From Student to Teacher: KIPP Teacher Residency

Jim Torres, Teacher Resident, with mentor teacher Simone Malkovich at KIPP King Collegiate.

Today, I’m a proud high school biology teacher but, as you might imagine, before I became a teacher, I was a student. It was my experience as a student in Houston that helped shape the teacher I am today, and the teacher I hope to become.

In elementary and middle school, I often felt unheard, unseen, and undervalued. I was interested in school but didn’t feel particularly supported or challenged. I even had a teacher announce to the class one day, “I get paid whether you learn or not.”  

I didn’t realize it could or should be different until I heard about KIPP from a friend. They were having a different kind of learning experience. I decided to enroll at KIPP Houston High School. It was there I saw just how impactful a teacher could be in their students’ lives. I had several inspiring teachers, and one in particular really stood out. My music teacher Mr. Segal took a personal interest in all of his students and made us feel important and that our aspirations mattered. He helped me see that I could make a difference and that it could be in a classroom of my own.

Knowing the commitment and hard work it would take to be the teacher my community deserved and needed, I needed to find a training program that allowed me first-hand experience with great teachers. That led me to the Teacher Residency at KIPP Public Schools Northern California. Unlike other teacher training programs I researched, I was not thrown into a classroom by myself right away. I worked daily with experienced educators and saw the model of a great teacher. It was important to me to work closely with and be guided by experienced teachers so that I could be confident that I wasn’t doing a disservice to my students or myself. 

I was not thrown into a classroom by myself right away. I worked daily with experienced educators and saw the model of a great teacher.

I was placed at KIPP King, a high school in San Lorenzo, and was paired with an amazing mentor teacher, Simone Malkovich. As a math and science teacher, she had extensive knowledge of the subjects I was most interested in teaching. She showed me the ropes and gave me so much of her time, inside and outside of school, to ensure that I felt prepared. Above all else, she often told me what I needed to hear, not just what I wanted to hear, in order to help me push myself and become a better teacher. 

The Teacher Residency Program also gave me tools and exercises that were practical, such as practicing different classroom scenarios and facilitating different assignments. I also appreciated the coursework and the observations we did at other KIPP schools around the Bay Area. Most importantly, I was able to join a community of teachers—lifelines of wonderful individuals who have impacted my personal and professional life, and ones I will continue to keep in contact with.

That network of support is so important to me. I didn’t become a teacher because I thought I knew everything; I became a teacher because I consider myself a lifelong learner. And my fellow educators have been amazing during difficult periods and times when I just want to connect with a friend. That spirit of continuous curiosity and growth is something I hope to spark in my own students, and it’s one of the ways the Teacher Residency and working at KIPP has proved so rewarding. 

Jim Torres with his advisory students at KIPP King Collegiate.

One unexpected way students have influenced me is in learning about my own culture. Seeing students express themselves and share their traditions has strengthened my own voice and connection to my roots. Growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American, my mother taught me everything I knew about our traditions—food, music, and community. Each were ways of showing love, togetherness, and resilience. And now, through school assemblies and student performances, I’ve been able to share my own experience and roots. I’ve also learned about poets and important figures I was never exposed to. I’ve learned about different cultural dances with new vibrant colors, clothes, and rhythms. I’ve been able to continue building my cultural identity, adding to the important traditions and figures of my own cultural library, through my connection with my students.

As a KIPP alum teaching at a KIPP school, I have a unique vantage point. I know firsthand the influence that a caring, committed teacher can have in a student’s life. I now have the privilege of experiencing the reciprocal impact students can have on a teacher’s life. It can feel surreal at times realizing that I was once a student sitting in a desk in a classroom like my own, but it is that very thought that gives me hope and motivates me to never stop learning and never stop teaching.

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