Starting out at Illinois, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. My advisor in the Division of General Studies (DGS) set me up with a taste of everything – from business, to economics, to psychology. I also started a Federal Work Study job in my freshman year as a part-time tutor in the local elementary and middle schools. I initially worked just to make some money, but then I realized that tutoring was actually a lot of fun. I really like working with kids. In DGS, my schedule was flexible and I decided to take some education classes. I really enjoyed them. I think I needed that exposure before I could officially say “oh, this is what I want to do with my future…. This is definitely something I enjoy doing.” By my sophomore year, I declared a major in Middle Grades Education with the College of Education.
When I look back on my time at Illinois, what makes it really memorable were the communities that I connected with. On a personal level, it was being able to spend time with my friends, because Illinois has a strong college campus feel. I was surrounded by ambitious people, and we were able to have fun together. Tutoring in both the Champaign and Urbana schools, I was introduced to a community with diverse education environments. The relations between the university and the schools was special because the kids at the schools know about college culture. They would ask me questions about college, and that creates unique opportunities that don’t necessarily exist other places. I was also the Tutoring Director for a club called Volunteer Illini Projects which partnered with the surrounding community. This organization was special to me because it brought my friend and my academic circles together. It was a group of people gathering to make things better in the surrounding community.
I found my current employment through my work with Volunteer Illini Projects. A Teach for America representative came to speak with us about their organizational vision of fighting educational inequity. I engaged in their recruiting cycle in my Junior year, and had a position lined up even before my Senior year started! They provided support for my paperwork to secure credentials to teach in a different state. They also provided resources regarding lesson plans, classroom logistics, diversity and inclusion in the classroom, and more. It has been a great experience so far.
Now, I am in my first year as a World Language Teacher at Newark Public Schools in New Jersey. I am the first Spanish teacher here in over 10 years. There is a lot of curriculum development to do. It has been particularly interesting to rebuild this role as a first-year teacher in the midst of a pandemic. But, Illinois taught me how to do this, Teach for America provides great resources, and the staff at my school supports me well. Of course there are challenging days, but everyone has challenging days at work. What is most rewarding is that I love working with the kids and they really like coming to Spanish class. I’m lucky there! Many of the kids have never had a chance to learn a second language and are excited about the opportunity.
For those back on campus, I encourage you to get involved and try different things. College is the time in our lives when we are able to try different things and to let go of them without big consequences. Don’t be held back by worries that you might not like something, might not be good at it, it might not be the “right” choice, or you might not know how to tell if it is the “right” choice. Just trying things is a good experience. You get good information, whether or not you connect with what you have tried.
It is okay if what you do is not perfect the first time – or it is not perfect all of the time. Understand that challenges are just a part of life, and they help us grow. I think the pandemic taught us that — things are unpredictable. We cannot plan out everything. So, I am going to just keep doing what I enjoy, what gives me purpose, and keeps me going.
(Last Updated: March 1, 2021)