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Ashley Lawrence

Baltimore City Teaching Residency

Elementary, 1st Grade

Why did you become a teacher?

My background is in health research, and I noticed that a lot of older adults who had gone through the Baltimore City Public School System didn’t know how to read, which led to disparities in access to health information and care. At that time, I was pregnant with my daughter, and I grew concerned about what her education would look like in Baltimore City.

Why did you choose to apply for Baltimore City Teaching Residency?

After doing some research, I knew I wanted to become an educator, but I didn’t want to go back to school (I already had two degrees). I looked at different alternative certification programs, but other programs took too long or cost too much money. When I came across Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR), the six-week program and more-reasonable cost sounded good to me.

What was your pre-service training experience like, and how did it prepare you for the classroom?

My first day of pre-service training (PST) was my daughter’s first birthday—it was a very emotional day. We dove right into the content. They basically said, “Welcome! Here’s your t-shirt, let’s get started.” And I liked that. If I was committing six weeks of my time, I wanted to make the most of it so I could jump into the classroom.

Have you formed lasting relationships with other Fellows? If so, how has that been helpful?

Yes, absolutely. My cohort was very close, and I still keep in touch with most of the members. During the program, we would spend evenings and weekends together, going over content, practicing and facilitating content together, going to happy hour. We even created a Dropbox where we would share our teaching ideas and other resources. We are still close, going to events and baby showers for each other.

What were your first and second years in the classroom like?

My first year, I was paired with another kindergarten teacher who was right across the hall. She was very supportive. But when October came around, the school decided to move her to teach a 3rd-grade class and combine the two kindergartens— so I was teaching all 39 kindergarten students. When people would visit my classroom, they’d say, “You are like the mayor of your own town!” The lead teacher in our building was an alum of the BCTR program, and he was always coming in to give me quality feedback, even though he wasn’t technically my coach. It was nice to have someone in the building who understood the program and could support my development. Most people would have given up in my situation. It was a huge learning experience, and very overwhelming. But I only cried once, and then I said, “Let’s make this happen.”

What has been the most rewarding part of teaching this year?

I learned a lot teaching kindergarten students online during the pandemic. Using the computer for teaching tapped into my digital skills—and I have carried some of those over to how I teach in person now. I really like creating interactive activities that students can do at home now that they have increased technology access post-pandemic. This year, I began teaching first grade, and most of the kindergarten students I had online last year are now in my class. Having those connections with their families—I was “in” their homes for a year—helped with the transition back to in-person school.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

I stepped into some leadership positions over the last school year. It has been challenging to balance that while being in the classroom full time. I became an Academic Planning Facilitator for Literacy for the whole school. I facilitated weekly professional development for our Literacy team, coached and mentored literacy teachers, and taught full time.

How have you connected with your school’s local community?

I like not just the students but also the connections I make with their families. Especially as an early childhood education teacher, I feel like much more than an educator; I’m a resource hub. I feel like a valuable part of each family’s life, helping them with housing, transportation, social services—even the computer. I really get to see them learn, grow, and develop, which goes back to my background in health. I’m still serving the community in a multitude of capacities.

What advice would you give someone who is applying to Baltimore City Teaching Residency?

Be prepared for a fast-paced yet supportive environment. The way that BCTR is set up is not for everyone. It’s for people who are seriously looking to start their teaching career quickly with the support of a team of people. I’d advise taking time to see what barriers might prevent you from dedicating the long days. And remember that the days are long, but the weeks are short! Understand your why; why are you doing this? That is going to be what helps keep you motivated through the program.

What self-care strategies do you employ?

It took me a long time to learn how to balance that. My first two years, the Pre-K teacher would come and take me to her classroom to sit down and have a full lunch break. I learned from her that you don’t always have to grade papers during your break. Sit, eat, have an adult conversation.

Why do you think it is important to teach right now?

The students need us, more than anything. They need quality instructors in front of them who are ready to show up each and every day. With the everchanging world we live in and inconsistencies of daily life, it’s so important for students to have that consistent adult for their overall development as a human. There is so much we can share with our students. Our students need you—if you look around, there’s nobody like you here. When my daughter’s friends come by the house and see my teaching supplies, they look at me like I’m a unicorn! I had a third grader tell me they’ve never had a Black teacher before, and that she hopes her teacher is Black. As adults, we hear this all the time—representation in the classroom matters. But hearing it from a child was a lot more powerful.

What keeps you motivated as a teacher?

I love that there are so many possibilities with this career. I don’t feel stifled. I could teach a different subject, grade level, or community. I could step into leadership. There are so many avenues to grow and develop in this field. I love that I’ve been spending the past three or four years coaching new teachers. I love to share my joy with them. And teaching taps into my creative side, too. I can show up as whoever I want to be in the classroom, have fun, be playful, and even transform the classroom into an underwater sea world! I am motivated to learn what interests the students and figure out ways to incorporate those interests into the next lesson.