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AmeriCorps Journey to Becoming a Teacher

May 4, 2020
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Israel Rodreguez_Headshot_CoFo_12.19

Just like anyone else, my journey to becoming a teacher and coaching started somewhere before I ever became a CoFo Coach, and long before I started working with my current students. I joined College Forward as a student at John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville ISD in 2013, and I am now serving as an AmeriCorps College Access Coach at the same school. Thinking about my time as a student at Connally High School and all the service I received from College Forward, I wanted to give back to the College Forward and Connally HS communities as they have helped me.  

My story started with my very first exposure with students of low socioeconomic status as an adult. During the spring semester of my third year of college at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, I started teaching observations in a band classroom at Ed White Middle School in Northeast ISD. Everything I observed in just that one day was a big shock to me. I no longer saw middle school from the eyes of a student but the eyes of an adult and future teacher. I knew since high school that I wanted to become a band director, but this day was where my watered seed grew. I realized then that there are students that will need a lot more help and nurturing.

After five weeks of observing students, I started to practice teaching later that semester. Getting up there in front of students for the first time made me feel a bit nervous. I was worrying that I may miss going over something or mess up. While that was initially the case to an extent, my mentor teacher was there to support me through it all. Throughout that month, I was able to practice and improve on teaching secondary students and preparing lesson plans.

In addition to my university experience, I also gained some student-coaching skills through College Forward while I was still a College Forward student myself. The summer before my senior year, I worked with College Forward as a Summer Bridge Coach. As a Summer Bridge Coach, I worked virtually with students who were new high school graduates. I helped them with their transition from high school graduation to college or whatever other immediate plans they had and was virtually there to support them. I really liked working with these students and coaching students that needed this help, so I returned the following summer to work with a different set of high school graduates. This time, I also got to work with students in the Rural Student Success Initiative in Paris, TX.

Israel as a Summer Bridge Member at Summer Open Office 2019

Fast forward to August 2019, I started my Access Coach AmeriCorps term at College Forward. As an Access Coach, I have learned the value of having a good relationship with each of your students. In the fall, I worked mostly with seniors supporting them in putting the finishing touches on their college applications. In the after school meetings, since most of what they learned came from their junior year classes and their previous Access Coach, Lead Access Coach, Maria Montoya, and I helped strengthen that. We helped them with ApplyTexas, the common application for Texas postsecondary institutions, making an FSA ID, filling out the FAFSA application, talking about college life, and helping them read their financial aid packages from their respective colleges.

This spring semester, I began working with juniors. As with the seniors, the CoFo juniors also attend after school meetings, have 1-on-1 sessions with their coach, and attend a Family Night. Our after school meetings have covered college exploration by working on a College Matrix, taking a personality test, and working on some SAT practice questions. Our 1-on-1 sessions serve the purpose of not only being there academically for our students, but it is an excellent way to get to know students individually and how we can support them. Our Family Nights for juniors serve as a way to go over what College Forward is and our purpose with students and their families, while for seniors, it is more FAFSA/TASFA-focused.

Israel at Connally High School with our CoFo Coach Mascot, Rosie the Riveter.

I will say that COVID-19 put in a roadblock, but College Forward helped pave a detour path to success. Ever since the coronavirus hit worldwide, and Texas started the stay-at-home order, I did not stop coaching my students. During this time, we have held virtual coaching sessions to prepare résumés and recently started talking about college essays. Thanks to CoPilot—the College Forward student information system built on the Salesforce.com platform, I am currently getting in touch with my students virtually, according to each of my students’ preferences.

The combination of family events, after school meetings, and 1-on-1 sessions, help build a good relationship with students, whether they stay strictly professional or there is a bit of bonding to open up. I do my best to keep in touch with my students, and while not every student will respond, that’s okay. Whether or not the student ends up responding sooner, later, or at all, they see that I care about them and want to see them succeed. After all, as an Access Coach, I am just watering the seeds, getting ready for their future Success Coaches to nurture and tend the trees and flowers when the time comes.

As someone who is currently also working on a teacher certification through the Texas Teachers of Tomorrow alternative certification program, I have seen connections between what I learn from there and what I have seen at my school site. Just as it is important to deliver content, it is more important to be there for the student and accommodate the delivery of the lesson as best as one can.

I initially applied for the program back in the summer, and all they asked for were a final college transcript, a resume, and content exams for what I would like to teach. I took a music EC-12 exam back in August 2019 in Austin and a LOTE-Spanish exam in October 2019 in San Antonio to qualify for the program. Even though I did not receive a high enough score for the Spanish test, I at least did with the music test and sent both results to the program. With everything processed, I officially enrolled in the program in December 2019. As a part of the program, I took a lot of online courses during my own time. I attended 12 hours of in-person observations at John B. Connally High School, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, finished my final 18 hours through the online portal.

At the end of April, I received my Statement of Eligibility for me to send to the schools that I am applying to work as a teacher next fall!

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