Carina Leaman: Rising High School English Teacher

We’re all looking for that perfect major after finishing high school. Everyone is looking at you to decide what to do next. For once, the power is in your hands, and of course, it comes at the time when you must decide what to do with the REST of your life! Luckily this may come a little easier to some after reading what the current Carolina Scholar, Carina Leaman, has to say about being a Teaching and Secondary English graduate student.

Her Campus South Carolina: What inspired you to want to become a high school English teacher? 

Carina Leaman: I was actually first inspired by my own freshman English teacher. That class was the first time that I fully realized that teaching was a career that I could actually pursue; it was one of those “aha” moments where everything suddenly made sense and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Being able to read and write all of the time and get paid? Perfect! Of course, it’s really nothing like what I thought it would be back in that class, but even when the realities settled in it still stuck, and I’m excited that it did.

HCSC: What is one of the most difficult part of teaching?

CL: Is it too depressing to say that it’s all difficult? In all seriousness, teaching is really a challenge all around, largely because you have to constantly hold yourself to the highest standard. You have to make sure you’re reaching state standards, you have achievable objectives, you’re designing engaging lessons, compiling various genres for thematic units, incorporating technology, differentiating for different ability levels…you have to be a bit of a jack of all trades in today’s classroom. Which is a good thing! I think it’s important to strive for success and make sure we’re recognizing our students’ unique individualities. It’s just a lot to get used to while you’re working to build up resources and find your rhythm.

HCSC: What has been the best part of your major?

CL: The best part of teaching is the connection with the students. Hands down. I’ve worked with students in a few different situations now, both in one-on-one situations and in the classroom setting, and there’s nothing more powerful or rewarding than helping a student fully understand a concept, or get excited about a topic, or really tackle a challenge. If it wasn’t for the kids, I don’t think I would be pursuing this career right now with the current educational climate.

HCSC: Do you think your time at USC has prepared you for teaching?

CL: I chose the MT program at USC because I knew it would prepare me better than the vast majority of programs out there. It’s designed to make sure you have a strong foundation in the content during your undergrad before getting you into as many hands-on experiences as physically possible—even before my full-time student teaching, I’ve seen so many schools and worked with so many students, I’ve grown more comfortable in the classroom than I ever thought I would be before my first full-time position. Granted, you always have to be on your toes when you step into a classroom for something to inevitably go crazily wrong, but I’m as prepared as I could possibly be.

HCSC: Could you see yourself pursuing a different career?

CL: Hypothetically, I could be doing something different? I’ve always loved the thought of being a librarian, or owning a small-town bookstore, or even doing something like interior design or architecture. But teaching has always been the reality for me—I can’t imagine staying out of the classroom or leaving it before I retire. Maybe once I’ve retired I’ll try something new, but I can’t imagine that now.

HCSC: What is one piece of advice you would offer an undergrad pursuing the same major/career?

CL: First and foremost, take care of yourself. This really goes for everyone but teaching can be particularly draining, especially if you’re in an underfunded and unsupported area. You see so many kids struggling with things they should never have to worry about at their age, and you’re fighting to make sure every kid is engaged and on task and safe in your classroom, and you’re working in six lesson plans at once, and it’s really easy to give all of yourself until there’s nothing left. Find a hobby, start jogging in the morning, pick up some yoga, take time to talk to your friends—yes, absolutely do your best to prepare for your classroom, but don’t forget that if you’re burned out you won’t be able to do your best when you’re teaching, and your students will be able to tell. Different people cope with stress in different ways, but you have to have some type of strategy before you step into the classroom or you won’t last.

HCSC: Is there anything else you feel that it is important for readers to know about education and teaching?

CL: Quick soapbox to wrap things up: if you’re not going into this profession, please don’t forget to support the teachers around you. Help fund those classroom libraries and office supplies, or volunteer with a fundraising event, or just remind us to de-stress at the end of a long day. We’ve all seen the news lately—we know what’s happening in the public education system—and I promise you that we are trying our best with the tools we’ve been given, but we won’t be able to fully do our best without community support.

With awards and recognition from the University of South Carolina, Carina is clearly well on her way to being a very influential and successful English teacher. Her journey is a prime example of hard work in pursuing a career that is both trying and rewarding is not impossible. Her words of wisdom can inspire many of you to shoot for the stars and pursue a field that you are passionate about even when things seem a little overwhelming.