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How a Perfectionist Learned It's OK When Things Don't Go as Planned

Austin Young (Memphis '18), a middle school science teacher at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School , shares why he calls parents with good news, the benefits of smaller classes, and more. 

January 21, 2020

A man sitting in front of a mural.

This interview with Austin Young (Memphis '18) is part of a series called Corps Questions. Each story will shine the spotlight on a Memphis corps member and dig into the lessons they've learned, advice they have, and what keeps them fighting for educational equity. Take a look at previous interviews with Memphis corps members, including Breunna Lovett (Memphis '18), a kindergarten teacher building an inclusive classroom for her students, and Spanish teacher Ali Della Volpe (Memphis '18) who is using language to build relationships with her students

What have you learned about yourself in your time being a teacher?

Austin: I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a perfectionist. But teaching, especially for first- and second-year teachers, is far from an exercise in perfection. In developing in classroom management, I’ve learned that some of the best teachers are those that relinquish their “control.” I know my students won’t grow if I don’t trust them to rise to the occasion. It may take more than one try, that doesn’t make that make my attempt a failure. As I’ve grown as a teacher, I’ve learned to apply my perfectionist drive to the long-term, rather than the short. I’ve learned that sometimes things don’t go as planned. By trusting my students to grow, I’ve learned I need to trust myself to grow as well.

How do you involve families in your students' education? What have you learned about your students?

Austin: I make sure to call home for positive things. I feel that too often parents only hear about their child when they have done something wrong in school. Often, I’ll call parents to let them know what their child is doing right. The goal is that this will foster positive feelings about the school and show families we see their children as whole people. I’ve learned that our students crave structure and a affirmation for their efforts. These calls home are one strategy I use to positively motivate my students.

What has been your favorite lesson to teach? Why?

Austin: My favorite lesson to teach was about renewable energy. Mostly due to the excitement exhibited by my students. My classes were in awe the scientific advancements that have led to clean energy and the potential these sources have to improve our world. Students were so enthusiastic when asking questions and proposing solutions and show their desire to make our world a better place. I worked to make the lesson relevant in more ways than just climate change. I saw students get more invested when we learned about how they could prepare for a career developing or maintaining renewable energy sources.

If you had the power to change one policy that is impacting education right now, what would that be?

Austin: I would like to see a reduction in class sizes. Almost everyone I know in secondary education teaches to a class with over thirty students. Large classes make it really difficulty for a teacher to reach the unique educational needs of each student in class. Yet, this is the norm for our students. I’d imagine that some days, students leave classrooms feeling unseen or confused. Smaller classes would allow for focused one-on-one time, deeper discussions, fewer distraction, and stronger relationships. 

“By trusting my students to grow, I’ve learned I need to trust myself to grow as well.”

Austin Young

Memphis Corps Member 2018

What keeps you going in this work each and everyday?

Austin: When I catch my students having “lightbulb” moments, that’s what keeps me in this work. Young people’s brains are amazing learning machines. Given the right environment, I truly believe any student can become a master of any skill or subject. I strive to make my classroom a positive, rigorous environment for everyone coming through my door. To see my students loving school, having confidence in themselves, and realizing that day’s big idea is just really awesome.

What is your favorite spot in Memphis?

Austin: The Levitt Shell! I love the free concert series and all the variety of music that comes to play there.