Commitment to her students, school is why south Phoenix charter teacher chooses to teach
By Christie Megura, NFL Yet College Prep Academy Teacher
Why do I choose to teach in Arizona?
I hear this question a lot from my parents, colleagues and friends who live outside of our state, who see the additional hours and costs I spend on my profession.
For a long time, pursuing a high level of excellence and expertise was a major factor that kept me engaged in the classroom. But this year I earned my National Board Certification, and for the first time I found myself asking, “Why do I choose to teach in Arizona?”
It’s because of students like Miriam.
Miriam arrived in my seventh-grade classroom, halfway through the school year. On her first day of school she calmly announced that she hated it here and either needed to move back to California immediately or drop out.
She spent the next two weeks eating lunch with me. She’d teach me Spanish and I’d read her poetry. Like all middle school students, her miraculous resilience helped her to adapt and integrate into my classroom and our school. Over time though, I realized her reluctance to stay in school was deeper than the fear of acclimating into a new classroom.
While Miriam’s mother is profoundly loving and devoted, she was only able to attend school through second grade and is limited in the academic support she can provide. Miriam’s stepdad leaves for work early each morning, leaving Miriam without a ride to school. At that time, Miriam confessed to me that completing eighth grade would be an accomplishment.
Fortunately, that’s not how Miriam’s story ends.
She is currently a senior at our school, NFL Yet College Prep Academy in south Phoenix, working part time, and learning to drive. She’s been attending South Mountain Community College on the weekends for two years. She’s on track to graduate in May and plans to attend college. I know all this because I’ve continued driving her to school every morning for the past six years, including today.
It’s bittersweet to know our early morning rides together will stop in four months once she graduates and moves on to higher education. I’m deeply proud of all Miriam’s accomplished, as she will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. Her persistence and success is truly inspiring and has been an ongoing motivation for me to remain committed to teaching.
So, I choose to teach in Arizona because of my relationships with students, like Miriam, who keep me committed, energetic, and passionate about what I do.
Unfortunately, that’s only a portion of my purpose. For every student where I’ve made that deep connection and have had a positive impact, like Miriam, I can name three where I’ve failed in that regard. I’ve felt bogged down or burnt out by the many responsibilities of my job, and I’ve often felt forced to choose grading and paperwork over fostering those ongoing relationships. For every Miriam in my life, there is another student who dropped out before earning a diploma due to personal challenges, lack of resources, or a lack of access to a teacher mentor. This year in particular has shown me how powerful consistent, authentic relationships can be for both teachers and students, and how deeply damaging it is for students when those relationships are absent.
In my experience, every student, especially those in Title I schools like mine, thrive when they have a consistent teacher mentor. This is the person students turn to when the trials of adolescence and the relentless challenges of poverty leave them feeling disillusioned and discouraged.
I’ve been with Miriam and her senior class for the past six years. I will be cheering and crying as Miriam and the rest of my first class graduates, finally able to hold their high school diploma. But I will also take a moment to remember every teacher that shaped Miriam’s class that is no longer teacher and every student who fell through the cracks. These vacancies are becoming more glaring to me now than ever before.
So I continue to reflect on the same important question, acknowledging the very real challenges I face as a teacher and the how those struggles impact my students.
“Why do I choose to teach in Arizona?”
I teach to honor and empower students, like Miriam. I teach to provide the long-term support and mentorship that my students need to develop into innovative leaders. I teach to provide mentorship and encouragement to our ever-changing staff of teachers trying desperately to learn a million different skills at once. And I teach to honor the staff who gave this impossible profession their unwavering dedication and their whole hearts, but ultimately left the classroom for other jobs and opportunities.
Most importantly, I teach out of sheer stubbornness knowing despite every harsh reality and challenge my school and my students face, I’m here. I’m here to show our staff and students that I’m committed to giving them my personal best, committed to fighting for their needs, and committed to loving them through every step of their journey.
After all, that’s what I do. I teach.
Christie Megura originally shared her story with Arizona House of Representatives Education Committee members on February 5, 2018. Christie is a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher at NFL Yet College Prep Academy located in south Phoenix. This is her sixth year teaching and her fourth year serving as a mentor teacher. She has a Master of Education degree from Arizona State University, and is a National Board Certified Teacher.