Spotlight: 10 Questions for Jennifer Fuller (TX '17)March 13, 2018
In addition to teaching English, Jennifer Fuller (TX ’17) delivers important lessons about self-worth, empathy, hard work, and the importance of creativity: “I hope my students remember how to keep reaching for their dreams when life gets tough.” She won her Milken Educator Award at Arlington Collegiate High School on October 18, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Jennifer Fuller: I was completely shocked! I had never heard of the Milken Award before my surprise ceremony, and the idea that all of these people were part of this incredible event to honor my work was so overwhelming. I work hard every day to make life better for my kids and to empower them to create any life that they want for themselves, but I certainly didn't feel deserving of this award. I am still humbled and so honored to be part of this incredible group of educators.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Jennifer: My students were ready to celebrate! I have taught our seniors since they were freshmen, so we have a powerful bond. Because our juniors and seniors take classes on the college campus, many of them were not able to be at the ceremony. However, as soon as I finished with the press that morning, they showed up with balloons, cake, flowers, and lots of hugs. We always celebrate their accomplishments, big or small, during class, and so it was so fun to get to celebrate this day together too.
My students wanted to know all of the details, and we watched the video over and over again together. After the ceremony, one of our seniors was still really excited and said, "I feel like we all won an award today!" I totally agree with his sentiment because I would not be the teacher I am today without these students pushing me. They inspire me to get better every day and to provide the best education possible for them. The Milken Award has truly brought a great degree of school pride to our students this year, and I am so thankful to be part of that feeling.
3. How did you end up in education?
Jennifer: I always said that I would never be a teacher. My mother is an elementary school teacher. Grading papers and having lessons to plan after work seemed like a terrible idea to me. I wanted to do something much more glamorous.
However, as an English major, I found that the job prospects after college were slim. I had always loved working with kids, so finally I decided that I would give teaching a try. At the time, my education professors shared the statistic that most teachers leave the profession within the first five years, so I was determined to teach for at least five years before moving on to something else. I told myself that at that point, I could leave teaching for something else, but I didn't want to give up just because it was hard.
And, boy, was it hard. I taught seventh-grade English and struggled every day during my first year of teaching. Thanks to a few incredible mentors and friends that I made, my second year was better, and by the end of that year, I was in love. I knew I wouldn't be leaving any time soon, and I'm still here 15 years later.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Jennifer: My mother is my biggest role model as an educator. She has been an elementary school teacher for over 40 years, and she truly gives her heart to every person she meets. She is always willing to stop what she is doing to help another teacher or student, and her encouragement and love of her students is palpable. Don't get me wrong, she also runs a tight ship! Her students know her expectations and they rise to meet the challenges she presents them. Although I never thought I would be following in her footsteps, I am so grateful for the example of truly great teaching my mother has provided for me my entire life.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Jennifer: My first year of teaching was one of the most difficult years of my life. But I remember so many of my students. Even through my struggles to maintain control of my classroom while hoping my students learned something along the way, we had great moments. I was lucky to have mentors who gave me ideas on how to control the class and help students learn something about English. I definitely wish that I could get a redo on that year, but I know that since I made it through that year, I can make it through whatever the classroom throws at me now.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Jennifer: I hope they remember that they were loved and valued. I hope they remember how much we laughed and how much fun learning new things together can be. I hope they remember how important they are to this world, and what an incredible capacity they have to change our world. I hope they remember how important it is to be creative and that they can develop that creativity through hard work and practice. I hope they remember how important it is to have empathy for others and how to truly listen and try to understand perspectives of those around them. I know that they will remember how to write a great paper, but I hope they remember how to stay positive and keep reaching for their dreams when life gets tough.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Jennifer: Time. Teaching is much more than just the skills I develop in my content area. Reading and writing and all of the skills that are a part of that are incredibly challenging on their own. However, my goal is to help my students become global citizens and exceptional communicators in any career they choose. Two semesters a year just isn't enough to get that all in.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Jennifer: I still haven't decided. I am saving it for now, but I see a trip (or two) in my future. I want to go see new parts of the world and have new experiences.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Jennifer: Teaching is the best job in the world. You will cry, you will laugh, you will fail, and you will win. But, in the end, the connection you have with students will make you come back day after day. It is so humbling to recognize the impact you have on the world as a teacher. Teachers can change the trajectory of entire families, and teachers can make one moment the happy one for a student having a bad day.
It is an awesome responsibility and an awesome experience to teach. Surround yourself with other teachers who love what they do, who love kids, and who believe that every kid can succeed. Never stop learning, and remember that you can always get better. Let kids and other teachers know you are human, and never be afraid to say that you are wrong or that you don't know. But mostly, love every day and enjoy this incredible journey with your students.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Jennifer: Success is helping students see that they have the power to do whatever they want in this life. I will teach students a lot of skills that I think are important, but really I want them to leave my class at the end of the year knowing that they truly can have the life that they want for themselves. I want to develop happy, interesting, curious citizens who value those around them and are interested in considering viewpoints other than their own in order to make our world a better place.
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