Angela Tallent, BSEd ’21
Westlake High School, Eanes ISD
Algebra II (tenth/eleventh grade)
Student Appreciation Golden Apple Award (nominated by students)
After completing my very first year as a real-life-actual-adult teacher, I can honestly say that I don’t think it could have gone any better, and I think this might have been the best year of my life so far. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows — but it was incredibly sweet and so fulfilling. I want to just preface this entire post by saying I do believe I had a very unique experience, and I know not everyone has this type of first year. I respect the struggle and the difficulty that teaching brings, and I most definitely experienced those things. While we need teachers to honestly share how hard teaching is, I think we should be equally honest about how wonderful it can be and is!
I remember how nervous I was before school started. The closer I got to the first day of school, the more I would “practice” exactly what I was going to say to my class periods, as if it were a script and I was performing a play! The first day was a blur. I remember I talked so fast and had way too much time for the kids to write their names on an index card nameplate. I can laugh at how nervous I was to be interacting with my students on that day because they turned out to be my very favorite people to spend every single day of the year with. No really, I never missed a day of school!
I would not have had the great experience I did if it weren’t for my amazing professors at Baylor and my wonderful mentor teacher during my internship experience. In a way, this year felt like my second year of teaching. I watched my mentor teacher, Josh Dietert ,BSEd ’16, and taught Algebra II alongside him for an entire year. So, when I was hired to teach Algebra II, I was so relieved that I had just finished teaching that exact class!
My internship experience and all the field experiences I had in prior years are something that I think really sets Baylor graduates apart from other first-year teachers. I had the confidence and calmness to enter the year focusing on what was really important to me — building strong relationships with my students.
I had carefully tried to plan all the ways I wanted to connect with my kids, and I think a lot of them served their purpose! I’ll share them with you but stick around to the end to hear what I think is the real game changer in building those relationships.
- I created a super teen-aesthetic and positive-vibes room to be a place I personally would enjoy spending 8+ hours a day in, and a place my students would feel welcomed and loved in. I had fun posters, motivational quotes, twinkle lights, letter boards, an epic charging station, and lots of colors. You wouldn’t even know it was a math classroom!
- I sent out Google Form Questionnaires periodically throughout the year where the responses I got from my students were more personal because it’s way easier to share something on a form than to tell me in person. On the first day of school, I kept it simple: “What’s your preferred name/pronouns you use? What extracurricular activities are you involved in? Is there anything else you want me to know about you? Do you have a question you want to ask me?”
During finals week when I knew the kids a little better, I asked, “How are you doing/feeling? Anything good happen to you this week? Questions for me?”
Giving my students the opportunity to tell me how they were feeling and to let them share things they were celebrating made a big difference and was fun to see what they would share and how I could better support them!
- Every Wednesday, I started class with what I called “Weekly Win Wednesday.” The name never really stuck :/ Some of my classes called it “Share your feelings day.” Basically, I just asked if anyone had anything good that happened to them or if they had something they were looking forward to that week. It was a fun way to let the students celebrate their peers for accomplishments big and small. Whether it was winning the third consecutive football state championship title (still not over it), or finally getting caught up on makeup work from being absent, my kids really cared for one another, and it melted my heart.
- At some point during my first year of teaching, the New York Times daily word game, Wordle, became THE craze. Alllll the kids were playing it and talking about it and… playing it on whiteboards like how we would play hangman…? So that’s where I got the idea to create my own wordle game each day. I would choose a new word every morning that usually related to me and my life in some way (think: hobbies, college involvement, favorite foods, etc.). My classes had to guess a word and I would then mark the letters in the word correct, incorrect, or in the wrong spot. It was a competition between my five class periods on “who knew Ms. Tallent the best?” I kept tallies of how many guesses each class used each day, and the winning class period wore their title proudly. That silly idea turned into a daily routine! My kids were personally offended if I didn’t do a wordle on test days. It was easily one of my favorite memories with my kids, and I would highly recommend finding a similar silly way to start class each day. It helped my kids get to know me more personally, and many even commented that it was their favorite thing about my class. “You’re my only teacher that implements fun things like Wordle, so for that thank you!!” – Student
- I attended a lot of events to support my kids. While I’m young and not married and I don’t have kids, I think this is such an obvious and practical way to show your students that you are there for them. I genuinely enjoyed going to the football, basketball, baseball, soccer games, dance performances, choir concerts, and more. It was so fun to see my kids doing the things they were passionate about, and I could tell it meant a lot to my kids when they saw me there. I tried to stay until the very end to give them a hug or high five or even snap a quick picture with them. I am so proud of all my amazingly talented students, and I will always be their biggest fan.
So…. how did I build great relationships with my kids, while still teaching everything, and maintaining their respect? Well, I’m definitely not an expert, and it didn’t always go the way I wanted it to. But I can say with confidence that love is a choice, and I chose to love ALL my students every day no matter the circumstances, and I have absolutely no regrets. You can hang up the aesthetic fun posters, share good things on Wednesdays, play Wordle, and watch your students play football. While I will be doing all those things again, at the end of the day it comes down to the kind of person I want to be and to model for my students and everyone around me. “But the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23.
Because I am filled with the Holy Spirit, I strive to have the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to serve my students and love them the way we have all been commanded to love others. What is even better than sharing those characteristics with my students, is seeing them reflected back to me. I could cry thinking about my students and how I watched them grow throughout the year. I saw them love, help each other, be patient with those around them, forgive, have fun, and (most importantly) learn math. I’m excited for the many years of teaching ahead and all the students I will get to build strong relationships with. Above all, love each other deeply.