It takes a special calling to begin your career in the private sector and then move into the public school system to teach. It’s not because the pay is better. The move is a calling and a desire to teach and make an impact on kids.
Teachers have a special calling. Jennifer’s story reinforces everything special about teachers and how they care about what they do. In the end, it’s all about our kids.
Jennifer is a math teacher and math team coach at Corner Middle School.
Treye Hanner: Tell us a little about you and how you decided to become a teacher?
Jennifer Rouse: That’s a long story, and very much a “God thing”! I grew up in Walker County and had several teachers who made a huge impact on my life. I always knew I wanted to work with children, so I earned an undergraduate degree from Birmingham-Southern in psychology, but I never really had any plans to be an educator.
I worked as an autism behavior therapist in the private sector and had no intentions of leaving that path. At that time in my life, my best friend was a teacher, and this was right when inclusion was being embraced in public schools. She, and other teacher friends, would often ask me for tips on how to help ALL of their students learn and grow.
As I gave her feedback on different ways she could help kids understand the content and ways she could build a rapport with them, she would tell me almost daily, “We need you! You need to be a teacher!” I just brushed if off, over and over again.
About a year or so after that, she (my best friend) was in an automobile accident that ultimately led to complications that would take her life. At that point in my career, I was pregnant with my daughter so I couldn’t work on the unit with my students due to safety issues. I missed my kids and I missed my friend.
I remember one day sitting and looking out the window and thinking to myself, “Life is short, and I can never fill her shoes, but if there’s ONE kid I can help, then it will all have been worth it.” So, I put it in God’s hands. Every corner I turned, a door was opened.
In the same month, August 2005, I was accepted into graduate school in the education department at UAB and was offered my first teaching position on emergency certification. The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been in education for 18 years and, to this day, I am so grateful that He knew better than I did.
Treye Hanner: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
Jennifer Rouse: The kids, hands down! I’m a math teacher, but I don’t teach math…I teach kids. Yes, I want them to walk away knowing more math than when they first entered my room, but it’s more important to me that they walk away as confident lifelong learners, as better humans, as people who aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need it and who will offer assistance to others without a second thought. I’ve known some of these kids since they were born, while others I meet for the first time when they walk into my classroom as 8th graders.
The relationships that I get to build with them and their families, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Treye Hanner: Are there special moments where you say to yourself “this is why I teach?”
Jennifer Rouse: There are so many, and they’re definitely what keep me going! Sometimes, it’s the lightbulb moment, when a kid who’s been struggling finally gets it and is confident in their work. Other times it’s when the kid who hasn’t made a peep all year finally volunteers to share his/her thinking with the class or even just with me one-on-one. It’s when the kid who has never felt like they’ve been able to trust an adult with their emotional burdens shares with me what they’re going through, not because they need anything “fixed”, but just because they need someone to hear them. It’s the kid who told me at the end of the year, “Mrs. Rouse, I still don’t love math, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.” It’s the little sticky notes that get left on my desk. It’s them trying to teach me random TikTok dances during afternoon bus supervision. The ones who literally won’t leave my room until I say, “I love you, bye!” The hugs. The letters. The ones who come back to see us as seniors in high school, or seniors in college, or just to bring us lunch because they miss us. Forever and always, it will be the kids. They have as much impact on our lives as we do on theirs.
Treye Hanner: What challenges have you experienced while having to teach through the pandemic?
Jennifer Rouse: The biggest struggle for me this year has been getting them readjusted to the expectations of face-to-face school. I think everyone was worried about the learning gaps, and rightfully so, but there are also social-emotional challenges we’ve faced that we might not have anticipated.
It’s a lot to go from online school to part-time school, to full-time school. Keeping the kids engaged and getting them reacclimated to how to study for tests, how to turn things in on time, how to talk to one another face-to-face, conflict resolution.
All those things take practice even within what we used to consider a “normal” school year, so the past 2 years have been an added challenge. It’s a difficult balancing act trying to teach students with the right portions of grace, high expectations, and consistency.
Treye Hanner: What’s the one thing you would like people to know about teachers?
Jennifer Rouse: We love our kids. We work hard for them and lose sleep over them. We pray for them, and we try to connect with them on a meaningful level every day. We are human and we make mistakes, but we never stop trying to learn and be better for them, because they deserve it, and they are why we do what we do.