Teacher Appreciation Day: Becoming a Superhero

Chris in the classroom during Bright Horizon’s “Superhero Week.”

By Chris Hernandez, Jumpstart Alum & Bright Horizons Mentor Teacher

Jumpstart’s partnership with Bright Horizons allows Corps members to step right into the role of teacher after they complete their service. Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, and for today’s blog, we wanted to a highlight a Jumpstart alum who has gone on to become a Mentor Teacher at Bright Horizons, through the Bright Horizons & Jumpstart Early Childhood Teaching Program.

Walking onto the campus of Texas Tech as a freshman, I felt in total control of my life. I knew what I was doing: I was going to school to become a lawyer. Then I was going to fight for the common good. After about three victories in the Supreme Court, I was going to be the next JFK and I was going to change the world, one policy at a time.

That all I changed the moment I took my first step into a Jumpstart classroom.

I applied to Jumpstart when I heard it was a work-study job that could accommodate my school schedule and lengthy study hours. However, as I learned more about Jumpstart’s mission and values, I knew I could not take this experience lightly. Especially when I considered that the children I would be serving – children living in poverty – had once been me. I knew I’d gotten where I was because I’d had good, strong mentors as a child, and now I had the opportunity to give back.

When I got the job, I was ecstatic! I could not wait to get into that classroom. But then… training started. We spent an eternity (or at least that’s what it felt like at the time) on thorough, intentional training. To an overly-impatient and excited 18 year-old punk, it was a miserable start. I just wanted to see one of the classrooms that my site manager Dawn talked about during my interview. But, of course, the trainings were critical for me and my fellow Corps members because of the important task ahead of us: preparing a class of young children for kindergarten. The trainings covered topics such as working with children from low-income communities, why it is important to read with children at such a young age, and about the challenges and hurdles these children already faced based on the zip code where they lived. We learned techniques, roles, and expectations. We learned everything about what could happen in a classroom and what could happen outside of the classroom that could affect our ability to teach.

…when we finished the session, it was a euphoric experience seeing the joy on those children’s faces from working with us awkward college kids.

Finally, though, the day came – we had our first session in the classroom. The kids were sitting down waiting for us as we walked in and smiles lit every corner of the classroom. The anticipation within my team was electrifying and I could not get shake the excitement coursing through my veins. When we sang our first Circle Time song, we filled the room with the shakiest, loudest voices that only ten 18 year-olds and sixteen 4 year-olds could. The heavens envied the chorus of “Tiny Turtle.” (Now, I know this could seem like an exaggeration, but I’m Southern, and we tend to exaggerate the truth.) I tell you, when we finished the session, it was a euphoric experience seeing the joy on those children’s faces from working with us awkward college kids. They were so happy, and I immediately felt compelled to continue to inspire that kind of happiness every day.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a little about my first Jumpstart child, Bradley. It was awesome seeing him change from the shy, quiet kid, gaining confidence and even becoming the classroom ambassador at the end of the year! It was a priceless moment. We spent time constructing models of apartments based off of floor plans I brought in from my apartment hunt. We goofed around playing with dolls. We read all kinds of books together, and I still get a cheesy smile every time I read Go, Dog, Go by Dr. Seuss, as that was Bradley’s favorite book ever.

Seeing those changes in him and the other children that year, seeing my own potential to bring out the beautiful traits every young one has—suddenly this “fling” with Jumpstart had become a desire to change my entire life plan. I needed to learn everything there was to know about working with children so I could better support their education. I needed to be an advocate in their lives.

And the rest is history. I became a Jumpstart team leader and served for another three years, mentoring and encouraging new Corps members. I left the public relations program to graduate instead with a social work degree. After college, I found a job as a school coordinator at a nonprofit where I could continue to fight for children living in low socioeconomic environments.

When Jumpstart first partnered with Bright Horizons for the Early Childhood Teaching Program, I had been out of the classroom for three years, but I knew I wanted to be part of this experiment. It was not always an easy transition, but, as I look back, I appreciate the journey. With determination to always move forward, a commitment to working with children, and a passion to always find the good, I have made my way from a co-teacher in one Bright Horizons classroom to a Mentor Teacher for our region. I help lead Better Together, Bright Horizons’ morale group, which brings positive teaching initiatives to teachers, and I serve on the LGBT Inclusion Committee, helping to plan Bright Horizons’ participation in Boston Pride and other events throughout the year.

The training that I initially dreaded has become the basis of my conviction that all teachers must receive true, intentional training before they enter a classroom.

Jumpstart started all of that for me. The training that I initially dreaded has become the basis of my conviction that all teachers must receive true, intentional training before they enter a classroom. The techniques, models, and planning strategies that Jumpstart adheres to have become ingrained into my style of teaching and have led to my success as an educator. And just that good old luck of being paired with Bradley for the first time – I could not have asked for a better reason to keep moving forward when life knocks me down. Any time I lose my focus, all I need to do is I remember what success looked like in Bradley, and I am reenergized to push forward.

Jumpstart and Bright Horizons may differ operationally, but their missions and values coincide beautifully. I never thought I could work with newborn babies and toddlers after working with middle and high school students, or the four and five year-olds of Jumpstart, but instruction is instruction. Children need us to bring that energy and love of teaching that Jumpstart ignited within us into their lives. At Jumpstart, I learned how to teach in not-so-easy environments and how to stretch out limited resources. Bright Horizons took that creativity and resiliency in the face of obstacles and showed me how to use it to be a light and a leader in the classroom. If you think early education may be for you – and, I know it’s not for everyone – then Bright Horizons could be a beginning for you. Jumpstart has prepped and motivated you, and Bright Horizons can provide a supportive space to learn more about implementing those skills in a classroom.

When I started out, I knew I wanted to change the world…

When I started out, I knew I wanted to change the world, and I thought I would be doing that from a courtroom or podium. But I chose a different route. I love teaching. I love being there with children in the good moments and the teachable moments. I love mentoring new teachers and calming their nerves before they enter the classroom for their first time. I love being able to help children and other teachers get excited about learning, as we all learn something new every day!

To all the current educators, to all the mentors, to all my personal teachers and guidance counselors… I truly appreciate you and the dedication you show every day to set up the next generation for success. Thank you for your service, and thank you for inspiring mine.

Jumpstart is proud to partner with Bright Horizons to bring our alumni an exclusive opportunity to extend their early childhood education experience by becoming full-time teachers. Applications are now being accepted for Fall 2017. Click here to learn more.

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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