There Is No Right Way To Become a Teacher: Reflections on My Teacher Training

As I finish up my fifth year teaching, I have been reflecting a lot on my journey as a teacher, where I started, and what I have accomplished along the way. Unlike most teachers, I did not follow the traditional path in becoming an educator. Right after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I participated in Teach for America’s six week summer institute and just two days later began teaching in my current high school chemistry position with my intern credential. During my first two years of teaching, I was enrolled in graduate school and credentialing classes where I earned my teaching credential as well as my master’s in urban education.

Five years after beginning this journey, I am still teaching, I lead my science department, I am a member of my school’s Instructional Leadership Team, and have been honored as a Teacher of the Year Finalist for my school district. A lot has happened in these past five years.

When I think about my experience in “becoming a teacher,” I question what it means to be prepared. Before stepping foot into my full time classroom, my experience with teaching was during Teach for America’s six week summer institute. In conjunction with teaching summer school chemistry, I also participated in seminars and classes that went over behavior management, classroom culture, and teaching strategies. I had real time coaching that helped me shape my teaching and management style on the spot as well as time to reflect. I left the six week summer institute feeling like I learned a lot and that I was ready to start the year in my own classroom.

I quickly discovered that there was a lot more for me to learn. Was I prepared? Maybe. But I don’t think anything can prepare you for your first year of teaching.

So, what makes a teacher successful? I would argue that there are many factors that have contributed to my success as a teacher. To start off, I had a lot of coaching from both my school and Teach for America. Coaching impacted my teaching practice because every time an observer came into my classroom they would leave a small actionable piece of feedback. These small changes over time resulted in a greater impact for my students. I also have some pretty awesome coworkers who are doing amazing things in their classrooms. The ability for me to observe them teach gave me a lot of new teaching and management strategies as well as insight about how students perform in different classes. Another key component of my success was my constant reflection. Being enrolled in graduate school classes simultationalsy while teaching was incredibly challenging, but it also provided the space for a lot of reflection. In my classes, we learned about different pedagogy, teaching strategies, read case studies, and learned about different educational laws. I was then able to immediately implement the strategies or my reflection into my teaching practice the next day. Although I didn’t learn all of these things before I started teaching, learning them while I was teaching allowed me to be more reflective and see these strategies and pedagogies put into practice.

What I believe ultimately led to my success as a teacher is my ability to try different things without being concerned about failing. During my first two years, I tried a ton of different things, everything from seating arrangements to procedures to class structure. Some things worked, but a lot didn’t. With the constant changes, I was always very open and vulnerable with my students. We were in this together and learning from one another. I accepted feedback not only from my observers but also from my students.

Although I didn’t take the traditional track, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. There is no “right” way to become a teacher as long as you have the commitment and passion for the challenging work. To this day, I still don’t have everything figured out, but that’s okay. I am evolving, adapting, and always trying something new; that is a major key to becoming a successful teacher.

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Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert is a proud product of New York public schools where she graduated with her International Baccalaureate diploma. She went off to attain her B.A. in Chemistry with concentrations in Public Health and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies at NYU. While at NYU, she started the chapter of “Strive for College,” a non-profit organization that connects college students as mentors to assist high schoolers throughout the college application and financial aid processes. Immediately after graduation, Chelsea pursued her teaching career with Teach for America Los Angeles. While teaching, Chelsea completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. Chelsea is currently teaching at her Teach for America placement school in Lincoln Heights where she serves as Department Instructional Lead, Instructional Leadership Team member, and coaches Varsity soccer.

One thought on “There Is No Right Way To Become a Teacher: Reflections on My Teacher Training

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    Sarah Smith

    Enjoyed Chelsea Culbert’s piece on No Right Way to Become a Teacher. She has the drive, idealism, and talent to rise to the top of her profession in just five years. Her students are lucky to have her.

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