Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher
When people ask what I do, my gut response is to say I’m a former fourth grade teacher. While this is true, a more accurate response would be that I’m a curriculum alignment specialist at BrainPOP. Now, I get to play with the pieces that go into meaningful learning, like essential skills and concepts, high-interest topics, and playful ways for students to show what they know. Through designing supporting resources and lessons, I want to take some of the stress out of planning—a feeling I know all too well.
Even though I no longer spend hours crafting anchor charts and practicing the delicate art of student seating arrangements (a symphony if done well; a minefield if not), I feel like I left a big part of myself in the classroom, along with a small library of books and my favorite rain boots! I’m still finding Expo markers in the pockets of my cardigans.
For a million reasons, I can’t let go of the hours I spent with my students. My classroom was my command center—the place where one moment their brilliant breakthroughs would leave me covered in goosebumps, and the next I’d be reminding those same kids not to lick tables.
As a teacher, my day began before I was fully awake. With eyes clamped shut, hoping for more sleep, I’d compile a mental to-do list. It looked something like this:
- Pick up tissues on the way to school
- Rearrange desks before kids arrive; separate Maggie and Zach*
- Input scores from yesterday’s math test before data meeting
- Label Kristy’s locker for the fourth time this month (she says the name tag keeps falling off, but I saw her peel and pocket it)
- Email music teacher a list of students in height order for the concert recital (first, figure out height order)
- Put morning work on Nikki’s desk for her to distribute when she arrives 45 minutes early
At this point, my eyes would snap open with the realization that I’d actually forgotten to photocopy the morning work. Rumpled but determined, I’d zip to school, packed lunch forgotten on the counter.
My blood pressure most definitely does not benefit from reliving these moments, which is one of the many reasons my new job is a great fit for me. I can think of no better inspiration for crafting targeted teacher support resources than reminiscing about what would have served my students and me during my classroom days. During those time-pressured mornings, how great would it have been to pull out a BrainPOP activity that is explicitly crafted to target the same essential skills and concepts that my not yet photocopied “do-now” activities covered?
Back to my typical school day… After climbing five flights of stairs to my classroom, because the elevator was still broken, I’d flip on the light and move the garbage can off the rug. There had been a leak in the ceiling—no one likes a wet carpet! Then, I’d race down the hallway to stake my claim at the copy machine.
And this was the quiet part of my day, the last moments when I could hear my own constantly racing thoughts. Once the kids arrived, the hours would become a whirlwind of transitioning from desks to rug spots and back again. I was a one-woman support line, fielding comments like, “I don’t get it,” “No, I really do have to ‘go’ this time!” and “Do we have any tissues?” (I knew I forgot something!) We’d spend hours learning long division through mistaken calculations that turned into “aha!” moments. Before I knew it, the kids had been picked up or scattered among their after-school classes, and I’d be left to survey the room, once again quiet—albeit with a few new, mysteriously sticky surfaces.
My hands dotted with markers, three pencils tucked into my messy ponytail, and a random sticky note stuck to my shoulder, I’d find myself chuckling about something Elizabeth said as she waved goodbye, or the snacktime discussion I’d eavesdropped on about the ins and outs of TikTok stardom, or the moment I’d caught Jonathan dancing by himself before reentering the art room. I cling to these snapshots of days gone by even more now that I’ve had the time to think about them.
All of my work at BrainPOP emerges from the mosaic of small moments and minor catastrophes that made up my life as an educator. Whether I’m thinking about how to craft a lesson that would have excited my students (and spared me hours of planning), or rephrasing a discussion prompt a hundred times to get at a specific skill or idea, I put myself back in my sole-scuffed, paint-splattered teacher shoes. I’ve walked a mile in them. Though different schools can feel like different planets, I know exactly what I wish I’d had as a teacher to lift even a crumb off my magically refilling plate of responsibilities. Now, I want to give that to you.
*All student names in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
Rachel Eisenman is a curriculum alignment specialist at BrainPOP. A former English major, she is an obsessive reader and a genuinely curious lifelong learner.