Jules Perez '13, '14, has a quiet, calm presence that belies her great confidence and skill in teaching and working with young people. After serving two years with City Year Boston and completing the Boston Teacher Residency program, Perez is now in her third year of teaching in Boston Public Schools (BPS). We sat down with her to talk about her path through service to teaching.
After growing up in Camden, NJ and graduating from Brown University in 2012, Perez served as a first year AmeriCorps member at The English High School. Her team was “as diverse as a team can get.” Her best friend on the team was her polar opposite. Perez is Puerto Rican and “a kid from the city that hated nature;” Jeremy was a white guy with red hair that loved the mountains. “But he was so thoughtful and sensitive and led with his heart. I learned to appreciate a lot of things that I hadn't really thought of through our friendship.”
Perez served with 9th grade repeaters. They were students who had failed 9th grade and were taking a mesh of 9th and 10th grade classes. It was a difficult crew; there was a lot of pushing and convincing. They had their guard up, and she felt for them; in her words, "You don't want to go to a place where you've never felt success."
To effectively support those students, she said,
“It starts with realizing that they [students] are people. It has to be a two-way street. You’re not just a sounding board; you’re also someone who’s willing to open up about yourself. You should embrace feeling vulnerable with students.”
The English High School utilized a cohort model, meaning that Perez rotated among four partner teachers. These teachers empowered her to lead in the classroom and placed trust in her relationships with students. They gave me frequent useful, helpful, specific feedback and advice. Their support, positivity, and them serving as examples for Perez heavily played into her decision to look into teaching.
The way she supported the teachers and students varied day to day, and changed over the course of her service year. She rotated between individual, small group, and whole classroom support. “Sometimes it was about getting a particular group of students into the lesson, focus, and get the work done. That was the best part to me, getting to know my students and getting them to be excited about whatever work was in front of them. Get them focused, get them feeling like this is something they could do.” At the start of the year, she stuck to whole classroom support. As she built trust and rapport, she began to pull small groups of students out.
In her second service year, she served as a Team Leader alongside another senior corps member, Sophie, who inspired her to take a risk and apply for Boston Teacher Residency. “She just made sure I did it, she's never let me lose confidence in myself and she really had faith in the fact that like I would make a great teacher.” With the support of Sophie and her City Year Boston staff mentor, she was accepted to the Boston Teacher Residency. This unique program enables participants to prepare to teach and then go on to commit to teaching in Boston Public Schools for three years.
After an intense and rewarding year of student teaching at Jeremiah E. Burke High School, Perez began teaching at Charlestown High School. “You fail often, often pretty hard. Your students will let you know.” It was a big year of humility for her. She found it that it made her very prepared for her first year of teaching at Charlestown High School. That first year was challenging in a different way: “You need to embrace failure. It’s not that you need to believe in yourself, it’s more that you need to believe that the failing will cause you to be better and that just because you fail a few times doesn't mean you're a terrible teacher." Resilience, self-compassion, and perspective were recurrent themes in the start of her teaching career.
“’It takes a village,’ is one of my norms to this day. I resonate with all of City Year’s ten organizational values, especially empathy. You have to understand where your students are coming from to understand their struggles. The other big thing I took away was the amazing community support I gained from City Year.”
Things have come full circle: this year, Perez has a City Year AmeriCorps member of her own for the first time, Mia. Perez has worked with Mia in much the same way that her partner teachers worked with her: empowering her to lead. Mia has built empathy and rapport with students through authenticity: "She [Mia] has been who she truly is to the core and the students really respond to that; they come to her for academic support. She’s flexible and takes initiative…Having the support and consistent presence of a corps member has changed what I can do as a teacher dramatically."
Regarding her service year, Perez said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those City Year relationships. As much as I love my students, teaching is also about having the confidence and the will to know that this matters. You need people to remind you of that sometimes-the students won’t always do that-you need adults to remind you that this is hard and important work. In my friends and mentors from City Year, I have found that supportive presence.”
But there's one thread that runs through both service and teaching for Perez. “It’s always students. I have less patience with adults than I do with young people. I think part of that is because they're still figuring themselves out. It feels more hopeful to have conversations about values because they're still figuring out who they are."
"It is so rewarding to see young people grow and to be a part of that growth. I feel very humbled by, for example, the young person who is so guarded and skeptical about the world and takes a moment to actually engage with a new idea and really question themselves. To me, that is beautiful, because you don't get to see that that often with adults, not in the same way."
"Not all the time; it doesn’t happen every day. They are normal young people, and they’re allowed to be stubborn and hard-headed. I keep coming back because of those relationships and the privilege of helping a student learn that they're capable of so much more. But also, in the process, they blow my mind with the things they say and they bring back so much faith to me in what the world has to offer. They are each so amazing and unique. That, to me, is the best part.”