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Date: 2015-03-02

A New Identity

New teacher Kinyette Henderson shares her inspiring journey from student teacher to teaching students.

College is often the best years of one's life, but it's not meant to be permanent. After four or five years of study, an education major will graduate and be expected to trade in his or her sweatpants and sneakers for business slacks and dress shoes.

The language of text messaging and slang will traded for education jargon and learning objectives. In and interview with Kinyette Henderson, a first year teacher in New Orleans, LA, she shares her experience transitioning from college student to professional teacher.

You probably expected this statement, so here it is… “Tell us about yourself."
  My name is Kinyette Henderson and I am from Newark, NJ. This is my first year teaching 6th grade social studies at KIPP Believe College Prep in New Orleans.
  What led you to the teaching profession?
  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since middle school. When I was in middle school back in New Jersey, I also went to a KIPP school. I was in the founding class of TEAM Academy. I saw everyday the influence teachers had and it inspired me in an unimaginable way. I had teachers that believed so much in my potential and the possibilities of what I could do with my education. KIPP really helped equip me with the tools I needed to go off to boarding school and then college. I knew I wanted to make the same impact and motivate kids who were just like me in middle school.
  Not long ago, you were in the position most of our readers are in right now – looking for that perfect teaching job. How did you prepare for the job search process?
  I applied to Teach for America very early! My strategy was to look at all the deadlines for programs and jobs and then apply to all the earlier rounds. I wanted to use the fact that the beginning of senior year in college was slower to my advantage. In the second semester, there are so many responsibilities for graduation so I didn't want to be even more stressed out with trying to find a job.
  Did you experience job search anxiety or face obstacles? If so, how did you overcome those challenges? If not, what challenges did you expect to encounter and how did you plan to overcome them?

I was very nervous when I applied to Teach for America. For so long I have been living in the safe environment of college, but applying for a job is the first taste of the real world. One obstacle I faced was my resume. I didn't realize that your resume should look a lot different when applying to a job outside of college. I had to seek out a lot of help from the career center and outside resources to make sure my resume was in the best shape and a true reflection of my professional capabilities.

  You apparently aced your interview with KIPP, but what were some of the toughest interview questions you had to answer?

The key to success in an interview is confidence. I focused on a few character traits or experiences that I am really proud of and tried to loop those into every question. That being said, there was one question I was not expecting to be asked. I was asked what I wanted to do after teaching. As college students our focus is very short term. Not many college seniors are thinking of the five years ahead, but more like the 5 months ahead through the job search period. It's important to take a minute and ask yourself that question: Where do I see myself in 5 or 10 years?

  Of all the job offers made to you, what factors led you to deciding to begin your teaching career with KIPP?

KIPP was my first choice when deciding to become a teacher because of the staff. There is a mindset that lives and breathes in KIPP schools that you can't find everywhere. There are teachers who all want the students to be successful and won't stop until that happens. Teachers that believe in making every lesson culturally relevant so that students aren't just leaving with content mastery, but also an understanding of how it connects to their history. When you can walk into a school and feel that energy, it's hard to not want to be a part of that.

  What’s your education philosophy?

My education philosophy is that there is no single story. As a history teacher, I teach my children about different events from different perspective. I feel as though in order to be truly educated you have to have the ability to see things from all different angles. College is designed to show you the world from all different disciplines. Students can take philosophy, science, and sociology in one day and have the ability to analyze from three different viewpoints.

  What are some of your career goals?

I want to work in education for the long run, whether or not that's in the classroom is undecided. I think that creating a solid foundation in education for children is the key to larger issues around the world.

  What have been some of the most valuable resources, advice, or tips you rely on as a new teacher?

As a new teacher, I have relied on everyone! I try to observe other teachers at least twice a week. I try to watch their actions and relationships with students to expand my own teaching. Also, I value highly my coaches and other history teachers who have been doing this longer than me. I try to soak up as much as I can daily.

  What advice would you offer teacher candidates who are going through the job search process right now?

My advice would be to learn as much as you can about the message of a school and the staff that works there. Schools operate on relationships between adults and children. Make sure it is a place you will feel comfortable to be yourself and to have a healthy professional experience.

  Describe your professional identify. What is it that you want to be known for?

I want to be known as a teacher who makes students feel safe and who makes them motivated to maybe reach for something they didn't know was there for them. When I teach my kids, I can see the faces of classmates from my KIPP middle school, which makes me work even harder.

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