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Carly Phillips ’21

Can you discuss how you ended up working in Union County given that you grew up in South Jersey?

While I grew up in South Jersey, I was open to living in other areas postgraduate partially due to changes to my own living situation, and also because I wanted to experience other parts of the state. Since my family was moving, I did not feel tied to my hometown, and saw it as an opportunity to explore other regions of the state. I applied to teaching positions near where I lived in Burlington County and more North, and happened to receive a position in Union County at a school that seemed like a good fit.

What is your daily experience like at your school? What are you teaching? What activities are you involved in?

I teach at a high school where there is a rotate-drop schedule. We have a four-day rotation, where I see my classes at different times each day in the rotation, and classes drop on different days of the rotation, meaning I do not see them. I like this schedule as it allows for more variety in my day to day experiences and provides longer class times than period scheduling. Depending on the periods that I teach, some days I can teach up to five classes a day or as few as three classes a day. Currently, I teach United States I History Honors to freshmen and Economics to upperclassmen, but I have also taught College Prep US I History and College Prep World History. My daily experience at school outside of teaching my classes usually involves a prep period and duty period. Most days I also have meetings scheduled with students either before school, after school and/or during lunch periods for additional help. Outside of teaching, I am also a class advisor for the current junior class, where I organize fundraisers for their upcoming prom as well as plan Senior events. This year I also have agreed to be part of the School Improvement Planning Committee, where I will work with administrators and other teachers to examine how to better support students and the teachers. Outside of school I have also continued my studies through being a curriculum ambassador for the New York Historical Society’s Women and the American Story collection, where I have given professional development on their curricular resources to current and prospective teachers, and have taken two graduate courses on Teaching the Holocaust and Prejudice Reduction through Kean University.

You were a Women’s and Gender Studies minor when you were here. How has this experience informed and influenced your work as a teacher?

As a Women’s and Gender Studies Minor, I gained a different lens on examining history, which I feel has better informed my teaching practices. The WGS classes I took at TCNJ focused heavily on intersectionality and how identity impacts individuals’ and groups’ experiences both in the past and present. When I am planning out units, I try to examine not only how often women or individuals with varying gender identities are represented, but also think about how to articulate to students the ways in which identity has impacted human experiences. My WGS courses highlighted inequity based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status that has been seen across cultures and throughout history, as well as the ways in which women and LGBTQ+ individuals have been active members of history rather than passive bystanders. I try to have my teaching of history also focus on these ideas, as it allows more students to see themselves in the history they are learning.

What is the most challenging thing about your work as a teacher? What is most rewarding?

The most challenging part of my work as a teacher has been establishing a work-life balance. As a teacher, there are times when work can seem never ending, whether it is grading, planning, or responding to student and family emails. This can become overwhelming, and especially my first year teaching there were days where it felt like all I did was prepare for school. Over time, this has become easier through better time management and setting boundaries for myself, such as turning off email notifications on my phone. The most rewarding part of my job has been the relationships I have built with my colleagues and students. Building community with other teachers has made the challenges more manageable, and I love collaborating with my peers. Getting to know students has also been extremely rewarding, especially when they are ones who may not have entered my room liking history, but still found the class one where they felt happy and safe to go to by the end of the year. Developing this sense of community reaffirms my love of teaching, and has outweighed the challenges that come with the job.

Can you talk a little about the clinical experiences you had as a TCNJ Secondary Education major?

My clinical experiences were during the height of COVID, which in some ways prepared me well for challenges I would face in teaching, but in others made the transition to my first year much more challenging. Despite teaching hybrid, I was still able to learn how to lesson and unit plan, engage in parent communication, and create activities that were more engaging. Keeping students engaged was difficult during the pandemic, and while this was a challenge, it encouraged me to create lessons I otherwise may have been too hesitant to try. I also became more well-versed in online resources, which I often used in my classes or for materials. I had the opportunity to teach students in the classroom as well, but class sizes were much smaller, and because of this I found classroom management one of the challenges in my first year teaching. I had a very supportive mentor who helped shape my practices, such as including current events frequently and thinking about my questioning tactics in the classroom.

What advice would you have for someone coming to TCNJ to study History/Secondary Education?

My advice for someone coming to TCNJ to study History and Secondary Education would be to get involved, whether it be through extracurriculars, working, or volunteering. While classes and clinicals help prepare for the classroom, outside experiences can also aid in this, and make teacher candidates more well-rounded and hireable. For example, being part of Residential Education and Housing allowed me to develop professionalism, gain experience managing other people, and hone my organization and time management skills. Being part of an improv group on campus allowed me to develop confidence in public speaking and learn how to adapt in real time. I was asked in interviews about how these experiences shaped my teaching, and being involved in other activities shows one’s ability to balance multiple responsibilities, build community, and be more well rounded. Connecting to students is also easier when you have your own interests to touch upon, and can lead to you being an advisor for student clubs or sports, which is always needed. Involvement also can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with being a prospective teacher, and give a greater outlook on how to support one’s self and others. While my college classes were extremely influential in my teaching, I think my involvement outside of the classroom also greatly impacted my ability to teach and connect with my school community.