Savannah Tilley graduated from Smith College just weeks before joining the English department at People’s Prep. In the latest installment of Wolfpack Voices, Savannah discusses the challenges she’s faced as a first-year teacher, the growth she’s enjoyed in the classroom, and how she’s been able to build relationships with her students through remote learning.
What has your experience been like as a first-year teacher at People’s Prep?
It’s been challenging, but not in a way that feels bad. I think you’re always going to feel a bit uncomfortable as a first year teacher. I’ve never heard any new teacher say, “Oh it’s a breeze!”
Between my department, my coach, and my teaching partner, I’m surrounded by so many capable, intelligent, and passionate people. There’s been such a support system from people I can bounce ideas off of and can really look up to. I don’t think I would have grown this fast as a teacher anywhere else because the expectations are so high for teachers here.
You did some of your student teaching during the pandemic. How did that prepare you for this year?
Student teaching in general prepared me to adapt. When I first started, I was sort of thrown into the lion’s den with teaching an AP class right away, and I had no idea what I was doing. I had very little guidance. I realized pretty quickly that the pandemic is like a metaphor for teaching: sometimes things don’t go as planned.
But throughout the pandemic, I feel like PPCS has stepped up. There’s so much guidance I’ve received from my coach and my teaching partner. It has been really helpful to have that support right now.
Being at People’s Prep has also prepared me to be savvy in ways that I hadn’t imagined. We’ve done so much training on how to run a classroom online that I feel really prepared when I go to teach my classes.
As a new council coach, what has your experience been like and how have you found success?
I’ve put a focus on social-emotional learning with my girls. I know that learning online and being in a pandemic can be really challenging to your mental and emotional health, so I really wanted to build a sense of community in my council. Just to show them that we’re all here in this weird situation, but I’m here for them and we’re going to figure this out together. I do weekly check-ins with them and that has been helping a lot.
My other favorite thing about being a council coach has been having parent teacher conferences online. I think there’s something special about conversing virtually with the parent and student while they are in their own home. There’s something that’s really intimate about being able to see the parents interact with their children. And it makes you realize, “Oh yeah, they’re kids,” because I haven’t been able to spend time with them in person like we normally would.
But I am looking forward to being in the building whenever we go back. Especially with my council being ninth graders, it’s awkward for them and harder for them to make friends and build connections virtually, so I’m looking forward to that connection deepening if and when we are in the building next year.
In what ways do you think you have developed most as a teacher this year and what has been most beneficial to your growth?
Having that support system from my teaching partner Kelsey. She’s a really confident teacher. She’s taught me that teaching is 70% planning and 30% adapting in the moment. She writes really great lesson plans, and that’s something I didn’t have a solid background with before I was at People’s Prep.
I’ve also learned to show myself grace. It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. I have realized that setting healthy boundaries with technology has really allowed me to show up for my students when it is time to work. I’m still learning a lot, but I think this year has been really cool despite the challenges that come with it.