From majoring in Political Science at Wesleyan to becoming an Assistant Principal in Washington, D.C., Joy Clark's career has been both surprising and fulfilling since her graduation from Portledge. What began as six weeks in Memphis with Teach for America turned into what is now 11 years in education.
“I planned to go to Law School for political theory and then maybe be a professor,” Joy explains. “My grandmother was a teacher for over 30 years, and my aunt was also. I never thought it was for me.” But while studying Political Science at Wesleyan, a professor suggested she try Teach For America (TFA). With a desire for some real-world experience after graduate school, Joy decided to give it a shot. And it changed her life.
Teach for America opened up a network of opportunities for Joy, allowing her to explore her options and eventually find her niche. “TFA recruits from some of the best schools in the country, and they helped me get my teaching license and gave me a coach,” Joy explains. “It gave me a community of young teachers, and it was so helpful to have that support.” In fact, after moving to Washington, D.C., with her fiancé, she landed a job at her current school through a relationship with another TFA alum.
After five years of teaching, Joy shifted to a new role in education as the Assistant Principal at E.L. Haynes High School in Washington, D.C. This position has allowed Joy to get to know her students on a completely different level. “When you’re a classroom teacher, you really get to know a grade level or subject well, and your conversations with students are always about that,” Joy says. “As an Assistant Principal, the impact you have is different. You spend more time speaking to students about other subjects and their lives beyond the classroom, from mental health and work-life balance to their experience in a certain subject. The scope of your involvement in kids' lives is so much broader.”
Joy came to Portledge in the 7th grade, and her experience at Portledge had a tremendous impact on her decisions as an educator. Starting a new school in middle school can be difficult for any student, but the support Joy received from some of her teachers stayed with her throughout her career.
John McIlvain and Karen Johnson are two Portledge teachers whom Joy credits with encouraging her to find her voice while at Portledge. They are teachers whose style of teaching she tried to emulate when she began teaching years ago. Mr. McIlvain and Ms. Johnson “valued her voice” and gave her the confidence to apply herself in academics the way she did in athletics.
“In a lot of ways, I am who I am because of Portledge,” Joy says. “When I first started teaching, I reached out to Ms. Johnson for her syllabus from Portledge and built my curriculum around that. I knew I had to lean on the people who taught me how to be a great student. From the habits and skills they encouraged to the texts they taught.” Joy recalls having to get written permission from the parents in her first school in Memphis to teach Catcher in the Rye. “Portledge shaped me in my English teaching and relationship building. Because it’s a small school, it taught me to slow down and get to know people. Everyone is not always who they are in their first meeting. I was also very active in athletics and learned my leadership skills through sports.”
When we sat down to speak with Joy in March, we asked her what words of advice she had for the class of 2023, who celebrated their graduation from Portledge in June. “I would say never to stop exploring. The beauty of learning and having a Portledge education is that you discover how to be a learner. So never stop trying new things.”
We are excited to follow Joy’s career and see where her exploring takes her next!