Written by: Richard Lee-Thai, Shivek Kanwar and Abeer Ahmad – Grade 11
Humans of Pearson is a series of interviews with students and staff with the goal of showcasing the diverse individuals that make up our school. We all have a story to share about our struggles and successes. We are all humans, so let’s treat each other with dignity and respect.
Ms. Adams has been a teacher at Pearson for 6 years. Besides teaching IB Social Studies 10/30 and ELL Level 2 Social, she is also the IB Coordinator in the school. We got a chance to talk to her about why she became a teacher as well as useful advice ranging from academics to the facilities within the school.
What inspired you to start a career in teaching?
I have wanted to be a teacher as long as I remember. I really liked school when I was in school. I found some teachers who I admired and respected and I wanted to model myself after them. So it fit nice for me, you know? I liked going to school and these people were really neat and I thought: Geez, I wonder if I can have that impact on folks too.
When you started as a new teacher, did you find any challenges to it that you weren’t aware of?
I found it challenging to buffer discipline with fun. Because when you’re new to anything, it’s kind of hard to know where those boundaries are. So I found it difficult to have a good mix of both. I was really severe.
Despite the difficulties, what do you like about teaching?
I like high school as an age group to teach because I think you guys are so neat. You’re coming into your own as young adults. You’re trying to navigate through what your family and cultural background is, and what you want to be as an independent person. So it’s a really interesting transition.
Do you have any advice for students who are struggling academically?
I think it’s important to really be reflective about what it is you’re doing with your academics and to see if you’re using your time effectively. And then find someone who can help you refine your skill. So if it’s time management, maybe try different strategies. If it’s struggling with test taking, then maybe work on some test taking strategies, like deep breathing. Use the resources that the school has. Maybe there’s some conflict with what they want and what their family wants is different, then I think Student Services, the Alex Health Bus, those kind of psycho-emotional type support that the school has is fantastic. They’re there to help students navigate these transitions more successfully.
Do you think students actually use those facilities those are available to them to the full extent?
I honestly think there’s a negative stigma attached to Student Services and admin and the Alex Health Bus and some of those other supports, which is unfortunate. I think it’s only after you either had a contact with a counselor or administrator or the Alex Health Bus facility before you go: Wow, this is great! Or you have a friend who has had a good experience there and you go: If it’s helpful to them, then how can it be helpful for me?
You almost need to have that initial exposure, which is unfortunate, because it’s kind of terrifying, right? I think there are some that know about the facilities, but there are others who don’t. I think a lot of times, they suffer in silence and it seems so cliché, but they try to just shoulder it on their own. The fact of having specialized adults in the building is so you don’t have to.
Often counselors and teachers, they change the way students see the world. Has there ever been a student who has changed how you see the world?
Everyday. I just finished my Masters in counseling and it was when I really started to observe the students who would come into student services. Students who I would observe either on their own or in groups, while I was trying to sneak in between my teaching classes. I started to realize how fantastic you guys are. Students really have this unbelievable ability to be flexible and adapt. You can compartmentalize very well. We’d have students who would be in classes and their teacher would think that’s everything is great, but when they come down for a counseling appointment and it wouldn’t be great. Kids are just amazing.
You said ever since you were little, you knew you wanted to be a teacher. But what about the people who don’t know yet, what advice do you want to give them?
I think there’s a lot of power in that existential angst. Terrifying as it is, I think there’s definitely a lot of promise that comes with that unknown future. Again, I would ask a student to evaluate, be reflective of what it is they want their next year to look like. If they want to be at university, super. If they don’t know what faculty they want to commit to, super. Take some university classes: try on different sciences versus arts. Get a feel for what it’s like to be a more autonomous learner and have the ability to choose what programs you want to be in. If you want to a year off of work, to save some money and travel, there’s a whole world that comes with that.
Teachers have dreams and aspirations like everyone else, what do you want to achieve for your future? You just finished your Masters, but what’s next?
