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How one corps member is building the skills and relationships to be a successful new teacher

Teaching was much harder than Nickolas Tilley (Memphis ‘21) thought. Read how he’s approached this humbling experience and committed to getting better each day.   

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November 9, 2021

This interview with Nick Tilley (Memphis ‘21) 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. 

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

Nick: I have learned that I have a lot to learn. When I entered the classroom this past August, I felt as though I was a solid leader and speaker, and therefore, I felt that teaching would be a breeze for me. I quickly learned that while these are two value skills to have as a teacher, these two skills only make up two of the one million skills that are required of teachers everyday. This was a very humbling experience. This helped me realize that teachers are constantly growing in an effort to better themselves in order to be at their best for students each and everyday. This experience so far has highlighted areas in which I need to grow. Additionally, this process has helped me appreciate the many, many skills that the amazing team I work alongside has to offer each and every day.

How do you involve families in your students' education?  

Nick: When it comes to building relationships with students and families, I think the first step is showing them that teachers are people too. One way that I have attempted to build such relationships with students and parents is by supporting students in a setting outside of school. Two specific examples come to mind. Earlier in the school year, I attended a student's soccer game, and this allowed me the opportunity to meet some of the student's family and briefly touch base about happenings in the classroom. More recently, I had the chance to meet with a student at a local coffee shop during fall break to provide some support surrounding topics we recently discussed. This allowed me to build a stronger relationship with this student as well as those in his support system. I want parents to know that I genuinely want to see their child succeed. I think if they see this, we can then work as a team to help their child grow.  

If someone were to come into your classroom, what would they see? 

Nick: I hope if someone visited my classroom, they would see an energetic and welcoming environment in which all students can learn. I want students to be excited and ready to learn each day when they step into the classroom. I attempt to engage students through a variety of participation methods in an effort to build excitement around math. When students come into class, they know they will see examples they can relate to that are presented in an engaging way!

What is the biggest advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?  

Nick: For those who are interested in becoming a teacher, know that I walk out of the school building each and every day absolutely exhausted, but as I exit, I walk through the doors with a sense of peace and fulfillment from the work I did that day. Teaching is tiring. Teaching requires an abundance of patience. Teaching is hard, but what other profession allows you to work with young people every single day and support them on their life journey? 

For those that already know they want to be a teacher, create a list of what your ideal teaching role would look like. For me, I wanted to be able to teach mathematics while also having the opportunity to found a musical theatre program in the fall and coach soccer in the spring. I know to some this might sound very specific, but this list helped guide me as I searched for a school that desired to support me in these aspirations. At the end of the day, don't select an offer because of the salary or the perks. Select an offer because you believe that the school and its administrators will support you as you support students during your teaching journey. This year, I actually did get the opportunity to teach math and found a musical theatre program, and it's almost time for me to start my role as soccer coach in the spring!

What can we find you doing in your free time?

Nick: During my free time you can find me exploring local coffee shops and restaurants in the Memphis area. Additionally, I am a pretty big sports fan! I try to catch a Memphis 901 FC match or Memphis Grizzlies game whenever I get a chance. I am also an avid runner. Running provides an opportunity for me to escape and let my brain take a short break and breathe. Finally, I have a passion for music and theatre. Orchestras and musicals are two areas of music that are especially interesting to me. I am always on the lookout for the chance to catch a concert or performance.