Danielle Swanson

Sparks, 89431

Story by Farah Vitale

Danielle Swanson arrives at McQueen High School at 7:30 a.m. She’s tired because she had to wake up earlier than she’d prefer, but as always, she comes in prepared and ready to go. She heads over to her Algebra 1 classroom, one of the three classes she teaches, and double-checks her lesson plan one more time. Her students enter the class to take their seats and one student, impressed with her ability to write in Elvish, smiles at her shyly as the 8 a.m. bell rings. She begins class, nervously. In her last semester in college before graduation, Danielle begins to doubt that teaching is truly her passion.

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Danielle shows off her writing in Elvish, a language from The Lord of the Rings series.

Danielle’s internship is her last 12 credits at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is teaching three high school math classes to a total of 138 students.

“My mom always told me school was my job and I took it very seriously,” Danielle says. She is a 22-year-old double major in secondary education and math at Nevada. She is  graduating in May and set to dive into a career in teaching. But teaching wasn’t her original dream.

“When I was younger I went through a lot of different phases. The first one I remember, I wanted to be a paleontologist and an animator on the weekends,” she says. She recalls also wanting to be an architect, an interior designer and a landscape architect. She picks up two math 3D figurines she made herself, a sine cube and a cosine bowl. She brings them to her Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 classes at McQueen to help illustrate different math concepts.

She fell in with math when she took algebra in eighth grade. Her math teacher made the subject different and fun, which influenced her decision to want to teach as well. Danielle went to Coral Academy, a charter school, through high school and  liked it because she felt that the teachers really took an interest in their students, even to students who were not in their classes. Since she loves working with kids and math, teaching the subject seemed like the career for her.

Deciding to attend Nevada was an easy decision since she grew up in Sparks and her friends were all going there. She also received scholarships to help her pay for school. Since she moved out on her own about a year ago, her parents stopped paying for her school.

“We had some problems but we’re okay now. I mean, I saw a movie with them yesterday,” Danielle says with a laugh.

She appears serious when she said the reason she doesn’t work much outside of her internship is because she feels it would take time away from her lesson planning and it wouldn’t be fair to her students. She is struggling to balance interning as a teacher with the stress of graduating and money.

Before starting her internship, she had been working at the tutoring center on campus.  “Finances are hard,” Danielle says after she tells me her meal for the night is boiling some Top Ramen for dinner, because it’s cheap and tastes good. This is the main problem for her at the moment. She is struggling to balance interning as a teacher with the stress of graduating and money. Since she decided not to work a steady job outside of her internship, she makes some money house tutoring which she still does occasionally.

Before starting her internship, she worked at the tutoring center at UNR. She has been a financially struggling college student for the last year since she moved out so she’s had to learn the importance of saving money.

Danielle lives in a nice two-story house in Sparks with her boyfriend and four other roommates. She looks down, a little ashamed to admit that they can only afford the house because her boyfriend’s parents pay for their rent. “We are fortunate that his family has the money to help us. I can’t afford my half on my own,” she says.

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Danielle stands outside her house in Sparks.

Danielle had great experiences at Nevada, including serving in the student senate in 2013, where she was named senator of the year.

“I was really excited about that and It was something I wasn’t sure I would want to do or be good at, turns out I did a good job apparently,” she says. She felt an extreme amount of pressure from people relying on her, which is something she feels as a teacher.

In the classroom, her biggest obstacle is her confidence because she gets so caught up in trying to not make mistakes in front of the students. As a habitual perfectionist, she has to constantly remind herself that it is okay that she is a little unsure of herself right now because she has time to figure it out.

Although she enjoys her internship, she is relieved that it ends in a few weeks. She shifts nervously in her seat as she says she has begun to have doubts about teaching right away. One of her problems is that she doesn’t feel much older than her students.

“There’s a lot of ‘You’re only a couple years older than me, are you really an authority? Do you know what you’re doing?'” she says.

Danielle even mentions the possibility of pursuing a degree in geology because she’s always liked rocks and  there’s a lot of work in geothermal energy. She sets that aside in her mind for the future because she still needs to work after graduation.

“I’m thinking about applying at a bank first or somewhere I can use my math degree,” she says. She tosses around possible jobs she might want to do. This is the first time Danielle appears unprepared. It is now clear by her unsure answers that Danielle has not yet made a decision on what she plans to do after graduation.

She also isn’t sure if she will stay in Reno because her boyfriend has been applying for jobs out of state and she would like to go with him. This makes her re-think finding a steady job in Reno  right away.

Danielle sits on her couch in her Nevada sweatshirt holding her 112-page senior honor’s thesis which took her an entire year to write. She sees herself going back into teaching even if she does decide to work elsewhere first because she truly enjoys working with the students.

“I want to raise my confidence first and also widen the age gap between me and my students,” she says. She flips through her thesis and said she is satisfied with the hard work she put into school but looking into the future scares her. She continues to toss around more possible jobs she could do after graduating.

“I’ve also looked into doing clerical work for a hospital. And depending on where I’m living, I could maybe do research for a nearby university or something with numbers. Yeah, just something with numbers,” Danielle says.

She still cannot give a definite answer on which job she plans to apply to first. With the possibility of moving or ending up in the wrong career, Danielle seems afraid to make up her mind. “Working after college…that’s a scary thought,” she says. She closes her thesis and looks down, still leaving her plans for the next few months ahead of her undecided.

Audio by Farah Vitale
Video by Beau Smith
Photos by Libby Brokaw

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