I would really like to continue teaching for sure, but I’d like to take on a little bit more of a mentorship role. Last year, we had a student teacher, that’s one step toward becoming a good mentor – to give back to the profession and how to challenge folks on what they want to do with their life. Why do they want to do it? How can I be helpful and help them do it better?
Was it a conscious decision for you to help out in the school and give back like in Leadership club?
The teaching profession has some expectations that you get involved in the school community. Even our Pearson mandate is to celebrate achievement, and belonging, and so on. So we really want to create that sense of community so we can have those celebrations and feel really good about them.
Leadership was a logical fit for me, because again, I like that transition when you guys start becoming independent, young people. As leaders, it’s a nice parallel: where you go from maybe struggling a bit, to having those leadership skills to organize activities, then all of a sudden, being surgical in how you organize those. It’s a great evolution, so it’s a fun to be a part of.
Some students give examples of successful entrepreneurs that didn’t take high level education and they use that to justify they don’t need high level education, they can just leave school. What’s your opinion on that?
It’s important to flesh out what it is that they want in life. Do some research about how to get there. Have that contingency discussion about what happens if two years from now, or two seconds from now, you change your mind.
I had a student withdraw from school a number of years ago and decided to do online learning. They wanted to fast track their schooling so that they can jump right into university and jump right into a career. So they can get more work time in younger than when they’re older. This kid already had it all figured it out: I’m going to take these programs and take these classes. There was a plan so they could still get their high school diploma and still get to university. It was just going to be on a different timeline.
We talked about all these things, and don’t you want to have a life? In trying to do three years of schooling in three semesters, you’re going to do nothing but study. And the kid was like: Short time sacrifice, long term gain.
There’s many students that believe higher academic programs like IB or AP are not worth it, so what would you say to that?
I would ask them if they know anything about them. It’s all great to have an opinion. It’s not so much the opinion that matters, but it’s how they substantiate their opinion. Is it this an informed judgment or is this one of those pull-out-of-thin-air kind of judgments? I would ask them how they would suggest programs to be organized to encourage international mindedness, global awareness, participation, encouraging risk taking in a safe environment.
The IB is all about take a class like maybe Français, that you’re not super good at, but you want to learn the language. You’re going to have such rich personal growth by taking that chance. And when you go into your math class or your science class or your social studies class and you’re a rock star. You take safety in the one, but risk taking in the other. It really grows a confident, risk-taking and more aware person. As opposed to I’m only going to do the things I’m good at. That’s easy, but it’s hard to take a risk. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there.
What do you think the purpose of school? Now that you’re a teacher and you’re the one giving the education?
Other than the law? Technically, the government says you have to be here until you’re 16, so… Other than that, I definitely think a high school environment is allowing students the opportunity to grow and to try things on in a less high-stakes environment. If you want to try chemistry because you think you might want to do chemistry, and you find out chemistry is a train wreck. At least you haven’t spent all the time, all the money, all the energy at university in chemistry only to find out that you hate it.
Same thing with interacting with adults, you guys get to learn great skills about leadership and communication. You can take some of those lessons you learned from your family and see how they work in the real world. If you want to rebel against some of those rules that your family has instilled on you, well you try them on in high school and see how it feels to be an independent person. It’s really about growth and learning and personal enrichment.
You’re never going to remember that we talked about acculturation on Tuesday on September whatever. You don’t ever remember the content, but you remember the skill. Those skills of analysis, those skills of having an insightful conversation or debate. You know? Those are the things that are long lasting and I think school does a really good job of that.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I certainly think this a great idea for you guys to be interviewing teachers, students and admin. It’s a good opportunity to have conversation. You guys can share questions that you have and folks can share philosophy about what they view for school. It’s a nice community builder. You want people to feel part of a larger unit. You want them to feel pride. So when they have a volleyball game, people go and cheer and be respectful to the opponents, but that they really want to celebrate the achievement of their peers.