2022 Essential Educator Awards Winner: Teacher Q&A with Tasha Fisher
This is part two of our Q&A series with the 2022 Essential Educator Award winners. We sat down with our Chicago Public Schools winner Tasha Fisher to discuss why she became a teacher and what she’s learned over the years as an educator.
What made you want to become a teacher?
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. My older brother had cerebral palsy, and due to his numerous hospitalizations and disability, he was automatically placed in special education. He was in a class where they only covered the alphabet, year after year. I knew he was smart and wanted to teach him, but eight-year-old me did not have the skills. I had considered getting my bachelor's in education, but teaching was not a well-paid profession.   Rather than wonder what had happened to his teachers, I decided to become a teacher. I obtained my master's degree with an endorsement for special education and will enter my 15th year of teaching in August.
What have you learned about yourself as it relates to teaching in the past year?
I’ve learned to give myself the grace that we’re expected to give everyone else. I teach my students that we need to identify, then overcome problems. However, this year has been incredibly challenging. The overarching problems started to feel insurmountable, so I needed to really reflect and look at the progress we had made and to see how far my students have come, instead of constantly feeling like there was so much more to be done.
What were the biggest rewards of the last year?
The biggest rewards of last year are the changes in my students. They went from not knowing what it meant to be a student to using their resources, tracking their own growth, and celebrating their accomplishments. They went from putting each other down and laughing at mistakes, to encouraging each other and giving positive feedback when others become discouraged. They have learned to identify their talents and strengths and see the positives of their learning differences.
What advice would you give to someone entering the teaching profession?
Many times, it’s not the children, but the adults that turn people away from teaching. Make sure you learn about the culture and vision of the school and district you are considering. Prepare questions and talk to current employees, not just teachers. If it doesn’t fit with what you believe, keep looking. Stay away from negative people. They are in every building. You know why you chose this profession and the impact you want to make, so be true to yourself and your students.
Additionally, have a toolkit of things to make your year easier. First, make sure you have systems in place for classroom management. Henry Wong’s The First Days of School was invaluable. Join social media groups for teachers where you can get information and advice. Next, if your school district doesn’t have it, invest in a Reading A-Z subscription. This saved me my first year as a special education teacher. There are so many valuable tools for all teachers. If you need to supplement your curriculum or need to differentiate instruction, you find it in Reading A-Z. Assessment tools for all foundational skills are there. You will have a baseline and ability to teach, as well as progress to monitor. Reading A-Z has a curriculum planned for an entire year if you need it.
Make time to not only give student surveys to learn who they are as people, but mention some personal details in quick moments with students. This will help build trust with students, which is paramount for positive relationships. Establish an inclusive, safe environment. It’s important to address breaches in rules quickly and consistently. Remember the snowball effect is true when students see inconsistency with consequences. Build relationships with parents by calling home and talking with them in the first two weeks. Also, try to send home a newsletter if not weekly, at least quarterly. Finally, have a person who can support you when you’re having a hard time .
Hardly anyone enters the profession for prestige and honor. However, when you respect your students and see them as individuals and they know you are doing your best to educate them, they will give you all of the honor and prestige. Helping a child become confident and realize their talents is its own reward.