Spotlight: 10 Questions for Theresa Cross (LA '17)February 15, 2018
Theresa Cross (LA ’17) is using some of her Milken Educator Award money to fund an annual award for an outstanding educator at InspireNOLA charter schools: “It was so wonderful to be acknowledged that I want other educators to have the same experience.” The TAP master teacher won her Award at Alice M. Harte Charter School in New Orleans on December 8, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard Lowell call your name at your surprise notification?
Theresa Cross: I was in complete shock and all I could think about is how this money has to go back to the school, to my amazing colleagues, and to my wonderful students. My success is a result of the training InspireNOLA has provided me over the years, the coaching I received from my master teacher, and the hard work of my students and their parents.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Theresa: My students were so excited. They had the biggest smiles on their faces. Many of them told me, "I knew it was going to be you." This comment alone would have made my day. Some of them said that they want to enter the teaching profession. This was the first time I heard any of them say they wanted to be a teacher. Usually my students tell me that they would never want to be a teacher because the students are bad and teachers are not paid well. So I think this award may have made some of them reconsider.
3. How did you end up in education?
Theresa: I was unhappy working as a programming assistant at a television station because it was not challenging and I was bored. As I searched for a new job, I kept seeing teaching positions posted. I always thought about teaching because I enjoy children and wanted a meaningful career, but I figured it was not a possibility since I did not have a degree in education. Then I came across TeachNOLA, a program to receive an alternate teaching certificate. I interviewed to join the program and was accepted. Ten years later I am still teaching and could not be happier.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Theresa: Trenise Duvernay, InspireNOLA's math content lead, has developed me professionally for the past six years. She was my master teacher before I became one myself. She made me a reflective teacher by constantly questioning all of my instructional decisions. Now she develops my ability to coach other teachers through the TAP System. I can’t thank her enough for all the support and guidance she has provided me over the years. Every day I try to be more like her.
My parents are also my role models. My mom is a teacher's aide and gives me advice about helping struggling students. My dad was an engineer and helps me create challenging questions on my assessments. They are both extremely hard workers and they have instilled in me a strong work ethic and a desire to help others. There have been many times when I catch myself acting or saying things exactly the way my parents used to say them to me. I could not be more proud than to be just like them.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Theresa: Looking back, I realize I cared too much about what the students thought of me. I wanted them to like me because I foolishly thought they would listen and work harder. This theory may have worked for the group of students who came to my room during lunch every day, but not for the rest of them. (Interestingly enough, one of the students who used to come to my room for lunch congratulated me on receiving the Milken Educator Award.) I remember I would spend so much money on candy, pizza and chips to try to motivate students to behave and complete their assignments.
Like most first-year teachers, I struggled with classroom management. I learned that I have to keep students busy the entire class period. If students were acting up, it was usually because they did not understand how to complete the assignment. I learned the power of positive praise. I learned that I cannot only address the negative behaviors. By acknowledging the students on task, I can indirectly redirect students who are off task.
I also learned to over-prepare. One day my school was on lockdown and I had to keep the students in my room for hours. I did not have any additional assignments for the students to complete so I told them they could talk with their friends. Big mistake! An hour later, the students were in a circle rapping and I could not get them to stop and sit down. The principal had to break it up and I was so embarrassed. I remember thinking that I was not cut out to be a teacher; however, I have never been one to quit. Although I was not very effective my first year, I learned and improved so much that I am now able to assist other teachers during their first years so they can learn as much as I did.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Theresa: My students will most likely remember my jokes, the times when I would act crazy, and the way I made them feel. I try to make my class fun by acting silly and telling jokes when they have worked really hard on a challenging assignment. I also try to build confidence in students who tell me they dislike math. Many students say they do not like math because they think they are not good at it. I make a point to praise small successes and call on those students for simpler questions to boost their confidence. Lastly, I hope they will also remember the projects we did in class: racing beetles, growing plants, creating ramps, making real-life examples of slopes.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Theresa: Time. There are so many wonderful activities and projects that I wish I had more time for students to complete all of them.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Theresa: I am starting an InspireNOLA Educator Award (with an unrestricted financial award), similar to the Milken Award. It will go to an outstanding educator at an InspireNOLA charter school at the end of the year. It was so wonderful to be acknowledged that I want other educators to have the same experience. I will also make a donation to Baldwin Wallace College. They provided me with a solid education, and I want the opportunities I have had to be available to other students.
I also want to travel to St. Lucia with my husband. We will be married for seven years in June and have not yet had a honeymoon!
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Theresa: I would tell them that it is a very rewarding career, but it is also hard work. Teaching is a huge responsibility; you have to be highly motivated and self-driven. I would also see if he or she wanted to teach the class for a day. So often students choose a career without ever trying it out to see if they even like it. I would have the student plan a lesson and then teach it to the class with my guidance and support.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Theresa: Accomplishing a goal that was difficult to attain. A goal that may be difficult for me to achieve may be a breeze for someone else. So as long as the goal was a challenge for the person who set and then achieved it, in my opinion he or she was successful.
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