Jesse Masinter is a first-year English I (9th grade) and English II (10th grade) teacher at Independence Local 1 High School. Before becoming a teacher, Jesse was a student at Middlebury College in Vermont. Last year, he completed an Urban Teachers residency, teaching 7th and 8th grade ELA at City Springs Elementary/Middle School, with Wyatt Oroke (Mr. O) as his host teacher.
What has it been like starting your teaching career during a pandemic?
Starting my career as a teacher of record in a pandemic has resulted in a massive increase in the sense of responsibility I feel to my work, and to the students I have the privilege to teach. During this pandemic, school is one of the few sources of routine and stability students may have. However, this has been a challenging shift to the digital world for all teachers–regardless of experience–and it is much harder to see the rewards of that routine and stability in a Zoom room of black screens. Being virtual can be isolating, and I have felt a deep sense of responsibility to create a space for my students where they are engaged in critical thought, and their voices are heard.
With everything that’s been happening this past year, some new teachers are giving up and quitting their jobs. What motivates you to stick with it?
The relationships that I have built with students over this year are so meaningful to me, and I am absolutely looking forward to teaching my current 9th graders again during their 10th grade year. I love teaching because I love stories, and teaching is full of them. I’ll give a little shout out to my mom here, who always tells me to “write it down” when I tell her about my day. On the days when everything goes wrong, I remember a soft-spoken student opening up about a personal experience, or a student staying after class to say she really loved the discussion today, or a student explaining that he had always stayed quiet in classes before, but now he knew his voice and ideas mattered.
What’s your favorite thing about being a teacher? Your least favorite?
My favorite part about being a teacher is learning from my students! I love the silly and personal moments, when they tell jokes or talk about their lives. There’s always something new to do and think about, and I love that excitement.
My least favorite part of teaching is grading.
As a new teacher, why is the union important to you?
The union is important to me because the greatest resource I have is my fellow teachers. I have a buddy teacher through the BTU program, and I always enjoy talking with her. Especially as a new teacher, I know how important it is to feel connected to other teachers, and to be able to problem-solve challenges in and out of the classroom.
What can BTU do to better support new educators like yourself?
Especially in the midst of the pandemic, information seemed to change constantly, and all teachers had to scramble to adapt their classroom to the virtual world. There wasn’t a clear voice of leadership in BTU directing a plan of action and rallying teachers, which increased this lack of clarity. As a new teacher, I needed greater communication about changing best practices in a virtual and hybrid setting. This communication needed to be facilitated by BTU or the district itself. Unfortunately, in BTU Emergency General Membership Meetings, it was difficult for teachers to make their voices and concerns heard because the platform (namely, the fast moving or restricted chat-box) was not conducive to inquiry.
What are your hopes for next school year?
I’m currently teaching from the building, and seeing my students’ engagement in-person has given me a much-needed energy boost. I’m hopeful that we can keep our students and their families safe from COVID-19, while also increasing their engagement with school itself. As I work for a project-based learning school, I’m also hoping to design new projects that give students individual freedom to explore their own experiences, as well as the experiences of “the other” through a critical lens. I am hopeful my students will be able to create a unique and passion-inspiring final product.