Interested in teaching?

Kate Gapp, Contributing Writer

2015 alumna Monica Dickson pictured with her classroom full of students. Photo courtesy of Monica Dickson.

To have a plan or not to have a plan? This is the question with which all seniors seem to be grappling ever more frantically as graduation approaches.

Many turn to teaching, especially considering the variety of teaching opportunities available to the capable University of Dallas graduate.

Julia Steigerwald, a 2014 alumna and teacher at a Great Hearts Texas school here in Irving, was not career-oriented and didn’t have a plan. She decided to teach at Great Hearts partly because of her interest in raising a family.

“I want to have kids someday, and teaching is a great path and preparation for that daunting task of raising a family,” Steigerwald said in an email.

As public charter schools like Great Hearts and Founders Classical Academy grow both locally and nationally, some UD students have adopted the attitude that teaching is a natural initial fallback career for the undecided.

These schools, which emphasize morality, classical curriculum and a holistic approach to education, attract UD students who appreciate the nature of their own educations.

Steigerwald had taken a few education classes but was not certified to teach when she applied for the position. Once she interviewed with Great Hearts, she said that teaching was a very natural and obvious decision.

Like Steigerwald, 2015 alumnus Donovan Kelly saw teaching as a natural decision, compatible with plans for a family.

“I saw a Masters in Education as an opportunity to make the profession of education compatible with marriage and raising a family, especially because teachers are underpaid and overworked,” Kelly said in an email.

Kelly teaches at Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Irving, Texas with the Alliance of Catholic Education (ACE). ACE is a two-year teaching commitment during which participants receive a Masters of Education from the University of Notre Dame. Having taught English in Spain for two summers during college, Donovan was drawn to ACE because of its Catholic identity and holistic approach to education.

“Teaching was not a fallback career for me,” Kelly said. “It was one of many careers I was considering, but I did not decide to become a teacher because I felt that I could not do something else. Rather, I felt called to teaching as a vocation.”

Even outside the United States, teaching opportunities abound.

2015 alumna Monica Dickson teaches with the MEDDEUS program in Spain and finds herself “100 percent the happiest and healthiest” she has ever been.

This contrasts the uncertainty of her senior year at UD. Though unsure most of the year, Dickson finally realized that she wanted to teach and to travel. Dickson currently teaches at a Catholic Opus Dei school, Colegio Altaduna, on the southern coast of Spain. She lives with a host family, teaches about 20 hours a week and takes an online class at a university in Barcelona to earn her TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification.

Though a natural option for some, the job is not an easy one. Dickson was challenged not only to overcome the language barrier, but also to encourage class participation in Spanish classroom culture, which is often less efficient than that of U.S. schools.

She found that genuinely befriending the students outside the classroom is the best way to earn their respect. Speaking Spanish with them during lunch shows them that she is also a student and a learner.

“I expected teaching to be very difficult and a lot of hard work! My expectations were met,” Steigerwald said. “[I] didn’t expect that the days would fly by like they do. You know you’ve found something you love when the time flies.”

“I expected to be a much better teacher than I am,” Kelly said. “I seem to always be behind. In fact, right now, I have hours and hours of grading to look forward to. I wanted to make a difference, but I also just wanted to learn and have fun teaching.”

For Kelly, classroom management is the most difficult aspect of teaching.

“Being a good student does not make you a good teacher,” he said. “Teaching involves a lot more than being in the classroom. Teaching is not for the faint of heart.”

Kelly and Steigerwald see teaching as a vocation and realize that formal teaching is not for everyone.

“I don’t believe everyone is meant to be a teacher, but we are all meant to be parents, whether physical or spiritual,” Steigerwald said. “So, in a broad sense, we all have a vocation to teach others.”

Yet even teachers don’t know all the answers. Dickson shared advice that led to her teaching job.

“When I didn’t know what to do with my life, [Dr. Roper] gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me: ‘embrace your question marks,’” Dickson said. “So how did I end up teaching? I decided to embrace a giant question mark and give up on knowing all the answers for a while.”


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