Growing up in a small town, I wanted nothing more than to move to a city as soon as I got out of high school. When applying to colleges, I only applied to schools in cities and ended up at a liberal arts university in St. Paul, Minn. I was majoring in chemistry and had no plans to become a teacher, but during my years in college, I volunteered at an after-school tutoring and enrichment program in Minneapolis. The center was located in one of the poorer communities in Minneapolis, and it was that experience which exposed me to the challenges faced by inner-city families and the barriers that stand in the way of obtaining a quality education. By the time I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to continue working in an urban setting.
… even on the most stressful days, I go home knowing that I am making a difference in my community.
No matter where you teach, there will always be young people and families with problems at home, but those of us in urban schools often see these problems magnified to a larger degree. We tend to have large percentages of students from low-income homes, single-parent families, foster families, and families where parents did not go to college, or in some cases, graduate from high school. Many of my students do not have a parent at home who can help them with their homework for many reasons. Maybe they are working an extra job to pay the bills. Maybe they did not complete their own education, or maybe they are immigrants who are not fluent in English. These and other problems at home and in their communities can make life very unstable for some students, affecting their desire and motivation to succeed in school.
My students often ask me why I teach at my school. My main reason is because it is where I’m needed. Many of my students don’t have the same advantages that students from middle-class and upper-class families have, and I feel obligated to give my students the best education possible so that they can make opportunities for themselves as they get older. Teaching in an urban school is very rewarding, and even on the most stressful days, I go home knowing that I am making a difference in my community.
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No matter where you teach, there will be challenges. But if you are thinking about pursuing urban education as a career, you need have a strong sense of commitment and compassion for your students. Days can be stressful, so a sense of humor and an optimistic outlook are important. Urban schools can have very diverse populations, so you should have strong interpersonal skills to be able to work effectively with a wide range of cultures in the same room, keeping in mind that these students’ cultures and backgrounds may be very different from yours. Finally, because there may not be someone at home making sure students are doing their work, it’s important to have strong leadership skills to motivate your students.
If you love to meet challenges and want a career where you can really make a difference in someone’s life, then consider teaching in an urban school.
Audra Agnelly teaches chemistry at Dundalk High School just outside of Baltimore.
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