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People of Poe | Alicia Hatmaker on Being a Beginning Teacher and a Graduate Student

Alicia Hatmaker graduated from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2015 and has taught high school social studies in North Carolina schools ever since. Why did this Virginia Beach native decide to come to the NC State College of Education for a graduate degree? What is it like being a beginning teacher in our state? Find out below.

Why did you want to become a teacher?

Growing up, I always loved learning, but I never really liked school. After high school, I went straight into the career world. After a few years, I realized I didn’t really like the options I had with no college degree. So, I went back to school. I always loved history, so I figured I could teach. At the time, my thought was, “Well, this is something I could do.” But now, it’s something I can’t imagine not doing.

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree in education?

When I began teaching at Athens Drive Magnet High School in Wake County last year after teaching for a while in Moore County, I noticed a lot of holes in my understanding of pedagogy. I didn’t have enough knowledge on things like technology tools or methods for teaching diverse learners. These were things we talked about when I was an undergraduate student, but not to the extent that I needed here in Wake County. The new literacy and global learning master’s program at the NC State College of Education was on my radar, because I thought it was a cool new approach to teaching social studies. Although I hadn’t envisioned myself going to graduate school so soon, I wanted to improve the way I teach, and I heard so many wonderful things about the College of Education from coworkers here at Athens Drive. I came to an Open House at the College of Education, and it just felt like everything was lining up.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

I love my kids. They’re the best part. When a kid is in your classroom, they’re showing you that they care about getting an education, whether they express it verbally or not. I take that and run with it. I love taking the kids who may look like they don’t want to be there and showing them that adults can care about them. I love to help them figure out what it is about them that’s unique and special and how to capitalize on those strengths. I can’t imagine any job that could be more fulfilling than that.

What is something that inspires you?

I’ve always been inspired by people who use education to promote social justice. An example would be Malala Yousafzai — she was someone who faced her adversity head-on, didn’t quit and saw the potential of education to help change the world, as opposed to just changing individual lives.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would love to still be in the classroom. I hope I’ll have found a leadership niche in my school, like through mentoring beginning teachers. I see myself wanting to continue developing my skills professionally through a doctoral program. I think my goal has always been to work up to instruction at the collegiate or community college level.

What advice do you have for other beginning teachers?

My advice is twofold: first of all, find your “person” at your school. I got lucky that my “person” was my assigned mentor. She is my champion; she is invested in helping me grow by exposing me to new things, challenging me with new strategies and keeping me accountable. I don’t think I would love my school or my curriculum nearly as much as I do if I didn’t have her walking alongside me, especially in the beginning. Find the person in your school who can equally encourage and challenge you. Secondly, a lot of beginning teachers come in thinking that they’re going to change the world. And you will — but you need to realize that the change is slow. You don’t immediately have a class full of kids who want to do inspiring chants who will get you on the Ellen Show, but that doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job. The process takes time, and you will eventually get there if you keep investing in it.