AfterClass

In our final update of the school year with Brianna Winiesdorffer, she reflects on how she's grown through the past year and her excitement for continuing her teaching career.

Jul 08, 2021

We are documenting Brianna Winiesdorffer’s journey as a 2020 Northern Arizona University graduate planning on a lifelong career in education. Learn more about this project and Winiesdorffer here.

Through her first year of teaching, Brianna Winiesdorffer transformed as a teacher and as a person. In a year full of uncertainty, Winiesdorffer established relationships with her students,  made difficult decisions, and grew her own understanding of a subject and age group she hadn’t expected to teach.

“I think a big part of me is relieved to have gotten the first year over—and sad. I’m sad my first year is already behind me, because it still feels really surreal that I even graduated and ended that chapter of my life and started this new chapter,” she says. “But, at the same time, I really am excited for next school year and what it will hopefully bring.”

When Winiesdorffer graduated from Northern Arizona University in the spring of 2020, she was on the hunt for an elementary special education position and, like most teachers, looked forward to teaching in person in the fall. She ended up as a high school math resource teacher and spent the majority of the school year online, with the final 10 weeks simultaneously teaching students both in-person and online.

“It was hard to balance, especially for the online kids, when they wouldn’t answer. It always felt a little uneven,” she says about hybrid teaching. “It was hard to make it equal.”

Most students had not turned their cameras on when online teaching, so the first classes after spring break with in-person students were also the first times she was actually seeing many of her students. Having students back in person brought its own complications too.

“The first couple weeks back were kind of rocky,” she says, “because it was trying to get students back into the mindframe of school and what it means to be at school. It was definitely a learning curve for both the students and the teachers.” 

No matter the challenges of the school year, Winiesdorffer felt the year went well overall. She faced a flurry of end-of-year grading and paperwork at the end of the school year but was excited and honored by many in-person interactions with her students in the final weeks. Several students asked her to sign their yearbooks. Some students also gave her drawings. “I feel really special,” she says about those experiences. “I almost cried when a student gave me this,” she says about a pencil drawing of a cat. 

“It was chaotic and scary,” she says about the end of the year, “because I didn’t fully know what I was doing and I wanted to be sure I was doing everything right. But a good ending, I think.” 

While she appreciates the summer time off, she’s excited for the school year to come. Students return on August 11 for Flagstaff Unified School District. She also notes her newfound love of teaching high schoolers.

“I really enjoyed working with the high schoolers last year, so maybe this is my secret calling,” she says. “Maybe I’m meant to be working with older students and not younger students and I just didn’t know.”

“I feel like you can make more meaningful relationships and more meaningful connections,” she explains. “I can relate to them a little bit more and hopefully give them good life advice.” She’s had conversations with students about how they’re growing and how that influences friendships, about big milestones in life like applying for jobs and buying a first car, and about mental health struggles.

Her seven tattoos have also been conversation starters with her students. She received all of them in the past year. She smiles as she talks about how much her appearance has changed in the past year, aside from how much she’s developed as a teacher.

“I feel like I’ve become a lot stronger, but I sort of had to,” she says. “I’m really impressed with all the difficult decisions I’ve had to make and that I’ve, at least in my opinion, stuck to my guns and trusted my gut. It’s been a difficult year. I feel great having gotten through it.”

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