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Benito Gonzales ’16

Where are you working and can you tell us how you got hired at your school?

I am currently working at Princeton Middle School in Princeton, New Jersey. Interestingly, I also attended Princeton Public Schools as a student, so it has been a fun experience working in the place I used to go to school! In the spring of 2017, a friend told me that there was an opening in Princeton while I was working at Franklin Middle School. Even though I was enjoying my time in Franklin, I was intrigued by the possibility of working in my home district. It turns out that the open position was for my 6th grade Social Studies teacher who was retiring at the end of the year! After going through a couple of interviews, and a demo lesson, I was given the opportunity to be one of the two 6th grade Social Studies teachers at Princeton Middle School. 

What is like being a coach at the high school level?  How did your time as a student-athlete prepare you for this role?

Up until this year, I had been coaching baseball at Princeton High School; the same team I played for during my high school years. Baseball has been a passion of mine since I was a kid all the way through my years playing at TCNJ. Due to my collegiate experience, I have always enjoyed coaching high schoolers because many of them are striving towards the same goals I did as a kid: to develop into the best player they can be and play at the highest level they can achieve.

That being said, it can be a bit of a grind; especially in my early years of teaching. Long days of school, practices, bus rides, Saturday practices, the commute home; it is definitely a worthwhile experience and I value my years of coaching, but it is vital to have balance and make sure you are taking care of yourself. Thankfully, I feel like my years of balancing and juggling work and athletics in high school and college did prepare me for those challenges as a teacher and coach. 

Did you feel your TCNJ history/secondary education major prepared you effectively for your work as a teacher?

I do! My methods class was extremely helpful and practical because it prepared me for the day-to-day realities of preparing activities, lessons, and having an overall idea of what you want an instructional unit to teach students. Mike also did a great job of instilling in my cohort the importance of getting kids engaged with their learning, and to care about them being happy and having fun in your classroom. Of course, that is not always possible, but for me personally, it really set the tone for things I care about when I teach to this day, even 8 years into my career. 

What advice do you have for any potential students who are thinking of a career in teaching?

I will be honest: teaching is a demanding, difficult, and at times emotionally draining job. This is especially true in the beginning of your career. I was (and still am, sometimes!) prone to bouts of losing confidence and doubting my impact. However, when you find people you care about and you can collaborate with, whether that is a coworker, a friend, a helpful administrator, or anybody in your life who provides you with support, you can get through those challenges, grow as an educator, and make a real difference in the lives of your students. Unfortunately, schools can be really tough places for kids; but you have the ability to make your room and anything you are involved in at school a safe and nurturing place for students. 

However: remember to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. That can be very challenging to balance with your job responsibilities, but it is vital to continue to enjoy teaching. 

You are currently in graduate school…what are you studying and what has that experience been like?

I am currently in the Education, Culture, and Society Masters Program at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. In addition, I am working on getting my Public Policy Certificate at the Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University. In both of the programs, my main focus is on the racial, global, and political history surrounding education and how it has impacted the inequities that we see in educational systems today. 

I am grateful for my experience so far and have learned a lot of theory and research in the educational field (I will be finishing my program in Spring 2024!) Although it can be difficult to balance reading, research, and writing papers with coaching and teaching, I am confident that it will serve me well if I continue to teach or move onto a new career. One thing that my work has opened my eyes to is that education is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to truly affect kids and families lives, educational policy has to be closely coordinated with housing and other vital social policies. 

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher/coach?

Along the way, I have had many rewarding experiences that have fulfilled me and encouraged me to keep working hard. Whenever students have told me over the years that they felt cared for and noticed that everyone felt included, or that they had never looked at a part of history or an issue in a particular way before, I always feel a sense of pride that my planning and room made them feel this way. 

However, if I had to pick my most rewarding experience as a teacher, it would be my time as a cooperating teacher last year. I was lucky and was placed with an incredible pre-service teacher who consistently worked hard, put time and energy into their work, and truly cared for our students. Being able to help them grow, encourage them, and provide them the support and guidance that sometimes I felt like I was missing in my first year of teaching was a very rewarding and enriching experience. They are now working at Princeton Middle School and have made an immediate impact on students’ lives both in class and in the club they co-lead (Sexuality and Gender Alliance, or ‘SAGA’).

Teaching can be such a demanding experience, and it is easy to feel lonely in the beginning of your career. Seeing that I played a part in helping a great new teacher through those challenges and doubts was an incredibly rewarding experience.