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Omari James

Occupation:  English teacher, Whitman HS
Education: Sherwood HS (Early Child Development Program), University of Maryland

What English courses do you teach?
I teach a 9th grade reading and writing course and an AP Language and Composition class for juniors.

Did you dream about being a high school teacher as a kid?
Growing up, I  wanted to be a computer programmer or a game designer. I could have gone into either of those fields but I was inspired by my high school English teacher, Ms. Dibler.  It was because of her that I developed a passion for literature and majored in English in college. The idea to teach came from an administrator that I bumped into when I went back to Sherwood for a visit. She knew I had been in the Early Child Development program when I was in the 11th grade and suggested the master’s program in secondary English at Maryland. I thought being a teacher was beyond what I could accomplish, and I was nervous that I’d be rejected. I was thrilled when I got in and glad that I went for it.  

You taught preschool students through the Sherwood program. That’s a big age difference between the students you now teach.    Did the program help you at all in your current role?
Never let it be said that the skills you develop teaching different age groups are not transferable. From planning lessons, teaching, being observed, observing my peers, and getting critiqued, everything I did in the preschool program has helped me every day as a high school teacher. The daily interactions with students, the lesson that didn’t go as planned, having a professional overseeing you so thoroughly, and the exhaustion that comes with working with a group of students for a long time all go a long way in building the mental fortitude you need to be a teacher.

Do you think the Early Child Development Program gave you an early edge?
There were a lot of people in my master’s program who were really talented, and they were just overwhelmed with teaching. In addition to all of the nuts and bolts of developing and teaching lessons, I learned patience, organizational skills, how to be flexible, and how to pace myself early on so that when I stepped into a classroom, I was definitely more prepared. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my share of struggles, and they certainly continue today.  But I believe that my time in the Early Child Development Program went a long way in solidifying my foundation.  Put it this way:  the stress was always manageable, and solutions could always be found. 

Are there ever days when you question your career choice?
The job is exhausting and can be stressful, for sure. But I really, really love my kids and the moments I have with them. They are at an age where we can have deep, thoughtful discussions about literature and it’s incredibly rewarding to share with them the books that inspired me when I was in high school. It’s also important for them to know that I care about them as individuals. There’s so much more to a student than what we see when they come to school and they are working through their own challenges. At the end of every day, I ask myself, “Did I make a difference today?”  I can’t always say yes to that. But when I step back and look at the year…yes, I do believe I’m where I ought to be.   I can’t imagine doing anything else.   

 

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