Middle school. A period of time in children's lives where many struggle with the transition from childhood to young adulthood. Many will also tell you that middle school is an area that struggles to attract new teachers. However, this is the exact age group that Jessica Rodriguez can't wait to work with. Rodriguez, a junior majoring in Middle Grades Education, is looking forward to teaching this unique group and is undaunted by their emotional and social needs or cognitive capabilities. "I like working with children in middle school because it is a tricky age," she says. "They have to deal with so much and as a middle school teacher I can help them along the way and really prepare them for early adulthood."
Originally from Union Beach, New Jersey, Rodriguez transferred to East Carolina University from Brookdale Community College in her home state. While at Brookdale, Rodriguez took an educational psychology course that she cites as being her favorite college course. "In this course I was able to study how people learn as well as the development stages children go through in the learning process," she shares. "The course was so interesting and really helped me fine tune how I develop lesson plans."
Rodriguez's interest in the field of teaching began at a young age. While in pre-kindergarten, Rodriguez developed an affinity for her teacher, Ms. Jerri. According to Rodriguez, "pre-K is such an important developmental stage in any child's life. My home life was more challenging than others and Ms. Jerri found a way to connect to me and help me. She supported me emotionally, as a mentor and teacher, and really set me up for success." Undoubtedly, Ms. Jerri set a positive example for Rodriguez and fostered her natural proclivity towards teaching. "Ms. Jerri let me be a teacher's helper. I would pretend to be the teacher and look over the other students' shoulders while they did their work," she says with a chuckle.
The future looks bright for Rodriguez, even if she isn't exactly sure where her path will take her. She shares, "I may eventually teach overseas. I am interested in teaching in Japan or South Korea, or even in Latin America." She also has an interest in working with an education reform organization called Breakthrough Collaborative. This organization works with low-income middle school students enrolled in under-resourced schools who aspire to go to college. "I would like to complete an internship with Breakthrough Collaborative next summer and help to teach and mentor these students," she shares.
It is clear that Rodriguez believes in the value of the teacher-student mentor relationship as she has seen the positive effects mentoring has had on her own life. Now, Rodriguez has a permanent reminder that the sky is the limit when it comes to fulfilling her dreams. "I have a tree tattoo on my back that symbolizes my growth. It is a reminder to myself that I have come from a low place but that I can do anything I set my mind too."