Guest Educator Column — Jennifer Frey, Warren County R-III

Frey head shot

When asked what I do, I respond with the same proud smile and say, “I teach 7th grade English.” The responses I receive vary but typically sound something like, “Wow, I could never do that!”

I decided I wanted to be a teacher somewhere around 7th grade, largely due to the positive experiences I had in middle school. Middle school is the time when you realize your strengths and capabilities. For me, I realized I was smart, and I could do well in school. My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Miller, became a role model for me. She seemed to have it together. She was pretty, kind, and she was a great English teacher. She read Harry Potter to us, encouraged us to write creatively, and I felt a connection with her.

As I continued through high school, I met Mrs. Holloway, another teacher who made a lasting impression on me. I most remember her smile, the way she created a voice for each character as she read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and the project she assigned in which we researched careers and colleges. As a sophomore, I solidified my plan to attend Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, to study English and to earn my Master of the Arts in Secondary English Education.

Now I have completed my fifth year of teaching, and I feel as sure of my choice as ever. In these five years, I have taught in two different school districts. I have taught summer school, participated in a variety of professional development programs, and have worked with educators who believe in me. I have mentored several Truman MAE students, including a student teacher for a semester-long internship. I’ve learned so much, and I am just getting started.

Teaching is much more complicated than I ever imagined, but this is also why I am so passionate about what I do. You don’t put in the long hours for not-enough pay if you don’t love what you do as a teacher. My teaching goals have changed over the years and will continue to evolve and develop as I meet and learn from more educators and students.

I never imagined the power and influence I would have as a teacher with my students. I greatly underestimated the life challenges my students would experience. I teach kids who are chronically absent, move to a new school each year, stay home to babysit a younger sibling, do not have a secure food source, have a parent in prison, or deal with anger issues. While these issues make it harder for students to be present to learn and work each day, it makes my job even more important to be a positive role model. Education is the way out of a challenging life situation, so each day becomes an opportunity to work for something. How powerful is that?

Teaching middle school is always interesting, challenging, awkward, and usually quite funny. And I know I make a difference each day.