116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Some people were born to teach. For others, a passion for teaching comes slowly or all at once.
'I can still remember where I was standing with my mom when I decided to change my major in college and go into teaching,” said Breanna Oxley, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy in northwest Cedar Rapids.
She began college as a psychology major but changed her major to get a teaching degree.
'I have a lot of teachers in my family,” she said. 'After a while, I decided I couldn't reach enough people in psychology, so I decided I wanted to teach instead.”
OPENING A DIALOGUE
To her friends and family, she's known as Bre. To her students, she's Ms. Oxley. She feels at home in the classroom.
'I love my content and just being able to dive into history and social sciences,” she said. 'When we're talking about world events, current events and history, I love to hear my students' views and personal experiences.”
The diversity of her students and their backgrounds is something that opens up great dialogue and gives students a chance to expand their views and embrace new perspectives, she said.
'I love being able to hear the experiences the students bring to the table,” she added. 'I could teach six different classes a day with the same content and have six different discussions. I'm constantly learning from the students in front of me.”
In the eight years she's been teaching, Oxley said she's accumulated numerous funny and interesting stories.
'I was teaching seniors in Dubuque, and this one student was late every single day for class,” she said. 'He was always on top of his work, and I knew he was going to have a bright future, but he just could not get to class on time.
'On the last day of finals week, he was not only on time, but he was early and he had brought in a cake he had made at Hy-Vee that said ‘Ms. Oxley, I'm sorry for being late every day.' He hoped the cake would make up for all the disruption for me, and that the class would forgive him. … We loved it.”
That story highlights a theme Oxley hopes will resonate with all of her students year after year - it's important to promote openness, encouragement, humor and fun inside the classroom, even when challenges arise.
In the last year, both the COVID-19 pandemic and the derecho in Cedar Rapids had a massive impact on Oxley's students. Not only have she and other teachers had to learn an entirely new style of teaching, they've had to provide additional guidance and emotional support for their students.
Today, the way Oxley and her colleagues at Roosevelt Middle School teach is entirely different than it was a year ago.
'I facilitate all subjects in a day. Now, students typically stay in one room all day, and I help them with everything from math to art to science,” she said. 'We, as teachers, deliver all of our content online.
'So, when it's time for science class, we pull up the science teacher's assignment. It's a collaborative effort, and the verdict is still out on so many things as we continue to face new challenges and uncertainty as to what the rest of the year will look like.”
For Oxley, the past year has underscored the problems she has always recognized as an educator.
'This pandemic has really emphasized inequities that already existed - access to technology, mental health and trauma, food insecurity,” she said. 'Yes, of course, there are new challenges. But a lot of these are inequities we've been dealing with for years - they're just more spotlighted now.”
The good news, as Oxley sees it, is that teachers and students have adapted in short order.
'I think we are all more flexible than we could have ever imagined in our wildest dreams,” she said. 'The biggest positive has been how people have stepped up to sew masks, provide food and help get technology and internet access.”
Personally, she knows she will take a lot from the experience of 2020.
'I'm not going to be pulling out worksheets and having students memorize dates anymore,” she said. 'Now, it's about working on digital literacy with students. How can I take these lessons about the past, present and future and dive into it with them?”
When students come into her classroom, Oxley hopes they know everything is on the table for discussion.
'Anything they've seen on the news or on social media is fair game. We may not always agree, but we can still understand where everyone is coming from and sometimes that's what makes us better,” she said.
'In our country's climate today, students know that they're going to have to come to the table with research, facts or credible sources to create their argument, or we will ask them to go back.”
After the pandemic lessens its grip on the world - whenever that may be - Oxley hopes she and other teachers can look back with gratitude and look forward with promise.
'I hope to continue to build awareness about the crucial role schools and educators play in the lives and development of kids,” Oxley said. 'It's not just about subjects. It's full circle.