Susel Ramos is a 24-year old Cuban-American from Cape Coral, Florida. In this interview, Susel dives into the reality of teaching in Lee County's education system and is transparent about her experiences as a first-year teacher.
Hi Susel! Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. To begin, can you explain a little bit of your background and college education?
I was born in Cuba. I came to the United States when I was only two years old. I lived in New Jersey for many years then eventually moved to Cape Coral, Florida. I went to the University of Florida and got two degrees in International Studies and French and Francophone Studies. I am currently at Florida Gulf Coast University getting my Masters in Educational Leadership.
Did you always know that you wanted to become a teacher?
NO! That's the detour my life gave me, but a very appreciated detour because it taught me a lot of good and bad things about life.
I started teaching because I came back home from college and this county did not have a lot of jobs available for me, so I started as a substitute teacher and once I started subbing I found out that my former French teacher was retiring, so I applied for the position since I studied French. I applied for my temporary certificate of teaching from the state and got a job at Cape Coral High School, my Alma mater.
Where exactly did you see yourself after graduating college? Is there a specific job you wanted to do?
After graduation in May 2016, I got accepted into the Peace Core, but I had to let it go to open myself up to more opportunities like graduate school. I applied to this graduate school in China but didn't get accepted. I didn't see myself being a teacher, but I always knew I wanted to go to graduate school.
What are the requirements for becoming a teacher?
I'm different than most teachers because I applied for my temporary certificate, which meant that I was eligible to teach the subject that I applied for to get the certificate for 3 years, so that's how I did it. To continue I would have had to get my professional certificate by taking a lot of tests.
How did you get your teaching certificate?
I applied through the Florida Department of Education online. I paid $70 for a background check, I sent my transcripts, then boom I received my certificate in the mail that easy!
What subject did you teach?
I taught French at Cape Coral High School. I taught French 2, Pre-IB French 2, French 3 & 4 Honors, and French 5 for the IB program.
Coming fresh from college and being around so many "experienced" teachers did you feel as if you would be looked down upon or that your age would hinder you by your
co-workers in any way?
I definitely think age hindered me more with my students. With my coworkers, I didn't really care if they thought less of me because I knew that I was trained in what I was supposed to do. I take myself seriously, so I expect others to take me seriously too. It was interesting because as an alumna of Cape Coral High a lot of my co-workers were my former teachers, so they already knew me.
When it comes to classroom decorating, is that all on you with your own money, or does the school pay?
Teachers have to buy everything. We do receive a $250 check at the beginning of the school year which is not a lot. Also, everything you buy for your classroom comes out of pocket before you even receive that check, so it's kind of like a reimbursement.
With the $250 I bought office supplies, like filing or data with most of it. Decorating my classroom was something I took pride in because I loved to have an environment where
my students felt safe and welcome.
It is expensive and takes a lot of time. I had help, but if I didn't it wouldn't have even happened during the 1st week of teaching. I, fortunately, was left a lot of things for my classroom due to the former French teacher retiring, so that made things slightly easier.
What is lesson planning like? Can you do your own thing or are you given a lesson plan and told what needs to be covered and what doesn't that you must follow?
There are standards that you have to go by. There are World Language standards, then other ones. I barely looked at my standards because it's a lot for a first-year teacher to take on. Collaboration is nice to have when lesson planning with other teachers. I had to lesson plan for 5 classes, so I tried to make it entertaining for all my students.
They are supposed to check it on my lesson plans, but no one checked anything. Standards should be checked by your department chair. The principal should check our lessons plans too but they don't do anything about it.
Do you get paid to host after-school study sessions or is that just on your own?
Teachers have to stay in school a little longer than the students. I stayed after until 3:30 pm every day in my classroom to work more and on Fridays I would host Scholarship days for my seniors to use me as a resource. I did that because I wanted to see my students successful.
I did not get paid for any of that.
Is it true that you are not allowed to add students on social media? If so, what are the repercussions?
It isn't a rule, but it is highly looked down on. I personally would rather not add my students on
social media because students in all age groups think they know everything and I feel that they
would act like they know my life based on the pictures I posted. It's just best not to have that
kind of interaction.
Are you in certain teaching contracts that you can't break while being a teacher? What would happen if you quit?
You are on a year by year temporary contract, but if you were to leave (which a lot of people have done), I don't think anything would happen. Which is sad because at the end of the day it's the kids who get affected. They would just hire a permanent substitute.
What was it like being close in age to your students?
It was a double edge sword. It was more bad for me than for them. I disliked my seniors because they were the ones who were closest in age to me and they were the most immature and rude. My favorite group was my sophomores. They were 14-15 and were really funny.
What are some things that teachers are not allowed to do, or are limited in some ways that a lot of people don't know about?
So many things! For example with social media, a lot of my mentors would be like "You can't post a picture of yourself with a drink as your profile picture. I'm like "What the heck? I'm 21 I can drink so why is that "illegal" if it's legal and also how does that affect my job like that's my personal life you know?
But I also think it is this county, so it's very different in a lot of other counties. Even me once being an Afro-Latina teacher and having curves, my attire had to be much more conservative sometimes, and I didn't mind that because the kids would be fresh if you tried to be all cute, but that just sucks because that's my body and I can't control if I have bigger boobs, hips, and butt.
