Getting to know teacher assistant Erin Fitzsimmons

Pathfinder: What is your job?

Fitzsimmons: “I am a study hall teacher and interventionist, though my official title is teaching assistant.”

Is this your first time doing this?

“Not exactly, I have been in the education field for two years. I previously worked in the social studies department for the Hazelwood School District.”

If not, where else did you work?

“I was lucky enough to get picked up as a professional sports journalist straight out of college. I was freelance and worked primarily with an overseas affiliate. My job required me to attend closed practices, press events and spend an excessive amount of time networking. A lot of success in journalism is about who you know. On the rare occasion, I would take more of a paparazzi role and try to catch athletes out and about. It was a pretty sweet gig overall!”

What was your favorite part and memory about your past job as a sports journalist?

“I have two memories that really stand out. One was the day that Cristiano Ronaldo approached me by name. It’s a brag-worthy moment when the world’s highest paid athlete has seen you around the circuit enough to say, “Hey Erin, how’s your son?” The other memory happened about three months later…Zinedine Zidane caught me sneaking into a team meeting and photobombed my shot. It was embarrassing, but made for good laughs around the editing table.”

What got you interested in your job?

“I have been interested in education since I was a child. I was great at coercing my siblings to play school with me, despite their obvious groans at the youngest (me) always getting to be teacher! My interest continued into adulthood. During my undergrad, I worked in the nonprofit sector teaching civics courses to refugees and my final semester at Washington University. I spent 20 hours a week interning at the International Institute of St. Louis as the resident historian. It was my thesis research that really set the gears in motion though.”

What is your favorite thing about your job?

“As an anthropologist by nature, I love getting to meet so many new and interesting people.”

Are there any challenges you face?

“I struggle to keep up with technology. I still carry dog-eared paperbacks and my ratty old spiral planner with me everywhere I go—despite everyone’s attempts to convert me to Kindle and Google Calendar.”

How do you overcome these challenges?

“I remind myself every day that ‘learning is a lifelong process.’ I still love my spiral planners, but I am learning to appreciate having the world at my fingertips.”

What are you most excited for this year and why?

“This sounds silly, but I am really excited for prom season. I chaperoned homecoming and had so much fun!”

Why did you decide to work at West?

“I chose West because it is well known in the education field that this is the place to be. It truly is top tier in terms of support and quality education.”

What is your favorite thing about West so far and why?

“My absolute favorite thing about West is the diversity. There is something for everyone. If you walk down the halls at 2:40 p.m., you can catch a K-pop performance, learn a little Latin, join the step team or try your hand at gardening. I try my best to pop my head in, meet a few kids and learn a little about their passions.”

What is one fun fact about you that you want people to know?

“I have an awesome sense of humor and applaud anyone that can get me to laugh. Jokes are always appreciated.”

How would you like students to see you?

“I want students to see me not only as a teacher but also as their mentor. My mentor was and still is my own high school principal. He helped me to find my purpose, set goals and appreciate even the tiniest achievements. Years later, that same high school principal made the trip back to St. Louis to watch me give my Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) acceptance speech. I want to be that same unwavering light for my students.”

What was your URS acceptance speech about?

My research primarily centered on interviewing refugees and environmental/economic migrants for archives. Portions of my data also went towards trying to discredit some of the statistics supplied by the UNHCR, International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian aid agencies. Over 12 weeks interning at the International Institute, I had written 14 historical accounts of genocide, transcribed seven different languages (only three of which I spoke), and met with countless individuals. It was mentally exhausting work, but totally worth it when I stood on the podium and accepted the Excellence in Service Award. I was so nervous! I must have practiced my speech 100 times. It was a great experience and one that I highly recommend for any student wanting to make a name for themselves in their field.”

What are your goals for this year?

“My goal is to watch every single one of my students walk across the stage, collect their diploma and start on their path to greatness!”

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