My Classroom Story: Elizabeth Wallace

My Classroom Story: Elizabeth Wallace

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Q. What grades and subjects did you teach?

I taught mostly high school, but have experience teaching from seventh grade through community college. I taught AP [Advanced Placement] German 1, AP and IB [International Baccalaureate] French, English grades 7–12, and business administration at the college level in the public sector [both] in the U.S. and abroad.

Q. How long have you been teaching?

I am currently retired from the classroom, but still teaching through my blog,, my Twitter, @ElizaWallace27, and my book, Free College.

I started teaching after school in my neighbor’s backyard when I was only seven. I taught neighborhood “little kids” until they were old enough for kindergarten. They were miserable because they couldn’t go to school, and I knew I could help. I was also given classes to teach during school hours while I was in the eighth grade and while still in college. Just counting the classes where I was paid, I taught for almost forty years.

Q. What was the hardest part of being a teacher?

The hardest part of teaching was the frustration I felt whenever an administrator said our budget was cut, so we were expected to do more with less. This really meant teachers would have to spend more of their own paychecks to make up for the shortfall of public funding.

Q. What was the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

The most rewarding part of teaching is when a student “gets it”. Once a student raised her hand after I had explained something to the class. She said she didn’t understand. Another student raised her hand and asked if she could try [to explain]. She explained it clearly, and the other student thanked her. The best part was when the girl who had helped turned to me with a grin on her face and stated, “I’ve never had a grade higher than a D in English before, and now I’m explaining English grammar to an honor student.” Made my day.

Q. Have you often had to spend your own money on classroom supplies? What supplies? Approximately how much did you spend each year?

During the first ten years of my teaching career, schools had a budget for each department to buy supplies and instructional materials. Then everything changed. There were no more department budgets. I had to buy everything except the primary textbooks and furniture. Foreign language realia is more expensive than what is used in a regular classroom. The most I spent in one year was $3,000. This doesn’t include what I spent when I escorted German or French students to Europe over spring break or during the summer. I paid my own way, but helped students raise money to reduce the cost to their families.

Q. Is there a particular item or school supply that you ran out of in your classroom more often than other items? If so, what item and why did you use more of it than other things?

I used up white board pens and erasers like they were facial tissue. Mine was an active classroom where students and I frequently worked on the board. Even in the days when there were school budgets, the school district didn’t buy erasers. How odd is that?

Q. How active were the parents of your students in your school?

I mostly taught in lower socioeconomic areas where parents were often immigrants. They were very concerned and supportive, but often afraid to speak up (for obvious reasons).

Q. If you had to choose only one lesson to get across to your students each year, what would it be?

I taught my students [that] higher education was the key to reaching their goals in life. I also explained they were responsible to make this happen for themselves. I showed them how by example. They knew my goals, and whenever someone on campus told me what I wanted to achieve was impossible, I replied, “Oh, yeah? Watch me.” They did.

Q. What one tip would you give to other aspiring teachers?

If you can see yourself teaching at the community college level rather than K–12, go for it. You’ll have a far better work-life balance. You may still have some stress, but it won’t be as hard on you as teaching in the lower grades. I say this despite ninth graders being my favorite age group.

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