Another thing is embracing students. I come from a very touchy-feely, hugging and kissing each other on the cheek because that's what's customary. Even touching a students hand would be too much and could be seen in other fashion when really that's just the way I am, so I tried to stay away from touching students at all.
You can't really talk about your personal life, which is fine but I feel like we are humans too and I feel that that's the thing that teachers and students lack is that connectivity at least with being a student and not seeing your teacher as a person.
What was a normal day of teaching like?
My days were 4 classes, one which included a planning period because of block scheduling. It depends on the class really. The first period in the morning would be really tired, so I'd be full of energy and super hype because I know they needed it the most. Sometimes those students didn't get the material as quickly as I wish they could have because they're not really paying attention.
6th and 8th period were my fun classes. The 8th period was at the end of the day and that was my favorite class. It's funny cause you expect them to be drained, but a lot of them still had it in them, were engaged and they made me laugh. We would go through the lesson for that day, then I would do a brain break for them where they could go on their phones because they complained about everything.
I just tried to really keep the kids engaged because it's hard keeping them engaged because they don't care and have a lot to learn while they have so many other things going on.
How long did it take you to memorize names?
A week! I'm pretty good with names and I try to do well with them. I memorized one class on the first day of school, but sometimes I'll forget their names like on vacation!
Everyone says teachers don't get paid a lot to what extent is that true? Do you think it's enough to live on, as we know most teachers have side jobs?
I definitely think that they do not get paid enough at all. Period point blank. Especially for everything that they do.
They don't get paid enough because the salary that they live on, despite the nice benefits and vacation, teachers are the creators of the future and that's not taken into consideration. Teachers are people and they have families to feed, things to do, and lives to live. If I was a teacher living by myself in this county, I wouldn't have enough money to pay my rent and that says enough.
My side hustle is photography! @urthirdeyeprods
What are some hobbies you like doing, or what would your students find you doing on the weekend?
Photography, dancing, & traveling!
Is it true that you get paid if your students pass a certain big test at the end of the year?
So they say, but it will be true once I see it. I think it should happen because those teachers are held to a higher standard and those students have to pass a very difficult examination that those kids also worked very hard for.
It's nice because it's a different compensation and it shows you that those examinations are international, or they come from other countries. It's a bonus. If you do harder work and you work hard that's what you're getting paid for. People are often like "What! You're getting paid for your students passing?" and it's like yes, because it was hard.
What is your true opinion of high school kids these days?
I think they're alright. I don't judge people until they give me something to really question. I never really judged any of my students even if they were low performing because it's not their fault. It comes from somewhere. I think high school students don't know what they have until it's gone, and that's really just people in general again. The educational system, in general, is not preparing our students for what they really need, like life skills. High school students you may go to college and you may not. You don't have to go to college, but it’s hard if you don't because what are you going to do in this world that doesn't accept you because you don't have a college degree or
doesn't pay you enough. They don't realize what's to come. You don't have to have everything figured out, but you have to be aware that you have to do things and be serious to make that step, like applying for scholarships. I don't think they use their resources to the maximum. It's unfortunate because the kids that are underprivileged and underdeveloped don't know the resources and they are the ones that need it the most. High school is just another phase in life. Kids have so much potential. I just wish they sought more for what's to come.
What kind of teacher would you say you were?
I only taught for a year, but I thought that I was a good person that really cared about her students and cared for all of them in different ways. I wanted them all to be successful on a personal level for themselves and academically. I knew that if they were doing better personally on a mental level, then they'd be able to do even better academically.
Favorite and least favorite thing about being a teacher?
Let's start negative because then we can finish with the positive :)
What I hated, detested and forever will never miss is just the system and the politics of the matter of teaching.
It's not even the work because life is full of work. Yes, it sucks doing lesson plans and grading don't get me wrong, but the matter of the fact is that I'm doing all this work and the system doesn't care, appreciate me, or pay me enough.
What makes it all better is that teachers keep teaching. It's because of the students and kids you are impacting and the lives you are changing. Even in my first year, I had great moments with my students and there was a time when we took a whole class period and appreciated each other and they appreciated me. I will forever keep that close to my heart. Those students, those kids, are really worth it. They really do care even if they show that they don't. It sucks when hope is lost on them or they lose hope. The bond you form with people was my favorite part.
What's something you wish you would have known going into your first year teaching?
Take a chill pill and relax.
You're not going to change everything that you want to change in your first year.
That's why the system has been running the way it has been for years and years. You are doing good work and you are really changing and dismantling things little by little, it's just not going to happen when you want it to happen.
What would you say to anyone who is aspiring to be a high school teacher?
Props to you! Honestly, we need you so don't quit. If you want to quit, just remember your "why".
If you did quit, it's okay because it's hard, but you can always go back. Just know that those kids are the ones who have been in the public school system for the longest and they're about to go into a new system with college that they don't know anything about, or maybe they do and they think they are ready, but they're not. Just know that you matter. Any teacher matters, but I wanted to do high school because at least for me, I was their last hope and wanted to be there for them, so stay hopeful.
What is the best way for people to reach you if they have any questions about your experience teaching or any advice you can give them?
I can be reached through my Instagram @iamsuselramos.
Susel, the pleasure has truly been all mine getting the chance to interview you today. Thank you so much!
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