Chávez High School first-year teacher Natalie Nelson is looking forward to some free time this summer, but she is also mulling over the things she will do differently next year. Nelson is one of five first-year HISD teachers who were invited to blog about their experiences on the district’s website. The blog, called “177 Days” for the number of days a teacher works each school year, chronicled the ups and downs of new teachers working in a large urban school district.
Nelson teaches government and economics to seniors, so she is saying goodbye to most of her students as they prepare to enter the next phase of their lives. As a softball coach, however, she has returning students with whom she has bonded, and she is looking forward to seeing them next year. Being a coach made sense for Nelson, because she was a year-round athlete herself in high school, playing five sports during her four years there. “Coaching is a huge commitment on top of carrying a full load of teaching with two preps,” she wrote on her blog, “but it has given me a larger connection to the student body and school community.”
Both of Nelson’s academic subjects are one-semester classes, so she did have a chance to improve her lesson plans during the second semester. Next year, however, she expects to see a major improvement in her teaching. “I will be working on how to teach the material, not focusing on what to teach,” she said. “I finally have my lesson plans together, and I plan to focus on delivering the content more effectively.”
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“Getting excited about teaching government and economics is easy with controversial topics such as immigration, abortion, and unemployment, but my students don’t always see it that way,” said Nelson. “At the beginning of the school year, I had all these grand plans for class discussions, debates, and cool projects, but I’ve found implementing those things has been way more difficult than I anticipated. Still, I’m not done trying. I’ll try again next year, this time with the experiences of the first year to build on.”
Nelson is a graduate of the University of Texas, where she majored in government before moving to Washington, D.C., to work as a political researcher. After a few years there, she attended Pepperdine Law School in California. “I never wanted to be what I call a ‘real lawyer,’” Nelson said. “My intention was to have a career in public service advocating to improve the lives of at-risk children.”
After finishing her law degree, Nelson moved to Austin to focus on children’s mental health policy within the Texas juvenile justice system. After a year, she was even more determined to prevent young people from ending up in those facilities. Education made the most sense to her, especially since her mother had been an elementary school teacher.
“I find social work and education to be really similar in their main goal to help those kids who are most vulnerable,” Nelson said. When asked if she thinks she has made a difference in her students’ lives, she said that by the time they are seniors, most of them have already figured out what they are going to do next.”
“Teaching is hard work and requires passion,” Nelson said. “The best I can hope for at this point is that I taught my students something that will stick with them as they move forward. Learning doesn’t stop when my students graduate – one of my main goals is to inspire students to become lifelong learners.”
See more at: http://www.177days.com/natalie-nelson