In May 2006, I graduated from Purdue University with a BA in English education. My dream job at the time was to teach reading. I did not know where I wanted to teach reading, but I knew once place I did not want to teach reading or any other subject and that was Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Although I had attended Washington Irving School 14 in kindergarten and Brookside School 54 in IPS and numerous relatives had attended IPS and are successful productive citizens, the prestige IPS had no longer existed. Its reputation was tarnished and I did not want to begin my career in a district with a negative public image.
Today, I find myself as a literacy coach at Wendell Phillips Elementary School #63 and I absolutely love it. I have spent the majority of my career working in a metropolitan school district (msd), locally known as township schools. After attending school in IPS for kindergarten and first grade, my parents decided to buy a home and relocate to the M.S.D. of Lawrence Township. I do have fond memories of IPS, but I loved attending school in Lawrence Township more except for those middle school years. (I think those were awkward years for most people anywhere they attended school.) From receiving my own education to educating others in township schools, this was where I was comfortable and I couldn’t foresee myself teaching anywhere else.
One day, I received an email from Teach Plus. I glanced over it and deleted it. I’m not sure how they obtained my email address, but each month one or two emails about events would arrive in my inbox. Eventually, an event caught my attention; it was about storytelling. I decided to attend. I learned how to write a story — my story and I learned how stories could leverage change. At the event, I learned what Teach Plus was about and my interest was piqued.
Teach Plus is an organization located in different cities across the United States with the goal of empowering educators in the field of education to lift up urban schools. Over the next year, I attended a few more events to learn what educators in Indianapolis, who were Teach Plus fellows, were doing and in 2015, I decided to apply. It was rigorous process and honestly I was not sure if I would be selected, but I was. I was one of thirty Indianapolis educators chosen for the 2016-2017 Teach Plus Policy fellowship. This is when another idea was planted in my mind.
Shortly before I considered applying Teach Plus, I was asked if I would ever consider teaching in IPS. Although the focus of Teach Plus is helping all urban schools, Indianapolis Public Schools is the largest public school district in Indiana and much of the work I heard about at the events I attend centered around this district. I talked to my husband about it and he supported my decision to apply. If he had his way, I would stay and home and home school our children. Since he can’t have his way, his second desire is that I work in a school that I love. I decided to take a risk and apply, although I still had reservations.
I now I find myself at Wendell Phillips Elementary School #63 on the city’s west side. When the school opened ten years ago, it was a school for English language learners. Once the school began accepting students within the school’s boundary, the school struggled to achieve academic success as measured by the state’s standardized test. This school has earned the grade of F for the last few years.
Many of my friends, family, and colleagues questioned why I would want to work at a failing school. I decided that if I was going to learn how policy works and make a real difference, I needed to work in a school that needed the most help even though I had offers to work at schools that were not failing or had more prestige.
There are a myriad of components at hand to explain why a school might not be achieving academic success, but as I work in this school with my colleagues, it is not due to a lack of effort on their part. Although this experience is different than the ones I have had before, I am glad I took this risk. I love empowering and helping my colleagues as I coach them in the area of literacy. An empowered educator, is an educator who is more likely to return next school year.