By Meghann Estrada, Middle School ELA Teacher
An installment in the Boston Prep storytelling series "The Power of a Moment"
When educators bring up being a first year teacher at a new school, there’s often a groan or a gasp, a bit of shared panic, and a sense of intense exhaustion. Regardless of how many years one has taught, beginning at a school comes with a unique set of challenges. In addition to the challenges inherent in any new school year, new teachers must also learn and navigate new systems, develop relationships with colleagues, students, and families, and learn new sets of curriculum. It is no small task.
I know these challenges intimately. While this past school year was my second year leading a classroom, it was my first year teaching within the Boston Prep community. As the year came to a close, it’s true, I found myself filled with exhaustion. But that exhaustion was accompanied by so much more - pride, joy, and hope for the future, both my future as a teacher and our community’s collective future with these tremendous young people leading us. As I look back on this year, which was filled with ups and downs, moments of despair and moments of elation - all moments that have shaped me as I continue on my journey as an educator - I see a year filled with what I’d like to refer to as the good, the bad, and the beautiful of year one.
Boston Prep is truly a powerful community; faculty, students, and families work together as one team in pursuit of a common mission. Looking back, it is the strong relationships I formed within this special community that stand out at the forefront of my mind. In the face of challenge, the people who surrounded me consistently brought me joy and strength. As a new staff member, I was immediately welcomed into a supportive community of colleagues during summer new staff orientation. Despite our busy schedules, we remained a powerful support system for one another throughout the year, and it was always refreshing to check in with people within my new staff cohort.
Most importantly, though, getting to know and develop genuine relationships with my students was the driving force that brought me to this work each day. My students are more than just my students. As a resident of Dorchester, many of my students are my neighbors. On a daily basis, I witnessed their compassion, resilience, determination, and immense potential both at school and in our broader community, and I was reminded that my students, like all students, deserve the best. As a Black woman, I know how valuable it is for my students to see teachers and school leaders who look like them and who challenge them with love to exceed their potential. Each day, I aimed to do just that, whether it was inside the classroom, as we together dissected a dense passage of literature, or outside the classroom, as I cheered them on at their sporting events or as they traversed a high ropes challenge course on our eighth grade retreat. When I think of “the good,” much of it is tied to the ways in which my students inspired me each day to choose strength and excellence when I could have chosen to lie down in the face of tremendous challenge.
I wouldn’t be honest if I only shared “the good.” The truth is teaching is hard, especially when it is your first year in a new setting. There were moments when I doubted myself. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed. There were moments when the challenges appeared bigger than the joys. There were countless moments in which I found myself in the depths of struggle. But every day, I returned, I persevered, and our community lifted me back up. The good moments reminded me about why I dedicate myself to this work, and for that reason, while I acknowledge “the bad,” I choose not to dwell on it.
Instead of “the ugly,” as one might expect, I’m choosing “the beautiful” because so much of educating young people is beautiful. In my first year at Boston Prep, among the good and the bad, were infinite beautiful moments.
At the beginning of the year, I taught my students about a South African philosophy called Ubuntu. Ubuntu means “I am because we are,” which reinforces one of Boston Prep’s core virtues, compassion, with the notion that our humanity is connected to one another. In my classroom, I emphasized that throughout the year, while we would all be pushed to step outside of our comfort zones and that mistakes might be made, we would always remain a safe, supportive community that encouraged one another.
Some of the most beautiful moments of the school year were those in which I witnessed Ubuntu coming to life in my classroom. Like me, one of my students, Eimy, was new to Boston Prep. Having recently immigrated to the United States, Eimy began this school year with very little English fluency. As a result, she was very hesitant to present to the class, read aloud, or even ask questions. But each time she demonstrated the courage to speak, her classmates would encourage her, enthusiastically snapping (our school’s traditional sign of encouragement). For our final unit of the year, we read Othello, acting out much of the play in class. When asking for volunteers to take on the part of Othello, to my surprise, Eimy raised her hand. After she courageously persevered through twenty lines of Shakespearean monologue, the entire class broke into uproarious snapping and clapping, and Eimy smiled triumphantly from ear to ear. That moment - her perseverance and growth, the compassionate and safe community my students and I had together created - is, in my opinion, the definition of beauty.
At the end of the year at Boston Prep, we celebrate our eighth grade students’ transition from middle school to high school with what we call a rose ceremony. Students identify their proudest moment in middle school, represented by the bloom, their most challenging moment of middle school, represented by the thorns, and their hope for high school, represented by the bud. As I sat in the front row of my first rose ceremony this June, I found myself beaming with joy, watching my students accept their roses and certificates, and I, too, felt that while my first year at this new school had had a few thorns, the lessons learned from those thorns allowed me to cherish the beauty of the entire rose with undying hope for what next year will bring.
Ms. Estrada currently teaches eighth grade English Language Arts at Boston Prep. Prior to joining Boston Prep, Ms. Estrada served as a City Year corps member in two Chicago public high schools, held a variety of positions in the non-profit sector, taught English with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, and subsequently returned to the United States to teach in Boston charter public schools.