By Sarah Wall

Career paths aren’t always chosen. Sometimes, a career is more of a calling. “Being a teacher is one of those things that people have always told me I should do,” Alexa Scott explains. “It kind of called me; it wasn’t something I just ended up choosing.”

Now in her fourth year of teaching elementary school, Alexa recently moved districts: while both are in the southeastern region of Virginia called Hampton Roads, her experiences have been very different. “For three years,” Alexa recalls, “I was teaching in a Title I school, with the lowest of the low socioeconomic status, where I had to beg outside sources for pencils, glue-sticks, scissors… It felt like half my paycheck went to meeting my students’ basic needs.”

When she moved to teach in another district, it coincided with the difficult period of teaching fully online. “Now,” she continues, “I’m not looking for those resources anymore, but I am looking for understanding. Teaching virtually to 30 seven-year-olds is something I was never prepared for. They didn’t teach that in college. Zoom was never even part of my vernacular until a year ago.”

With Teacher Appreciation Day on May 5th, it’s perhaps more important than ever to appreciate what teachers have experienced this school year. For Alexa, focusing on her students has gotten her through every difficult patch in her career, including the pandemic. “For me, it’s really about building relationships,” she describes. “It’s about these kids knowing they have a cheerleader, someone in their corner. This year, with the pandemic, I am in these children’s homes. I am quite literally part of the family. It is a very different type of relationship now.”

Building relationships with her students and their parents has further proven Alexa’s gift of connecting with people – one that she also brings online. She has become a social media influencer with over 8,300 Instagram followers in what she terms the “Teacher-Gram community,” where teachers all over the world share their struggles, stressors, and successes.

“The teacher community on Instagram is real,” she says with a laugh. “The messages you get when you post something that upsets you – your inbox is flooded with teachers sharing their experiences, their resources, their tips, and tricks. It’s about more than photos and likes; it’s entered this new realm of, ‘How can we help students across the world?’ When it comes to Instagram, I want to continue building that community. The connections really do matter – they make a difference.”

Her Instagram presence has also helped Alexa display the instructional materials she designs and publishes. Teachers all over the world can purchase for nominal fees on a platform called Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). TPT allows teachers to upload worksheets, quizzes, PowerPoints, and more, which other teachers can purchase for prices as low as $5.

“When I first started uploading my materials onto TPT,” Alexa recalls, “I was going at it to help other teachers, to share what I know works in my classroom so that they don’t have to feel anxious before the week starts. It’s now become a second job for me, making these resources for other teachers to use, and also teaching different ways to teach a topic that they might never have thought of.”

With the success of her TPT business and Instagram presence, Alexa has plans to further expand her “Learning with Lexie” brand (follow her on Instagram @learningwithlexie). She’s launching a blog of the same title in July, where she hopes that teachers – especially first-year teachers – will learn from her experiences.

“When you are a first-year teacher, and you have one week before school starts, what do you do?” Alexa asks. “You have a week to set up this classroom before your students walk in. And you need to get your curriculum and your lesson plans together. You also have to build relationships not only with students but with their parents too.”

It sounds overwhelming, nearly all but impossible to do alone. “So, what do you do? You go to Google,” she answers. “What does Google do? It sends you to teachers who have done it before, teachers sharing their stories. Your story is the most powerful tool you have in the world. I want to use my story. I want to share what I’ve gone through, the experiences I’ve had, to help teachers who need help. I hope they land on my page, and I hope they find someone who makes them feel comfortable.”

Being a teacher isn’t an easy profession. But for Alexa and the millions of other teachers like her, teaching is more than a career. Whether it’s teaching students in the classroom, building relationships with new teachers, or connecting them with instructional materials, being an educator is a calling – and an educator’s gift is something we can all appreciate.

Sarah Wall is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. For questions or comments email [email protected].