Hello, hello! What a joy it is to be introducing y'all to one of my closest friends today! Her name is Jessica Taylor and she's so wonderful that I'm finding it really difficult to put into words. Here are some that I would use to describe Jess, just to get me started: loyal, faithful, selfless, joyful, determined, brave, beautiful, wise, and adorably quirky. :)
Jess is a high school math teacher and she absolutely lights up when she talks about her work. She is completely dedicated to her students and selfless with her time—never missing a football game or school event and going above and beyond to create a fun and interesting learning environment. This girl is a light, in and out of the classroom, and I have no doubt that she's impacting her student's lives in deep and meaningful ways.
Jess and I met in Charlottesville, Virginia through church and became fast friends. She's absolutely hilarious, vibrant, and is the most loyal and sincere friend. Honestly, I think I talk to Jess on the phone just as much as I talk to my own parents. I've learned so much from this girl over the years and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I'm better for it. Now I've just got to get her and Graham to move to Portland...
Let's get into the interview!
Give us a quick background on who you are and what you do for work.
Hey there! My name is Jessica – and most of my interests can be summed up in the outdoors, puzzles, easy listening, food, and quality time with a cup of tea on the side. Growing up, I could be found making up my own long division problems for fun, solving tangrams my grandpa made in his wood shop, or teaching my “classroom” of neighborhood kids with my whiteboard and surplus of school supplies. I love numbers and really like high school, so when it came time to choose a career, it was a no brainer: high school math teacher.
Dang. I think I just lost 5/7 of your readership. I promise I am not as boring as you think.
What about your work brings you the most joy and fulfillment?
I teach a wide variety of learners and wear many hats around school, which keeps me on my toes and laughing. Teaching teenagers would be a nightmare without laughter. Currently, I teach AP Statistics, remedial Algebra 1, and Probability & Statistics. In a single day, I get to teach students who have severe learning difficulties and students who spend their summers doing paid research at MIT. I love it! And in each of my classes, I get to see the “light bulb moments.” As a teacher, it can be defeating when I feel like I teach, teach, teach and everything I say goes in one ear and out the other. But the “light bulb moments” when I can literally see a concept click in a student’s mind is rejuvenating. The high schoolers’ witty side comments are refreshing and appreciated, too.
In addition to teaching, I'm a volunteer Young Life leader at my school. As a Young Life leader, I get to know students and students get to know me on a much more personal level: weekday morning Bible studies at my apartment, weekend retreats sleeping on wooden floors, 12-hour long bus rides, and countless cups of froyo. Sometimes, it is downright exhausting to be around teenagers all day and all weekend long. But, there is nothing quite as fulfilling for me than to see high school students grow as humble leaders in their school and seek to love their peers selflessly. For me, teaching and being around high school kids is the best thing I can do with my days – there is no other job that I would rather have.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
New beginnings! One of the greatest things about my work is that every year, I get to know and build relationships with approximately one hundred new students. Each August, there is the excitement of learning 100 names to go with 100 new faces and 100 unique personalities, trying to decipher 100 new handwritings, and learning how to serve and educate 100 distinct individuals. Starting a new school year is one of my favorite seasons. However, right now, we are in the midst of another favorite season – graduation. Since the majority of my students are seniors, May and June is an inspiring time of bidding farewell to the hundreds of individuals I have come to know so well and encouraging them to go off to great places to pursue their passions. Seeing their excitement as they make their official college decision, find their perfect roommate via Facebook stalking, and trade in their high school t-shirts for collegiate swag creates a contagious excitement and almost giddy fervor for summer vacation and the new beginnings that await!
New beginnings in my personal life are also super inspiring right now – a few weeks ago, I got hitched to my incredibly handsome best friend! (Shameless shout out to my better half.) And, today as you read this post, I am packing up my life in Charlottesville because tomorrow morning, I move to a new home with my new husband in New Haven where I will begin a new job teaching new students. Yea, I guess it’s safe to say new beginnings are abundant and energizing me right now.
What has been difficult lately?
New beginnings. With all new beginnings come crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s on the current chapter. I cherish my town, my community, my school, and the life I have been blessed with here. Leaving the familiar in route to much unknown – even the most exciting unknowns – leaves me feeling all the feelings most days. And by the time you read this, I will be moving tomorrow! The past few months of moving preparation have contained several difficulties… Frequently in life, we are “in between.” Whether it’s in between jobs, locations, engagement before marriage, starting school, and many more seasons, I have been in a lot of in betweens in the last few months. So have my students (spring of their senior year… you remember how we all were back then!) It can be hard to not become apathetic toward the current as we look ahead at the new – both for senioritis-stricken students and for recently married teachers. While it’s been difficult to daily teach to the best of my ability and run through the finish line of the school year, we are trying. And by the time you read this, we will have made it!
What makes you different from everyone else in the world and how does that uniqueness manifest itself in your work and life?
This is a really great question and I love reading the answers others share each week! For me, I celebrate the little things in life and believe my quirky over-enjoyment of the seemingly insignificant makes me unique. Sometimes this means singing my biannual "no cavities" song after a successful trip to the dentist, or watching “Motivational Monday” videos with my students, or setting my morning alarm clock to unconventional times (i.e. 5:03am) and get a chuckle each morning when I see it. And that’s just to name a few.
In my work, my students and I celebrate/recognize the holiday of the day at the beginning of each class. A few years ago, I found myself learning and celebrating new obscure holidays during the year (read National Peanut Butter Day on January 24th. You're welcome.) And I got the idea to find out what holiday is celebrated on every day of the year and make powerpoint slides to share the holidays with my students. These "holidays of the day" range from classic holidays to national cheese lovers day to bring your pet rock to work day. All are special in their own way, and we take time to celebrate them. At the beginning of the year, some students think I'm nuts, but sooner or later, they'll start asking what the holidays of the day are over the weekend or asking in advance so they can bring/wear/do something to celebrate. While I teach a lot of math, I also share my enjoyment of be little things - because there's something worth celebrating in every day.
What's your spirit animal?
Bear. Hands down. Ever since I was just a little cub, my parents have called me some variation of “bear” i.e. poohbear, little bear, honey bear, osa pequeña... and countless other embearassing nicknames. Naturally, friends and family caught on and soon everyone knew me as “bear.” I like to think that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy because every buzzfeed quiz I take confirms my bear-y nature. Goals.
Another side story about my spirit animal: My husband has a known affinity for foxes, and we decided to be a little nerdy with our wild side. Instead of the conventional save the date template, we recruited the amazing Lindsay Gilmore to draw and design ours using a bear and fox theme. Needless to say, she nailed it!
Jess, thank you for sharing your light with the world and for taking the time to share your wisdom. I want to be you when I grow up which is a funny joke because I'm older than you. Love you to the moon & back!
You can find more of Jessica on instagram and soon enough, you'll also be able to find her teaching a very lucky group of students in New Haven, CT. :)
Love & Respect,