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.
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.