Tell me about yourself. Why are you the “angry battle-worn” teacher?
My name is Luis Miguel Lopez and I am the “angry battle-worn public school teacher”. I’m making the correlation to war because it feels like everyday, I’m fighting to help my students succeed and somehow, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting through to them.
I am an 8th grade ELA teacher in the Bronx. Much like the students I teach, I am a product of the New York City Public School system. I attended both Elementary and Middle school in Brooklyn. I went on to attend Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, the school that helped lay the ground work that would lead me to becoming the teacher I am today.
I then attended CUNY New York City College of Technology where I earned an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts & Arts. Following that, I transferred to CUNY Brooklyn College where I earned my Bachelors Degree in English education.
While accomplishing all this, I grew up in the Southside section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. During the time of my upbringing, my neighborhood was not a safe place to go outside and play. Gang and drug activity riddled my neighborhood and I typically wasn’t outside past 5pm. While all this was going on, my sisters and I knew we didn’t want to become a product of out environment like many people we knew in our neighborhood. We knew we had no choice but to excel in school. Had we failed or did poorly on a report card, my old school Puerto Rican mother would have our “heads on a plate”.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
My decision to become a teacher stems way back to the 7th grade. My ELA teacher’s style of teaching and the way he made me want to learn instilled, in me, the desire to teach. Then, as I went along my career, I realized I can connect to students fairly easy. It only made sense that I followed the education path.
Tell me about your educator journey. Were you always a teacher?
My journey is a little tricky. I was in the classroom during my student teaching but walked into a hiring freeze when I graduated from CUNY Brooklyn College. I was ready to make a difference and help shape the young minds of the students I come across. But I was promptly stopped and I had to find another way to educate.
I then found a job at an after-school program run by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, named the smartARTS Academy.For four years, I remained with the smartARTS Academy, working my way from Program Staff to Parent Coordinator, and eventually to Site Coordinator. It was in those four years, I fell in love with the idea of impacting students’ lives in a way formal school teacher could not. I became a loving, nurturing, extremely involved, educator who could address every aspect of my students’ lives within smartARTS.
At the beginning of 2013 our program’s grant renewal was denied and we weren’t going to be running beyond the 2012-13 school year. I immediately knew I would have to reenter the search for a teaching position in the Department of Education. I began applying to as many teaching positions as possible. I interviewed all over the New York City. Some places didn’t want to hire me because of the time I spent away from formal teaching. Other places just never got back to me with a follow up of the interview. All summer long, I felt discouraged and I was honestly ready to walk away and reestablish a new career. Then, my current Principal contacted me asking for an interview. I consented and I guess “the rest was history.”
Where do you currently work? What was your vision before entering the classroom?
I have to admit, I never envisioned myself teaching in middle school. However, once I gave it a try during my student teaching, I realized I could make a stronger impact on my students. I became the 8th Grade ELA teacher of a title 1 public middle school in the Bronx. Before my first day, I was nervous and unsure of what I was walking into. However, being a man that was confident in who I was, I was ready to impact my students’ lives. However, when I met my students, I was met with foul language, misbehavior, and sheer defiance of everything I was intending to do. The behavior only got worse, seeing as students will ALWAYS test to see how far they can push before a teacher brings down the hammer. Within two weeks, I ended up getting hurt breaking up a fight. I began to suffer anxiety because I couldn’t believe the amount of disrespect and lack of interest in their own academic lives my students displayed.
What are some of your current frustrations with our current education system?
I am frustrated in knowing many of my 8th grade students are not prepared to take on 8th grade tasks. I sometimes don’t have the time to go back and rebuild some of the skills the students either forgot or never learned. It just becomes such a juggling act that no one really is prepared for until they are faced with it as an actual teacher.
Not to mention, as a teacher, we are extremely under-appreciated and our job never ends because there is always something to be done.
Did you feel you were prepared to teach? Do you feel you need more support in anything (instructional planning, student investment, behavior management, etc.)?
I did not feel prepared to teach because of the time I spent away, however, I was willing to challenge myself. The system has provided the standards my students need to meet. My coworkers have provided me with the support I need/needed to help these students. I admit, I wanted to walk away because this was not why I wanted to teach. My classroom management was always strong because of my firm demeanor. For the most part, I receive a lot of support from my administration. I have a literacy coach I can speak to when I need help implementing content. Overall, I feel like I can ask whoever in my school for help and I won’t be turned away. One thing I was told I brought to the school was a firm sense of discipline and follow through. When I say something, I follow through and I don’t go back on my word.
Has behavior changed in your class? How are students responding to your leadership now?
As the year has gone along, most of my student recognized my leadership and do show me respect. They have come to understand that I always want respect across the board and I am always willing to discuss anything during the appropriate moment. Students recognize I care and they are receptive to it. For the most part, a simple glare can help some of my student refocus.
What’s one piece of advice you want to give to other first-year teachers?
At the end of each day, remember you are one person and you can’t do everything.
Thank you for sharing your story, Luis! Continue fighting hard!
-angry public school teacher