Ms. Mendek on her first year teaching

By Alek Ruszkai '19

What subjects do you teach?Special Education. Specifically, I teach three different levels of English between 10th and 11th grade, and 9th grade World History.What college did you attend?West Chester University of PennsylvaniaAre there any challenges to being a new teacher?There are many. Finding your groove as a teacher is hard. It takes many years before you can actually call yourself “a great teacher.” I keep learning new things about myself as different situations arise, things I didn’t know about myself. Not getting down on yourself when things go terribly wrong in a lesson or activity is hard to do, but inevitable. I constantly am challenging myself to do better and learn more so I can be the most effective teacher I can possibly be, but even with all the preparation in the world, you have to deal with curveballs on a daily basis. It’s a good day when things go as planned.Have you done any student teaching?Yes. I co-taught in two different grades, 7th and 8th. One was special education ELA and one was just regular education ELA.Do you co-teach now? Or are you the only teacher in the room?Yes, I do. I co-teach with three different teachers. I am the only teacher in the room for my resource English class.When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?Probably my junior year after I had my mind already set on graphic design. It hit me one day that teaching would probably make me much happier in life than sitting behind a desk designing stuff. I’m so happy I had that revelation.Are you glad you have a freshman homeroom?Oh, boy am I happy. But seriously, yes. It will be fun to see you guys come your senior year and remember how seemingly innocent and young you were freshman year.Are there other careers you thought about pursuing?Like I mentioned, graphic design. I wanted to go to Philadelphia University and play soccer and pursue their design program. It just didn’t feel right.Do you want to stay at the same school your whole career, or would you rather move up or down?Honestly, I wouldn’t mind eventually moving down. I absolutely loved middle school when I did my student teaching. I think teaching different grades and subjects can only make you a better and well-rounded educator. Maybe eventually I’d get into administration. For now, I’m happy where I am.Do you like teaching?I love teaching. It’s so much more than I’d ever imagined. I constantly surprise myself when I teach a really good lesson that goes smoothly. Other days, lessons sink, and I have to just move on and learn from it. I love my students, and I would do anything for them. Of course, there are days when I have to discipline and that’s difficult because they may temporarily hate me, but for the most part, it is the most rewarding experience thus far in my life.Does it feel like you’re making a change when it comes to teaching?I think I am. When you teach something and it “clicks” and kids get excited, it makes you feel like you have contributed to their education in a meaningful way. But beyond teaching, I feel like I have helped my students through some personal struggles and have been a support figure for them. That’s really what makes an impact.Has there been any mistakes you have made so far?Of course. The first year you do anything new there are bound to be mistakes. I have taught things that have gone completely gone wrong, activities not planned thoroughly enough and so forth. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes and reflect on them. That’s the only way you really grow as a teacher and individual.Do you like your students?For the most part. No, I’m just kidding. They are all special to me in their own ways. I am very fortunate.Are you happy where you are teaching in high school?Yes, I am. I love my schedule because every day is different. I teach four different subjects a day so it does require a lot of planning ahead of time, but the day goes by quick and it is always fun.Are you planning on teaching until you retire?For now, yes. I will probably take time off to travel the world before I start having kids and that might be a little time off. Otherwise, I’m in it for the long haul.Can you relate a little more to the students being so close to their age?I definitely think so. It is both a blessing and a curse, in a sense. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their position, so I sympathize with them and generally know what is going to work well and what isn’t. On the other hand, at first it was hard for them to take me as seriously as I wanted them to. Just because I am laid back doesn’t mean I won’t enforce rules or be the bad guy. It’s all about balance.How does teaching affect your daily life?Because it’s my first year, there was a lot of ups and downs. The downs definitely take a toll on you physically and emotionally. My boyfriend is a huge support system and keeps me focused on what’s important instead of letting the little speedbumps along the way keep me down. I definitely spend a lot of my weekends planning and prepping lessons or grading papers, but I knew that was the gig when I signed up for it. It’s just a part of the profession. The school day definitely doesn’t end for us at 2:06.Why did you decide to start teaching?I had a friend in high school who was special needs. We were very close and I worked really well with him. I volunteered for the Special Olympics a lot in high school, and I got great joy out of doing it. Teaching students with special needs seemed like the right path for me, which is what I got certified in. English was always my favorite subject so I decided to get my certification in that as well.Are you happy with the subjects you teach?I love the subjects I teach. History and English are both great subjects that can have such an impact on the student’s lives. It’s really fun to create lessons that students can relate to on a personal level and make meaning out of. It’s always a good idea to teach things you actually enjoy. Students can tell when you’re not into a lesson, and you’d be surprised how much it affects them.Are there any schools you want to teach at one day? Or would you like to stay in WD?I’m not really sure where my teaching journey will take me. All I can say is that I love West Deptford, and these colleagues of mine have become like family. I love the students and the community, so West Deptford is my main focus.