My Personal Story in Education:
by Vishaal Kuruvanka
January 11th, 2022
As I left my house to drive to school for the first day of students, it was frigid cold and still dark outside. I was fully shivering both with excitement and fear. What would my students think of me? Would they like me? Could I manage 25 students in each class? Am I prepared for this? How will my students fare? As a million different questions swirled around my head, I arrived at the school and began my trek to my room. It was at the front of the back most trailer (yes the high school was just trailers) and I had spent the week before setting up my classroom. My room was empty but I planned to fill it in with inspirational posters that I had in my room at home and student work as the year went on. Before they came, I reminded myself of why I had come into this profession: to make a positive impact on the community with all of the skills afforded to me. I knew from my previous experiences in the classroom that this work was going to be strenuous but I could not have been more excited to take it on.
The bell eventually rang and they filed in. I introduced myself to each of them at the door and shook their hand. I had prepared an introduction powerpoint and was ready to meet and learn about my new students. While I was scared, I knew that my best bet lay in connecting with the students and for them to know that I was their friend in the long journey ahead. I started the presentation and zoomed through the slides, trying to give them a good picture of who I was, where I had lived and of what use I could be to them. In addition to this, I wanted to get them to understand that math was a useful tool and while they may not be able to see the immediate uses of logs or integrals in their life, it was definitely there in subtle ways directly impacting the way they live. The first day raced by and by the time it was over, I was drained. It was 4:15 and I had been continuously on for over 10 hours. We hadn’t really started material yet but it was exciting to interact with my students and learn about where they had come from. As the days began to roll by I started to realize that my students had holes in their mathematical understanding but were hard working, curious, kind and optimistic about the future. I also learned of the unending energy and perseverance needed for teachers and immediately reviewed my perspective on my previous teachers. I tried to map out the mathematical journey that I wanted to take my class on, but I really had no understanding of the life journey that lay ahead both for my students and myself. As I changed their understanding of mathematics, they too have changed me and how I view the world. They gave me the hope that while things may seem hard at first, if we persist hard enough anything is possible.
This was not my first time entering the classroom. I had felt the same feeling 3 years before, when I entered McGregor Elementary in the heart of the Third Ward. I had no idea what would happen in the classroom especially since these were elementary school kids. We were placed as the teacher’s assistants, helping her fill gaps in the students’ understanding. My team walked around the room, waiting for a student to ask for help. Although their faces did not show any particular emotion, it was hard to discern what they thought about my presence. They did not budge at first but after one student shyly raised their hand, the rest followed. It was only a matter of time before every student was raising their hand, asking us to check their work. As I recall this incident, it is quite funny how this one experience changed my path forward and led me to the school where I worked now. When I left the classroom that day, I left with a sense of calm. It was more clear then calm because I felt like I had positively produced an impact on some people in my community. I had felt like I had helped someone, only as a 19 year old in my own way. As I continued this exercise throughout my time in university, I began to formulate a theory that if we could transform schools in our community (by increasing learning outcomes), then the whole community would be uplifted. As the inhabitants enjoyed a thorough, high quality education then they would enjoy a higher quality of life and positively and productively give back to society in their own way. Although there was no way of really testing this logical progression of thoughts, I knew that if my theory was right, it would play out in a couple of years.
As the first month as a full fledged teacher came to a close, I was exhausted. Trying to connect with students, managing behavior and teaching material was becoming crazy. While this was extremely rewarding, I was getting drained emotionally and physically. As the year progressed, I became worn out and was sure that I was completely failing at the job.
My class was behind in curriculum, I had multiple behavioral problems in my classes and I had no idea how my students would perform on end of year exams. While teaching new topics, it was clear that they had holes in skills (taught in previous years) that were needed to do the new topic. I felt like I was working as hard as I could but still was continuously falling short. My coach was helpful in aiding my efforts in the classroom but I still felt like I had no footing. I always had a strong footing in mathematics and was well versed in the math that I was teaching in class. But teaching forced me to rethink the ways that I thought about certain problems. I had to learn how to communicate the process for the mathematics that I knew. And then I had to design it so that it was easy for my students to understand from their background and perspective. I had to really think deeply about what is a derivative? How does the instantaneous rate of change play a role in our everyday lives?
Through the course of that first year, it dawned on me that teaching is an art, and is only sharped through time. I also began to question why some of my high performing peers in high school and college didn’t even think about teaching as a job, even though they would have definitely enjoyed it. Why were teachers in the US not given the same level of respect (and pay) given in other countries? What is our ten year plan for education? How do we test what students are learning in the classroom? Are graduation rates an effective measure of competency? Why is there such a disconnect between the national government and state and local government?
As I pondered these questions and learned much about teaching and the general education system in our city, state and country, it was clear that our system was greatly broken. There are and still are quick fixes that can be made to alleviate some of the problems that I saw in my classroom but to really uplift millions of children across the country, we need to push our elected leaders to set a national policy and plan for education. Engineering our country’s education system should be at the top of our elected leaders’ agendas, yet almost none of them are producing legislation or even ideas to look to. There are far-reaching economic and geopolitical consequences that are ahead for our country if this problem is not quickly dealt with. There is not much media coverage on this subject as it has gradually happened over decades. Given the importance of this enormous problem, I believe we need to recruit our best and brightest to come into classrooms to understand the scope of the problem we face.There are many benefits to thinking on how we could improve our education system, which are the following but not limited to larger economic growth, a better functioning democracy and an overall higher standard of living. We need to understand that much of the underlying problems within our society lie at the root of this outdated system and that if we can engineer this machine, the prosperity of our country will be unmatched.
Engineering a new system requires knowledge about teachers, other successful education systems across the globe and an understanding of our country’s history to back up any new system we come up with. These writings are akin to a call to arms, as we are in a state of war with the age-old enemies of any long reigning superpower of ineptitude, complacency and laziness. As the global atmosphere begins to shift in the information age, we must adopt measures to guarantee our evolution as a country.