May 25, 2016

Teachers Talk Back: Deszreen Mitchell

Deszreen Mitchell is a math teacher at New Haven Job Corps in New Haven, Connecticut. In this conversation with E4E-Connecticut Outreach Director Lauren Koster, she shares her experience as a New Haven educator.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Lauren Koster (LK): When did you know you wanted to become a teacher and why?

Deszreen Mitchell (DM): When I was about 10 years old, I used to play school with my siblings and friends. As I grew up, my life began to take a different route, but I never felt complete until I made a decision to pursue my dream – my purpose – and that was to become a teacher. I truly believe that teaching is where I can always find my “center,” where I feel fulfilled at the end of the day. To be an agent of change and to be a catalyst in the lives of children is the reason I wake up every day and motivate my students to love learning.

LK: You have teaching experience in Bridgeport and Stratford as well. Describe how those experiences compared.

DM: I had amazing experiences in both districts teaching diverse groups of students who came from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In fact, I realized through these experiences that it does not matter from where your students come, because as a teacher, it is critical that you understand all of your students, respect their thoughts and speak kindly to them. At the end of the day, my students were always excited to complete their projects and present; in both districts, I saw in them a real love of learning.

LK: What do you love most about teaching in New Haven thus far?

DM: I love the school climate, actually! Students and teachers really respect each other. For example, students will stop by my classroom to say good morning and check in with me. It is such a good feeling to know that they care. Teachers also meet frequently with one another to discuss student progress.

At New Haven Job Corps, I also love to see how involved these students are in their trades, in addition to their academics. I value being a part of a team that is helping to prepare our youth for a better future.

LK: Tell me a little bit about your students.

DM: My students range in age from 17 to 24. Students receive advanced career training, including vocational, academic and social skills, all of which prepare them to become well-rounded individuals. Every 90 days, they take a standardized test to help us evaluate their progress and plan accordingly for their future success.

LK: We are in the midst of our school climate and discipline advocacy work in New Haven. What’s your classroom climate philosophy?

DM: Treat each other with respect. Every Wednesday afternoon, we discuss various social skills topics, and I give my students opportunities to find solutions to social issues that we encounter. I also believe in positive reinforcement. On one of my last days of school, a student wrote to me, “I know I can be off track at times, but thank you for getting me back on track.”

LK: Why did you join E4E and what most excites you about your membership?

DM: I am always excited to learn how to advance the futures of my students, and E4E seemed like a great opportunity to do just that. As a member, I have learned about Connecticut school finance by serving on the 2016 Teacher Policy Team, which also gave me a deeper understanding of how to research and analyze data. It is also very rewarding to discuss with other members important issues that affect our students.

LK: What does your ideal education system look?

DM: My ideal education system would ensure that every student has a real opportunity to succeed, provide students with the most recent technologies and recognize each student as an individual who is a part of a broader community. I would build strong parent-teacher relationships and encourage community members to take part in celebrations of our cultures alongside our students.