• From Banking to Teaching

     

  • Ms. Alexandra Balcom~4th Grade ELA Instructor

    Chicora Elementary School

    Title:  #WeWillExcel: From Banking to Teaching

    What is your name, and why are you a teacher?

    My name is Alexandra Balcom, and I am a 4th-grade teacher at Chicora. I am a teacher because I strongly believe in the power of education. Being educated is the most powerful tool a person can have. I love learning, and the more I learn, the more doors have opened for me in my life. I want to instill in children that it does not matter where you came from; if you are educated, kind, and hard-working, you can achieve anything.

    What makes teaching at Chicora Elementary extraordinary to you?

    Describing what it feels like to be a teacher at Chicora is difficult. We are often labeled based on survey results, or by people I have never spent time with in this building. Those labels don’t attest to our students' and teachers' dedication, tenacity, and love. I am privileged to teach alongside people that embody what it means to be selfless. It is extraordinary to me that no matter what anyone has going on in their lives outside of this building, they always show up and give every bit of themselves to their instructional practice and their students’ needs.

    It is hard to find the words to explain what it feels like to see your students reach and often surpass goals they never imagined. Teaching is challenging but rewarding, no matter what school you are at. However, I find Chicoa extraordinary because here, I am allowed to move students to multiple grade levels in one year, and there is no better feeling than when you have a student performing below grade level in August and above grade level in June. I am inspired to be a stronger teacher and continue building my capacity because of the students and my co-workers.

    What’s your why, and why did you change professions from Banking to Teaching?

    Every child, no matter their circumstance, deserves a fair chance at life, and literacy is the foundation for that. Literacy is the most powerful tool any person can have.  It allows one to develop self-reliance and creates opportunities to curate a life without limitations. I want my students to be allowed to decide their futures and feel empowered to accomplish their goals. I can give them that opportunity if I deliver high-quality literacy instruction daily.

    Out of college, I worked as an internal auditor for Wells Fargo, working 60 hours weekly in a cubicle. It didn't take long for me to start feeling frustrated. I wanted to go to a job every day that challenged me and provided me with learning opportunities. So I quit my job and moved to Charleston. Within the next few months, I reflected a lot on the question: ‘If I had to get up and go to work every day, what would I be most happy doing?’. Then I considered what brings me the most joy, and that would be learning. I started considering teaching and researched different programs and what it would take to become a teacher in South Carolina. I found the Masters of Art in Teaching program at the College of Charleston and was very interested in all the courses and decided to leap. I student taught at A.C. Corcoran in North Charleston, where I had an incredible cooperating teacher. She played a significant role in helping me determine the kind of teacher I wanted to be and the type of school I should teach at. 

    How do you maintain high expectations for your students?

    I believe in my students, so my high expectations remain the same. I see their potential even when they don’t. I work very hard to try and get my students to believe in themselves and see how incredible they are. Consistency is important. I make sure I am consistent every day in the language I use and the expectations I have. Even when it feels repetitive, it is essential to remain constant. My students are never met with surprises, which mitigates many academic and behavioral issues. I never assume students know something I have never taught them; even if I have taught it, I will always repeat my expectations. Reinforcing positives is far more helpful than acknowledging expectations not met. I do not lower my standard for kindness, perseverance, and respect, and this has allowed students to understand what is expected of them and allowed them to exist in an environment that sets them up for success. I also think it is essential to understand each one of your students individually. Having relationships with each student makes it so much easier to maintain expectations. I can more easily be proactive and motivate students when I know who they are. When students feel seen, understood, heard, and respected, they will be more willing to work to meet those high expectations. Also, leading by example is something I believe to be very important. Our students are constantly watching and listening to us, and we must take that as an opportunity to teach them kindness, respect, and hard work.

    New Teacher - What is working in an Acceleration School like?

    Working in an Acceleration School has been an incredible learning experience but has challenges. High expectations are placed on all adults in an acceleration school, and often it feels like there need to be more hours in a day. Working in an acceleration school means you have to be more than just what your job description says. The experiences and expectations of being an educator in an Acceleration Schooll have provided me with a solid foundation for a successful career in education. After only almost two years at Chicora, I am a much stronger teacher because of this environment than I ever thought I could be. Working in an acceleration school is like working with a large team to accomplish one common, shared goal. All teachers, across grade levels and content areas, are constantly collaborating and inventing new ways to ensure we are academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally meeting the needs of all our students. Everyone here wants to be here and deeply believes in our student's abilities, and although sometimes it is challenging, we all support each other to support our students ultimately.

    You have been an extremely successful teacher - what does it take to be highly successful?

    To be highly successful, you must be willing to build a relationship with all of your students. A relationship with each student is the foundation for a successful school year. When you take the time to get to know each child as an individual, you learn what they will need to reach their full potential. Additionally, creating a classroom environment that allows students to feel safe and cared for is crucial. Knowing my students allows me to meet their basic needs daily, and creating an environment that promotes kindness, order, and structure ensures their need for safety, love, and belonging is met. Once all those things are completed, students will start believing in themselves, and their willingness to learn will come. To succeed, you must acknowledge the whole child rather than just their educational abilities. Ultimately it is my job to teach them and often moves them to multiple grade levels in a year. However, students will only be open to learning if I, as the adult, acknowledge and prioritize their psychological and safety needs first every day. I have had a successful day when the students are socially, emotionally, and behaviorally successful.

    Also, you must put in the time and effort to succeed. Knowing the curriculum and standards is crucial because when you are overly prepared for the day and well-versed in your instruction, students are more engaged and have fewer behavior issues. I teach English, and so in order to implement it with fidelity, you have to put in the time to understand the learning targets, identify misconceptions, create proactive scaffolds, and determine how to reach the vast range of abilities amongst the 20 students sitting in front of you to ensure academic growth. You must stay focused on your ‘why’ when things get difficult!