HMH: Wow, I love that phrase “teach with urgency.” That's a great catch cry. When you say that the principal was able to get in and see you teach more—a lot of teachers don't like that. I mean, it's a cliché that teachers like to have their doors closed. It sounds like that wasn't you.
Alexa: So, I learned to like it because . . . again because they didn't have the normal workload of a principal. We had an ops team to do all that stuff. We were assigned assistant principals or principals, so we got to have a one-on-one meeting every week and they would come work on things with you. And I would get an email right after they left my classroom: “Keep doing this. Stop doing this. Work on this. Next steps here.”
HMH: Did that feel like micromanaging?
Alexa: Honestly, I wanted to grow. That year I grew so much as a teacher. I still have all of my observation notes from Brian, and I read them all the time just to remind myself: “OK. You know things were rocky this week. I'm going to read this little note to remind myself. Bring it all back. Center myself to start the week off fresh [and] ready to go.” Because we got all of that feedback and it was kind of embedded into our community that this feedback is love. We are trying to be our best selves so we can get these kids and we can move them, so that they can grow and that they can be academically successful and grow into little humans that can go off and accomplish really great things in the world. So when you are getting that feedback, it wasn't something you would ever take personally. It was like “OK, this is my next step to being the best I can be.” And it was just also having that kind of mindset of there's always room to grow. There's always new things that you are gonna be learning as a teacher, which was interesting cause we brought that into our classroom, right? We would tell our students, “I'm not trying to offend you. I'm not trying to be mean to you. I'm just giving you feedback cause I love you and I care about you and I want you to be your best self.”
HMH: Do you imagine that you're gonna have that kind of energy and reflection about teaching for the next five years?
Alexa: I think I will, because I spend so much time anchoring myself into the relationships. Because at the end of the day, that's what keeps you going . . . is the relationships that you're making with these kids. Because day to day, it can be really, really hard. But then you just remember that one student who finally got that sight word or that one student who finally moved a reading level or finally learned how to be kind—like use kind words in a confrontation with another kid—and you see them just growing before your eyes and they're with you for most of the day. So it's because of you and all of the teachers at your school who collectively work together to build that kid up.
[Read more about the importance of building teacher-student relationships.]
HMH: Yeah. Do you ever have a moment where you think I can't do this anymore?
Alexa: Oh yeah, like once a week, but then you get a pep talk from a co-worker across the hall or go talk to my principal or my assistant principal. And you just have to remind yourself what . . . what your purpose is in here. I have a little box actually of little notes that I had for my middle schoolers or kids I get notes from here and sometimes it just takes just opening that, picking one out, reading it, and being like, “OK, I got this.”
HMH: That's why I'm doing what I do.
Alexa: That's why I'm doing what I'm doing.
HMH: Is there a piece of feedback or something that a student said to you that you particularly remember?
Alexa: I was reading some of my letters a couple of weeks ago from some of my middle schoolers. And I looped with them, so I was with them for a really long time and I had like . . .
HMH: Like a couple of years?
Alexa: Two years.
HMH: Two years?
Alexa: Two years. I had a solid, solid relationship with many of them and was reading a letter that a girl wrote me, and it was talking about how I made her smile when she was having really hard times at home and that I pushed her to do her best work in math—I taught math, which is not one of everybody’s favorite subjects—and she said that I was . . . she was sad that I was leaving because she wanted me to keep seeing how hard she was working and that she was so proud of what she did and to hear her say that she was proud of herself just made me feel so full because that's what I want. I want kids to feel proud of themselves at the end of the day. I want them to be proud and take ownership over what they're accomplishing and feel confident in moving into the next grade or the next situation that they found themselves in.
HMH: Yeah, and that idea as well that she was doing it for you. I think sometimes as teachers it's hard to kind of admit that actually part of that relationship building is that kids actually will perform, or do the work, or try because of you.
Alexa: Yeah, and I feel like I never really thought about how much of an impact that teachers are making on students. I mean we were with them for most of the day.