Brittany (A.B. ’10) is the dean of operations at Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago.

Degree: Political Science with minors in Crime & Justice and Modern History

Current location: Chicago, IL

Year graduated: 2010

Student Organization Involvement: Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, Order of Omega Leadership Honor Society, Mortar Board Honor Society, executive board member for the Michigan Pre-Law Society, Alpha Phi Fraternity

Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: University of Pennsylvania, Master of Science in Education with dual certification in Secondary and Special Education; corps member at Teach for America; director of special services at Muchin College Prep; manager at Springhill Consulting Group


BM: I am the dean of operations at Noble Network of Charter Schools, which operates 16 public high schools across the city. My campus, Muchin College Prep, serves 955 scholars from 52 different zip codes. I’m on a campus with really high expectations for academics and student behavior. The school works tirelessly to ensure that all of our scholars reach their full potential making it to and through college.

In my role, I work directly with kids, but I’m no longer in the classroom. I’m responsible for maintaining the budget; overseeing the school operations, trips, and events; and managing a team that executes our scholar recruitment and maintains our scholar records in accordance with legal requirements for Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State Law. I love that my job covers a ton of different areas - there’s never a dull moment! Plus, while I’m no longer in the classroom, I still get to see scholars every day through our homeroom system.


KC: How did you end up on this career path, and what else have you been up to since you graduated from Michigan?

 

BM: When I graduated from Michigan, I was a Teach for America corps member teaching special education and science in the Philadelphia region. I simultaneously attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and got a M.S. with dual certification in secondary education and special education. From there, I moved to Chicago and visited Noble… I was totally blown away by it, especially compared to the schools in Philly I had taught in. I taught in two different schools in Philadelphia, and neither one of them was really setting kids up for success. When I saw how everything was run at Noble and that the kids had such high expectations for themselves, I thought, “I need to be a part of this!”

I started at Noble as a learning specialist, which is the name of the role of a teacher for learners with diverse needs, and then I quickly moved up to be the director of special services. I think in special ed, there’s a ton of teacher burnout, because it’s very challenging to make sure that you’re meeting the needs of all of your scholars. So because I was committed to it and was showing good results, I was able to move up into the director role pretty quickly. I stayed there for a number of years, and then ultimately started questioning whether the job was the right fit for me anymore. I didn’t feel like I was making as large of strides with my scholars as I had been and felt like I needed to take a step back and reevaluate.

I left Noble and started working at Springhill Consulting Group as a manager. It was a totally different role from what I was used to, but I was trying to figure out “What am I supposed to do next?” I ultimately pivoted back to Noble when they were looking for a dean of operations - that was a perfect fit for me! While I was at Springhill, I REALLY missed the kids, and I didn’t feel that I was making the same impact anymore in my career. But I did really like the finance and operation aspects of my work in consulting. With the dean of operations position, I realized that I would still be able to see the kids, but I could also expand upon these other interests of mine in an education context.


KC: How do you feel that your time at Michigan has influenced your career path?

 

BM: Going into college, I knew that I was interested in politics and social justice, so I thought I would go to law school. In my mind, that seemed like the most logical way to impact social change. When I was a junior, I got an internship on the Hill in D.C. with a senator, where I was exposed to a ton of different careers outside of my narrow law school-focused mind. In this internship, I did a lot of research on education policies, and a spark went off for me that education would be a fantastic way to immediately work for social justice.

When I went back to Michigan my senior year, I didn’t know a lot about Teach for America, but a lot of people were talking about it! At that time, Michigan had the highest university recruitment rate for Teach for America. I almost didn’t apply because I didn’t think I could get in, but I went for it anyway because it seemed perfect for me, and I was accepted! That decision has clearly shaped my entire career since then. Especially after taking a step away from education, I can say with complete certainty that education is where I want to be.


KC: Some Michigan students might be weary about applying to Teach for America because they’ve heard the classic TFA horror stories – what would you say to those students?

 

BM: I definitely had a unique Teach for America experience. Some might even call it a “horror story,” because I wasn’t able to stay at my placement school for two years. Due to politics, the union, and mass teacher layoffs in Philadelphia, I got pushed out of my school and had to move to another school which has since been shut down. I definitely did not have the storybook tale of Teach for America where you go to the school and make this huge impact and stay there for two years and then you move on.

Aside from leading me to education (which was so essential because we need good teachers!), TFA showed me how strong I am, and it taught me that I can persevere through anything. I grew up with the mindset that if I tried hard enough at something, I could be successful at whatever I wanted. Teaching was the first thing that tested me in that, and I failed. I don’t know if I had ever truly failed before that. I would teach a lesson that didn’t go well, and I struggled at first with learning classroom management skills. I had to go home every night and figure out how to try again tomorrow because the kids weren’t learning what I was trying to teach them. I think persevering through that and making sure my kids saw growth taught me a crucial life lesson that I am very grateful for.


KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
 

BM: My least favorite thing is that I HATE waking up so early in the morning. You’d think that would have gotten easier now that I’ve been in education for 8 years! I am just not a morning person… I know that’s so trivial, but I think my life would be so different if I could wake up at like 7 or 8 a.m. every day. Plus, I have to be on my A-game right away when I get to school, because kids come into the building at 7 a.m. I have to be ready to go because the kids are going to be ready to go. That’s a challenge, some days more than others.

My favorite thing is two-fold. First, because my role oversees so many different areas, it’s so stimulating! I’m not looking at budget spreadsheets all day every day, but that is one component of many in my role. Having my hands in so many different buckets keeps me excited and interested.

My other favorite thing is a little less role-specific. When I came back to Noble and decided to be a dean of operations, I asked to have an “Advisory” again, which is like homeroom, but way better! An advisory teacher has a group of young men or women who stay with that teacher for all four years of their high school experience. I’m an advisor for a group of 15 young men currently in their sophomore year! They are both the highlight of my day and the most frustrating point of my day at times. But just thinking about them walking across the stage at graduation and going to college and meeting all of their goals is so exciting. I know these kids are going to make it, and I’m going to be there to watch every minute of it. The difference between where they are as freshmen to when they graduate is so crazy – it’s amazing to see.


KC: What advice would you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?

 

BM: One of my best pieces of advice for someone considering a career in education is that it is hard work and it is tireless at times, but it’s so important and so needed.


Don’t back down or break down when you hit road blocks, because you will do that inevitably in teaching and in education in general. The kids are not always going to grasp what you’re telling them, as you might hope. You have to have that passion for kids and social justice to be able to make it through, because (for me, at least) you take the results of what these kids do personally. It’s on me if we’re not getting every single student into a 4-year university with scholarships; even though that’s not my direct role, I want that for all of my kids. Also, it’s okay to fail – you’ll be stronger at the end of it. Stay with it, because kids need great teachers and leaders, and becoming a great teacher takes time and patience.

If you’re considering a career in education, you don’t have to just be a teacher – there are so many other avenues. There are excellent education non-profits that exist throughout the country; I’ve worked with iMentor and my school has partnerships with One Goal, Chicago Scholars, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. There are so many different ways to get involved in education that kids benefit from so greatly!