This August, West Potomac welcomed over 30 new teachers this year. As students, it’s difficult to get a read on so many first-year teachers, so to take out the guess work, The Wire has decided to feature a new first year teacher each week. This week’s new-teacher highlight is AP Language and Composition and Humanities teacher Rachel Kaplan.
Kaplan, originally from Westchester County, New York, moved to the D.C. area at 24 without a job, looking for a change in her life after working for over two years as a newspaper reporter and later editor in Connecticut. She chose this area in particular because her cousin had recently moved here. Housing was easy to find as her cousin had an extra room in her home for Kaplan to use while she got settled. After Kaplan decided to move, her two childhood best friends decided they would also move to this area.
Eventually, Kaplan began working for the Department of Homeland Security as a Public Affairs Officer and Speechwriter.
“While I liked the job on some levels, I did not at all feel fulfilled,” she said. “I knew that I wanted my work to have more meaning. I started volunteering Downtown [Washington D.C.] – tutoring [students in] reading and writing who were below grade level. I absolutely loved it, and realized that teaching and working with students was really where my heart was.”
Kaplan decided to go back to graduate school at Marymount University to get her Master’s Degree in Education while working full time. She took weekend classes, and in the spring of 2015 she got the opportunity to be a student teacher for Mr. Richard Cuminale at West Potomac.
“I really loved the school and the community [at West Potomac]. I knew that I wanted to be here. It was my top choice.”
In Cuminale’s classroom, Kaplan developed her own teaching style and philosophy, which includes encouraging students to communicate openly and sharpen their reading and writing skills.
“I strive to bring the type of learning environment where students feel comfortable to be themselves and feel like they don’t always have to be perfect, but they want to be here and want to learn. I really try to focus on reading, writing, creative thinking, and communication,” she said.
Nevertheless, Kaplan doubts herself at times.
“I worry all the time about being a first year teacher and not being good enough,” she confessed. “I constantly worry about whether or not [my students] are getting the education that [they] deserve. I feel like because I have such little experience, a lot of things are trial and error. I wish I had more of a baseline to know what works and what doesn’t.”
In spite of this, she knows exactly what she wants from her students.
“What I really want for them is to succeed and figure out what they enjoy. I want them to realize that they can do anything they put their mind to. I want to open their minds to the fact that it’s a big world out there and reading, writing, and grammar are all important,” she said.
Kaplan, who is affectionately referred to as ‘Kappy’ by her students, also said that she of all the responsibilities she has as a teacher, she spends the most on grading.
“I think that grading takes a really long time, especially as an English teacher because it’s not like you can just read through and slap a grade on it. You have to read through and comment and try to understand where the person is coming from and what skills you want to assess. It takes a long time reading people’s writing and giving constructive feedback which is what I want to do.”
Her most rewarding moments are when she feels as if her students learned something or thought deeply about things and were able to communicate them. The most interesting thing she’s experienced as a teacher actually came from reprimanding a group of students for teasing a classmate.
“I have a student that is seriously allergic to citrus and as a joke a lot of the kids [in the class] will dramatically start peeling clementines or oranges in front of [the student]. I’ve never had to say to a group of students so many times, ‘Please put that clementine away.’”
Although the school year so far has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, Kaplan said, “I’m happy to be here.”