Being an Educator is Not for the Faint of Heart

Year in School: Senior
Major: Elementary Education
Hometown: Ottawa, IL

Happy summer, Huskies! My name is Alex Kazmierczak, I am a senior at NIU preparing to complete my final semester of student teaching this fall. I am an elementary education major with a middle school endorsement, as well as a soon to be ESL (English as a Second Language) certification. I owe a special thanks to Project DREAMS and the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education for the opportunity to pursue my ESL endorsement on scholarship.

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Sure, you can go to school and earn a high GPA without having to partake in extra curricular activities or jumping out of your comfort zone – because let’s be honest, it’s much easier to stay with what you know. Until the fall semester of 2014, I stuck strictly to what I knew and just “got by.” I changed my mindset going into this semester by setting a high expectation for myself for trying new things. Project DREAMS was first on my list. As I thought about this goal, I then heard about another opportunity through the College of Education called Educate US.

My initial response to Educate US was indifferent, to say the least. There was little information about this exciting new program because this was only the second semester NIU offered the Educate US internship. In early September, the department chair came to a class of mine to formally introduce Educate US and provide us with a bit more information from what we already knew. She spoke positively of the program and mentioned it being a great resume builder.

I held onto those words as I am always looking to improve my professional development, but even so, I was not sold on the idea of traveling to a new city and staying with a host family for an entire week. What was exciting was that our host family would be either a teacher or administrator in the district. But for the homebody that I am, a week is an eternity.

I applied with the expectation of experience of being in a classroom outside of Illinois. Upon further research of the Aldine Independent School District (Aldine ISD), I discovered the difference in poverty levels and amount of diversity compared to the districts that I have been in. I knew teaching styles and classroom management would be different than what I am used to and what better way to gain experience than to step into a classroom constructed of completely different cultures.

My first day in the classroom went by in the blink of an eye. I was in an age 4 preschool classroom with 20 students. I have not had clinical experience with any age below 3rd grade so I was ready for the challenge. I really could talk about these amazing students for hours. I will not lie and say the home lives for these students were simple, as the class was 98% free and reduced breakfast and lunch.

The saying goes “we as teachers are the parent, the coach, the cheerleader and the mentor.” My experience in Aldine ISD showed this to be true – these students needed us. That one week provided me the time to make a connection with these students, which was both positive and negative. The negative being that I only had that one week which was nowhere near long enough. I miss these students daily and know they can do great things for themselves.

To be honest, this experience changed my life.

I always dreamt of teaching in the little farm school I grew up in. I was comfortable there and knew the ins and outs of the area, the staff and the overall socioeconomic status of students. I went into this with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. I came home and left my heart in Houston.

Not only did I have an exceptional overall experience but I also had the most incredible host family. I was able to stay with Jeff McCanna, who was the Director of Human Resources for the Aldine ISD, and his family. My cooperating teacher was Jeff’s wife, Peggy McCanna. She is an amazing educator and has instilled so much patience into my teaching style. I made a close connection with each and am taking lifelong friends away from this.

For this entire week I lived and breathed the life of a teacher. This meant getting Jeff and Peggy’s twins to preschool by 6:30 a.m. and then to school with Peggy from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Getting home from school, we made dinner, spent time with the family and caught up on schoolwork. This may seem like a lot, but with the McCannas it was a way of life. This family is the epitome of never working a day in their life because they love what they do.

Each of the eleven interns had vastly different experiences in their classrooms and homes that were unique and extremely beneficial.
One thing you will not hear enough of is the district being a wonderful facility with welcoming staff and administration. I felt like I belonged there from day one.

After coming back to Illinois, I could not stop talking about this experience. I immediately began discussing student teaching and potentially moving to Houston. I proposed to the College of Education that I do my student teaching in Aldine ISD. The paperwork was soon complete and I now sit 4 weeks away from relocating to Houston with my husband. He will teach middle school physical education in Aldine ISD and I will be completing my student teaching in a 2nd grade classroom before I graduate this December.

Yes, you must step out of your comfort zone. Without doing so, you may never live up to your fullest potential. I learned more about myself in this week than I have in my entire college career, all thanks to this opportunity provided by NIU.

It is up to the college to provide us with scenarios to practice what we are taught and opportunities to self-improve and develop professionally. But it is up to us, the students, to take the initiative to go above and beyond and to place ourselves outside of our comfort zone. This is where we grow the most.

After all, being an educator is not for the faint of heart.

Written by Alex Kazmierczak