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From the beginning, part three: Corps members share their first year of service

An interview with Citlalli Celis (Idaho ‘21)

A teacher wearing a checkered blazer

June 29, 2022

Over the course of the 2021-22 school year, Teach For America Idaho has featured interviews with two entering corps members, to track in real time how their experience is progressing as they begin their teaching careers.

The first interview with Citlalli Celis took place shortly before the school year started. You can read it here. The second interview below took place in January, after Citlalli had completed her first semester as a TFA corps member and had some solid experience upon which she could reflect. Read that piece here.

This third interview was conducted shortly after the school year ended.

Citlalli is a special education teacher at East Valley Middle School in Nampa. She is from Phoenix, Arizona, and graduated from Arizona State University, where she majored in family human development and sociology. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TFA: Now that you’ve finished your first year of teaching, what would you say has gone especially well?

Citlalli Celis: Organization was one of the top two things I would mention. Especially in special education, organization is really important with paperwork and getting in contact with families. The other would be relationships with my students. I feel they have fully developed. I’m glad they will carry on next year, because I will have the same students through all three years of middle school.

TFA: Looking back, what was most challenging about your first year?

Citlalli: Behaviors. First semester was definitely a little bit of a rough patch but the second semester has gone smoothly. Disruptive behaviors were really minimal and students are a lot more engaged with content.

Another challenge was creating content and doing lesson planning that's relevant to students and making it meaningful and impactful for them. Specific to my situation as a SPED teacher, it’s a bit difficult because students still have a general education math class, but they also receive support in my class. So sometimes two students feel like it’s a ‘drag’ since they have two math classes. That's one of the challenges I faced, having students really engaged in the material when they already have another math class.

TFA:  What strategies did you learn and incorporate over the year about managing problematic behaviors in class?

Citlalli: The hardest part for me was I really wanted to focus on relationships, but also understand the boundaries. While yes, I can have a great connection with each student, it's also important to set boundaries and expectations and make sure to uphold them in every scenario.

TFA: What would you say was the biggest difference between what you expected going into your first year as a special education teacher versus the reality?

Citlalli: In many places special education is a lot of inclusion and co-taught classes, whereas in Nampa, we pull-out. It was a new model that East Valley was trying. So I got to see special education from a different perspective where students still receive support in a designated classroom. It was a lot more flexible because we had small groups and students might switch to a different classroom to receive their minutes in reading or writing.

That was the difference and I learned to appreciate the model a lot more, because it allowed me to really dive in and support the students whereas it can be a little bit challenging doing that in general education classroom with 30-plus students.

TFA: What do you realize now that you thought you understood going in, but actually knew nothing about? In other words, what didn’t you know that you didn’t know?

Citlalli:  Students are willing to participate and engage with me as a teacher and with other students if they're given an environment that supports them and encourages them to learn. Going in I kind of had this in mind, but I didn't know the full effect because I obviously haven't been a teacher before. I needed to create relationships and connections with students, but I also needed to allow them to be themselves and make mistakes. Even encourage them to make mistakes.

Going in, I knew some students would not feel confident in themselves. Now that I've had them for a whole year I’ve realized that whether they lacked the confidence or not, it's important to push them and support them, and for them to show some growth.

TFA: What are your hopes for next year that might be different from this year?

Citlalli: Next year I will be getting my own classroom. I'm really excited about that. My own environment to really ground this year as their foundation and then grow on it.

Another hope would be strengthening family connections. Although I do talk to families and guardians and parents frequently, especially for IEP meetings. I want to take action more than just setting up meetings or calling them for behavior issues. I want to become more positive and involve the students' parents more and let them know that their students are doing okay.

I'm really proud of the foundation that I've grown and excited for year two. I know what I'm getting into and I’m really excited. It's going be great.