Desiree Alexander is a longtime educator and current professional development consultant. We sat down with her to discuss her decision to become an educator, and her tips for those just beginning a career in education.
Anyone who has ever had an especially impactful teacher knows that teachers do so much more than lead classes and grade assignments. Teachers are mentors, role models, and leaders who not only help students discover their strengths but provide support when students struggle. More important, teachers guide students through crucial educational and developmental stages, imparting social and life skills along the way.
Desiree Alexander is a former teacher who now works for an educational nonprofit and is the founding CEO of her educational consulting firm, where she offers professional development training to educators and school districts. Alexander says she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, so we sat down with her to discuss why she pursued a career in education and what advice she would offer new teachers just stepping into their first classroom.
As a child, Alexander was a voracious reader, and in her spare time she would complete educational workbooks for fun or convince others to “play school,” where of course, she was always the teacher. “I never wanted to be anything else,” she says. “It was always a passion of mine. I always wanted to teach people — to help people.”
It wasn’t until middle school that Alexander, a self-proclaimed “army brat” who moved frequently and experienced a variety of educational environments, had her first teachers who became mentors. “It was in middle school that I really saw how much a teacher could not only teach and challenge students,” she says, “but actually change lives and be the person who students go to for help and advice.”
Alexander always envisioned herself teaching British literature — Beowulf and Shakespeare, specifically — to high school seniors, and pursued the certification to do so. But while attending graduate school at Louisiana State University, an opportunity arose for her to participate in a teaching program affiliated with the university. Although it was a middle school teaching position, she took the job and landed a position as an English teacher — and “absolutely fell in love with it.”
After years teaching sixth and eighth grade English and later working as a middle and high school librarian and information technology supervisor for districts, she recently left her district job for a position as Regional Director of North Louisiana for the educational nonprofit A+PEL (Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana). She also launched her own educational consulting business, Educator Alexander. In her nonprofit role, she travels across the state, consulting with districts and groups to establish effective professional development. In her consulting business, she goes even further — traveling across the country to teach PD and creating online resources and webinars for educators looking to enhance their existing programs.
Alexander is uniquely equipped to provide professional development to educators, having been on the front lines as a classroom teacher and an administrator. One of the biggest challenges she faces in implementing effective PD is easing the tension that can arise between administrators and educators. As Alexander puts it, “Sometimes there is a disconnect between the people that are asking for the professional development, and what the staff actually needs. I help the people on both sides communicate more clearly.”
Additionally, some schools may not have the technology in place (or teachers may not have the technology skills) to implement the latest and most effective PD tools. “Sometimes I’ll do a lesson, and the educators will say ‘this is amazing…if we had the technology to use it.’ My job is to help them get to a place where they can actually take advantage of the technology that’s out there.”
Alexander’s years spent as an educator means she has the skills to teach teachers and knows from her own experience what educators are looking for. Alexander says that seeing teachers succeed is the most rewarding part of her role as a consultant. “It feeds my soul to hear success stories, or to see that ‘lightbulb moment,’ because I know that I’ve offered them a solution to something they’ve been dealing with and that they’re actually going to use it.”
Alexander has built up a wealth of advice for first-time teachers or those considering a career in education. Her first piece of advice? Find a way to make the classroom your own. “When you first get into your classroom, that classroom is not yours,” she says. “You’re going to do everything people told you to do — don’t smile until December, don’t let them chew gum, the list goes on and on. You’re going to do all this because that’s all you know.”
But, Alexander says, educators should rest assured: there comes a day when every new teacher realizes they can make their own changes, carve out their own style of teaching, and build relationships with students in a way that makes sense to them. “Don’t be afraid to change anything that’s not working,” she says. “Make that classroom your own.”
Alexander also faced her share of challenges in the classroom. Her best advice for new teachers faced with challenges big and small is to utilize their fellow teachers and administrators for support. “I’ve worked with some really phenomenal teachers and administrators,” she says. “Whenever we had challenges, we’d worked together to solve them.”
Hoonuit’s professional development solution is built to help educators and administrators learn to collaborate, master new skills, and ultimately, implement their expertise more effectively in the classroom. As Alexander put it, there’s nothing quite like seeing educators (or students) experience that “lightbulb moment.” Hoonuit is here to help you create more of them.