Maggie Thornton, English Teacher, Charlottesville High School
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Teaching is such an important and rewarding job. It will take up as much time as a teacher will allow. Setting boundaries and taking care of yourself can be hard when you know you could keep working for your students. I’ve come to understand that exercising, spending time with my family, and generally taking care of myself is another way to perform better for my students, but it’s been a hard lesson to learn! In this job, I have had all of my assumptions challenged. I came to teaching as an idealist in my early twenties. I thought that if I could help teens learn to read and write critically, I would be helping our democracy. Instead, I have been surprised by how much my students have taught me. Every day they challenge my assumptions, share their stories, and help each other out. I am in awe of students who struggle but keep coming back to school to see what we have for them. It’s such an amazing thing that in our country, anyone under the age of twenty-one who shows up at a school house door will be educated.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
I think that a lot of people think that teachers have so much time off. As public employees, we are contracted for 37.5 hours a week. However, almost every teacher I know puts in a great deal more than this minimum. While teachers aren’t in front of students in the summers, we are planning next year’s lessons, attending professional development, and often not being compensated for those two months.
Where do you see the teaching field in five years?
I think that our collective obsession with poor measurement tools, including standardized tests, is waning. I’m excited about the work being done by the SOL Innovation Committee to improve assessments that encourage project-based learning and provide on-going assessment throughout the year instead of what we do now: measuring students on one day when it’s too late in the year to adjust instruction and spending too much time on test prep rather than teaching critical thinking skills. Comprehensive, research-based tests crafted with teacher input will be key in helping all students prepare for the complex civic and economic challenges of the future.
What outside experience best prepared you to become an educator?
As a high school student and throughout college, I worked at a summer camp in my hometown in Southwestern Virginia. In this environment, I came to love spending time with kids who are figuring out themselves and their places in the world. Children and teens are willing to challenge themselves and make themselves vulnerable in a way many adults have forgotten how to do, and it really is a gift to be able to be a meaningful part of someone’s growing up. This time also taught me a lot of great games and strategies to help me infuse our classroom with joy in learning. School does not have to be boring!