want to work in my school? Because of the difference I can make in the lives of the students and because of the difference the students make in my life. I like who the students are—I like the people they are now, and who they are becoming. I get to see them become leaders. It’s fun to work with them, and it’s inspiring.