Lauren Brown: Through New Eyes

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You have to come in and be totally prepared, and then be prepared for not being prepared. It's really about finding the energy to show up and focus on the kids.

New kid on the block.

"My story isn't long yet because it's my second year teaching -- but I've known my whole life I wanted to be a teacher. I hoped to be one of those impactful teachers that I had growing up, the ones that influenced and inspired me to be better and to continue education. They made me know what it feels like to have another person on my team who's not just family or a close friend.

My own experience in school was unique, because I went to five different elementary schools -- one new school every year. As a kid, you don't think it's weird; you just get to try new things all the time! But looking back on it, I know that moving around is what shaped me. It helped me be independent and jump into new situations, and it has helped me to understand and relate to those kids that are coming from a new school -- kids like me.

I attended school in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and then Las Vegas, so I saw a bunch of different areas. And before Common Core, there was a huge gap in between schools. I would leave one school and start a new one and would be so far behind; at a different one, I would be the smartest kid in the class. It's interesting now to see the difference, in the face of a lot of varying opinions about Common Core.

As I started getting older and learning about the educational system and process, it became evident to me that we need change. We need people to come in who are passionate about teaching and about the educational system to help make a difference. As educators, our main focus is always on the students, so we're driven and inspired to find new ideas to help meet the needs of the kids."


Adding my own spin.

"I'm excited to see change and be part of the reason that there is change. One of the most important aspects of teaching is collaborating with other educators to learn from one another. Working with veteran teachers and incorporating new voices is a benefit for all of us, so we can be better for the kids.

Where I stand might be different from veteran teachers. I know they're extremely passionate about teaching and some might take issue with Common Core because of what they've done and seen to be successful. I can see that being very frustrating but for me, I don't know anything else. There are aspects of it where I can see the purpose -- being aligned throughout the country makes sense to me.

But putting so much focus on testing can feel like we're missing the life skills that the kids really need to know. So it's incredibly important to find teachers who can get creative with it. Because for now, Common Core is here. Being successful with Common Core will take teachers who can implement it but still make it fun and give it meaning.

For me, in first grade, I'm always trying to apply lessons to real life. If we're talking about a science subject, I try to make it cross-curricular. Let's say we're studying wind. I bring in these hands-on experiments that the district doesn't require, and then apply them to the stories we're reading and the math problems we're working on that week. I let them explore and make mistakes, while still making sure we're meeting the standards that the district requires."


It's the 'everything else.'

"It's honestly a juggling act every day -- there are a huge number of challenges. You have to come in and be totally prepared, and then be prepared for not being prepared. But for me, a bigger piece has been just looking past the negativity surrounding teaching. You hear about the kids' lives at home, all of the things that aren't going right, and then the changes that get thrown at us every year -- it's a lot to take in each and every day. Then you go home and have to pretend like nothing happened, but you can't just forget. There's so much more that's not in our job description. It's really about finding the energy to show up and focus on the kids in the face of all that negativity.

I watch the news and hear about budget cuts in the face of more kids and fewer resources available. But we're in an extremely diverse district that puts a lot of importance on education, so we're hoping to continue to strive for funding and resources to help our students learn and help give them the tools they need for success.

I just try to show them that there's another person who cares; that there's another adult who will always be there for them, even after they leave my class. I love my kids and all of their stories. They come into the year as tiny babies -- practically infants! -- and then you watch them grow up and learn and talk to me and each other. I love the relationships I get to have with them. Academics aren't what's keeping me here -- it's everything else that goes along with it that makes teaching worthwhile."


Lauren Brown was awarded the 2016 Kansas Horizon Award for being an exemplary first-year teacher.

Photography by George Mullinix.