Teaching is, hands down, the hardest job I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot). Yet the rewards of working with children every day, seeing them grow and grasp new ideas, far outweigh the stress.
Less than a year after quitting my advertising career and completing a whirlwind teacher certification program, I stood before twenty-two eager third graders in my very own public school classroom in Austin, Texas. It had been a rocky road to get there, with a plethora of coursework, planning, preparation and anxiety along the way. I always enjoy a challenge, so I had decided to become a bilingual teacher despite my rusty Spanish. Determined to gain fluency through self-discipline, I studied hard and managed to pass the required oral Spanish proficiency test. Nevertheless, I was not fluent by my first day of teaching. One student asked me, “Ms. Fajkus, why are you a bilingual teacher if you can’t speak Spanish?” I nearly wept. “Well, I am here to learn, just like you are,” I said. Thanks to kind students, respectful parents and supportive colleagues, I survived that intense first year. It was the most difficult period of my professional life thus far.
Now, with over four years of teaching under my belt, I am confident that this is my ideal career. I am comfortable with Spanish now, although I still strive to enhance my vocabulary and fluency. I am grateful for my second language acquisition experience, as it gives me valuable insight into the struggles, frustrations and rewards students encounter as they learn English.
My personal philosophy of education is continually developing. As a teacher, I model character traits like cooperation, open-mindedness and responsibility. Helping students develop positive ways of interaction is just as important as engaging them in the curriculum. I believe all students can learn and flourish in an environment of honesty, respect and equality. Students need to be guided in acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses. They deserve daily opportunities to practice setting and meeting academic and personal goals.
My spiritual practice has informed my teaching. For instance, being in the present moment with students by listening and speaking to them mindfully enhances a safe and effective classroom environment. Creating a warm and nonthreatening space enables them to take risks and learn without fear. I recognize their genuine struggle in not always understanding concepts or mastering skills quickly. This infuses my interactions with compassion. Designing interactive lessons that emphasize the richness of human (and plant and animal) diversity helps students think, speak and act with compassion for themselves, their classmates and the global community.