Kristin Appiah, Lawndale Academy

Kristin Appiah has been teaching for 17 years in the Chicago public school system.

Why do I teach? The profession chose me.

During my 17-year career, I have only worked at only two schools — and would probably still be at my first school if it had not closed down. I was a part of a (now extinct) program called Teachers for Chicago; today, of course, there are other alternative programs (Teach for America, Teaching Corps, and Chicago Teaching Fellows). During the 1990s teacher shortage, there was a mass recruitment effort to bring more educators into the field, and frankly, I needed a job. I was in the job market and teachers were in demand — and so, I began teaching at the same time I was earning a masters in education.

While I was getting a masters, I was also teaching every day at the time; I had no formal training in being a teacher during those first years. I just learned on the ground, day to day. My principal that year was also new — and she was a real task master. She gave us all a speech about how tough the job was and how difficult teaching urban children would be. Her speech made me even more determined to succeed.

Appiah

Ms. Appiah is now working on her doctorate in education.

My first assignment was 4th grade. I embraced my class with high hopes and grand ideas. I have always been creative, and teaching is definitely the place for a creative mind. I wrote many small grants and put on lots of plays with my students and extended invitations to the entire school. I started a tap dancing class, which was incorporated into a school production. Students would come early and stay late to practice because they enjoyed the extracurricular activities. I discovered that the local park district had a storeroom full of tap shoes, which I got donated to my class.

From the beginning, the lesson for me was clear: go the extra mile.

I worked at the park district part time so they gave me free dance supplies. I teamed up with two other teachers and we wrote many grants and we even won the Oppenheimer Award! These two ladies ended up being my best buddies. One was a seasoned professional — we sometimes refer to her as the “Michael Jordan of Special Education” — and the other was somewhat of a rebel, always doing her own thing.

Over time, I learned that I could connect with every child on some level — and there is something to be said about being someone’s everything. That is exactly the feeling I get when I walk into the classroom. I am greeted every day by my students as if I have been away on a long trip and am just returning home to my family. The reward of teaching is priceless. Every year I think that the new class will not be as wonderful as my previous class, but I am never disappointed. In fact, the end of every year now brings more sadness, because I’m leaving a new group.

I teach because I enjoy life, laughing, discovery and a good story. I don’t even consider teaching to be ‘working’ because it’s such a large and significant part of my life. If I had it to do all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.

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