Dr. Meredith Maier became an assistant professor in the Education Department in Aug. 2023 teaching about the culture of schools in the graduate program. In Oct. 2023, she was named the Principal of the Year in Orange County after working as the principal of New Hope Elementary in Hillsborough, NC since July 2021. The Herald reached out to Dr. Maier to gain her perspective and learn more about her experience in the education system.
According to Dr. Maier, there were always signs that she would be a teacher, a fate she talks of strongly resisting. Her teaching began as a lifeguard teaching swim lessons as well as teaching Sunday School during middle and high school. In college she worked in an after school program for an elementary school and then in a Montessori summer camp. At this point she still didn’t want to go into classrooms. However, Dr. Maier describes her official entry into education by describes that during her work in the non-profit sector, she found herself “wishing for more classroom days with students'' and desbribes being “significantly less enthused about [her] days where [she] was trapped in the office.” Dr. Maier explains how she was “inspired by the classrooms [she] saw with more progressive approaches, and very aware of the impact that was possible with more time in a wide variety of public schools.” This led her to apply for certification in the New York City Teaching Fellows program.
When asked what her favorite part of teaching was, Dr. Maier said, “Unequivocally, the best part of teaching is [her] students.” She has worked with students from Pre-K to graduate students and she says that her “experiences in all ranges of classrooms are what always sparks the most joy for [her].” Dr. Maier discussed how she has seen students choose their own joy, move past fear and anxiety, accomplish a new skill, feel proud of themselves and who they are and make academic and personal connections and she describes how it motivates her everyday. She enjoys teaching and administration because to her, “Teaching is so much more than just pedagogy, content, and curriculum.The daily fabric of the job, and the relationships [teachers] build are the things that stick with [teachers] the most.”
Dr. Maier doesn’t consider herself to be “impactful” per say but she believes that her “spirit of constant improvement, high support and high accountability, and the way that [she] crave[s] growth and feedback” is what contributes to a “wild sense of urgency” around what she views as possible for all students and for public schools.
As for her goals in education, she works to expand what is possible in public education by “redesigning systems and processes to truly care for and grow the whole child, increase achievement, activate parent/family engagement, and create and sustain models of equitable access, practice, instruction, and school environments.”
Words from Dr. Maier:
For those that are discouraged: Burnout is a liar; it will make you believe that you can't take time for yourself, that panic is "urgency", and that problems are too great for you to make a difference in larger outcomes. When this creeps in, take a day off. Close your computer. Find some joy. Go outside. Go be with your friends and family. Move your body. Give out some intentional, positive affirmations to your colleagues and students. Teaching is deeply personal work, but all of us are more than just this job. This is the hardest work you will ever do, but it's the best work you will ever do - as long as you take care of yourself in the process, no matter how impossible it feels at the time.
For those that are scared: With all the love in my heart, you need to really think about why you are feeling scared and be brutally honest with yourself. If you are scared of kids or families, then maybe this isn't the work for you. For other fears, just know that your only two jobs are 1) to do what is best for children at all times; and 2) to do so in accordance with policy. If you are on the right side of students and policy, then you have nothing to be afraid of. Mistakes will happen, and things can always be fixed. Take responsibility, accept feedback, ask for help, and grow forward.
By Khadejra Golding-Litchmore, Reporter
Graphic by Shae-Lynn Henderson, EIC