An Interview with Charter School Teacher Alicia Hunker

I know today's bitch through a little running group in Nashville called East Nasty Running Club. At this point, I haven't run in so long that I should probably quit referring to myself as a runner, and Alicia is training for 50 mile races, so we don't cross running paths as much as we used to. But I love Alicia, even though our friendship exists primarily online now.

Alicia is effervescent. You can't help but to be drawn in by her. She also has the rare quality of loving her job, and I mean, LOVING her job. Which is good, because she's a teacher. And don't we want our teachers to be happy and fulfilled? Meet today's bitch, Alicia not "just a teacher" Hunker!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I'm a 6th grade math teacher, Scholar Advisory Council Facilitator and 6th grade House Leader at Valor Collegiate Academy, a college preparatory charter school in South Nashville.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned about a significant need for female STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers during my undergraduate studies.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

After feeling unfulfilled for about 6 years while teaching at a K-5 public school in Texas, I knew it was time to make a drastic change in my career path. Unfortunately, most Texas public schools were far behind where I wanted to be as far as educational equality and STEM specific schools go. It was important to me to find a school community that I felt connected to, with a diverse culture and a focus on social-emotional development and academics.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I moved to Tennessee and got hired on the spot at a magnet school teaching 2nd grade. This was not my ideal school, but it was one step closer to working at a STEM school. A year later, I interviewed at a STEM school and was hired to teach 6th grade math.

I learned a lot, loved my scholars, coached the girls soccer teams, and facilitated a lego engineering club. But sadly, this school was not a good fit. My work-life balance was pretty much non-existent. It was clear what I needed, what I would not compromise, and what I wanted to be a part of. It was then that I started heavily researching all other Nashville charter schools. I was introduced to my current school's CEO by a friend and began working at Valor!

Valor not only focuses on academics but seeks to develop scholars’ social-emotional skills, character strengths, and physical health. Valor was the first free, public college preparatory charter school in Nashville to serve a diverse background of students. We teach our scholars, and learn from each other, about the value of perspective, regardless of background, which is something I didn't get to experience until college.

Currently, Valor scholars are 8% Asian/Other, 15% Hispanic/Latino, 17% African American, 20% MENA (Middle Eastern / North African), and 40% white. Additionally, 50% of our scholars qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch (more diverse than most public schools in Tennessee). Not only do I get to teach, I also get to be a mentor to eighteen 5th grade boys. I will be their mentor for the next four years!

My administrators are committed to helping me reflect and refine my practice so that I can make a difference in our community. I also just earned a House Leader promotion for the 2016-17 school year which I am stoked about! I will oversee the 6th grade team leadership, scholar support based on data, and the grade level culture (ramping up the joy factor, celebrating student success). With this will come more unique coaching from my bosses who are brilliant, kind, and empowering! 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

  • Embrace change.
  • Work at a place where you feel valued, happy, and challenged.
  • Be joyful and kind no matter what the work situation might toss at you.
  • All things can be communicated with grace and poise.
  • Verbally appreciate your colleagues so they know you care.
  • Transparency is gold! 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

My journey to a balanced and international workplace took 8 years, 3 different schools, a few unimaginable incidents, and a lot of reflection and changes of direction. Being humble and transparent about any mistake, no matter how big or small, is the easiest way to grow. I mean, who doesn't make occasional mistakes when working 75 hour weeks, maintaining ultra-marathon training schedules, friendships, marriage, and daily house chores and responsibilities? I have learned to embrace the mistakes and uncomfortable conversations because I learn so much from them.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Run more, nap, cook, and read.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Aside from getting to be a part of my Valor family/team, getting the House Leader promotion and the ability to expand my teaching and leadership experience in a new and challenging way. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Wunderground, Gmail, and Google Calendar.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Running trails with friends, cooking and eating dinner with my husband on the porch, and reading. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Maintaining my work life balance despite working 70-80 hour weeks. I know I make it look easy because some of my friends are just discovering the amount of time great teaching takes. I realize that people in general are very uninformed about our education system and structures in Tennessee. In fact, most people do not know what a charter school is! Nothing will predict the future success, enjoyment, and overall experience of our scholars more than the quality of their teachers. I have to go above and beyond, and I happily do it!

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I am not “just a teacher,” I work at a school that is truly unique, which requires me to work a lot harder and many more hours. I work at a school who aims to be the best in the country. Our mission is to prepare a diverse student population for success in college and to live inspired and purposeful lives. Our scholars will graduate with academic skills, social-emotional skills, and positive character strengths that rival the outcomes of the best schools in the world.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I don’t like to sit and watch TV at all! However, I love watching documentaries about people who have/are living happy, full lives. Most recently I watched Iris by director Albert Maysles. It documents the exciting life of 93 year old starlet, Iris Apfel. It was phenomenal, just what I like to feed my inspiration! 

Snack: Acai bowls, which I have recently learned to make myself! Yum!

All photos courtesy of Alicia Hunker

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Tattoo Artist, Shannon Wages!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

2016 Reading Round Up, Part Two

2016 Reading Round Up, Part Two

An Interview with Tattoo Artist Shannon Wages