Lauren Perkins: ‘I’m so inspired by my students’ tenacity and their stories’

Lauren works with English learners and kindergarten through fourth-graders on reading intervention at Enlace Academy. She’s been an educator for six years.

As told to Shaina Cavazos

After college, I decided to do Teach for America and just fell in love with education in a whole new way. I later found a position at Enlace Academy that was zeroing in on reading intervention and building student’s literacy skills. As someone who majored in literature and loves reading, that felt like a perfect fit for me. I helped bring our home literacy visits back to life, which was really an exciting process.

We identify the most struggling readers in each grade level, and then we work with teachers and parents to coordinate visits to their home. We bring pizza, library card applications, and tips in English and Spanish for how families can partner with the work we’re doing. We really encourage biliteracy. We reassure parents that building up their students’ literacy in Spanish, or whatever their home language is, gives them a stronger foundation to read in English. They’re often really concerned that since they may not have English literacy skills, they are somehow failing their students.

It’s a sacred experience to be invited into their homes. It really builds parents’ confidence as educators of their children and builds their trust in the school. Their children’s education is going to take a lot of teamwork, and home visits further deepen that pathway of community and openness.

I’m so inspired by my students’ tenacity and their stories. I’m inspired by how persistent they are and how hard they work. As someone who learned a second language, I can attest to how difficult it is. I think of one girl who was beginning her second year at Enlace as I was beginning my first. It was evident from the very beginning of our time together that she had a lot of distrust for teachers, and she was really aware of how low her reading level was. Over time, as we worked together and I made some intentional decisions to win trust with her, she started to open up.

Toward the very end of the school year, she was reading a book that was two full grade levels higher than what she could even attempt at the beginning, and she did so well that I pulled out a camera and recorded her so she could watch herself. She just became filled with pride and marveled at how far she’d come. She ended up growing two full years in reading and just blew me away with her confidence. That gives me inspiration to keep going on the really hard days.

When I was a newer teacher, some of the most useful advice I got was to remember that the teacher is the thermostat, not the thermometer — We are the ones who set the space. There’s no one right way to be a teacher, and students need you to show up every day as your authentic self, willing to listen to them, coach them, and support them with whatever they are struggling with.

We’re featuring each of the 11 Office of Education Innovation 2020 Teacher of the Year finalists. Look for new features throughout the summer and fall.