A Year Off Before Grad School Turns Into a Teaching Career

Chenelle Bruce ’02 wanted to take a year off before attending grad school. But 10 years later, after a rewarding experience as a Lasallian Volunteer, she's still teaching and can't imagine a better career.

Chenelle Bruce ’02, a computer science major, initially wanted to build and repair computers and planned to get her master’s in computer engineering. She just didn’t want to go to graduate school right away. Bruce figured she would volunteer for a year with the Lasallian Volunteers, after seeing a poster for the program and learning more about it, and then go to grad school. She’s been  teaching ever since.

At St. Frances Academy, an inner-city high school in Baltimore, she taught algebra and SAT prep for two years, and coached the boys’ track team and girls’ volleyball team. Now, Bruce is teaching   algebra II and geometry at another Lasallian school, St. John’s College High School, in Washington, D.C. And she’s been there for seven years.

“I never ever thought I’d be a teacher — that was never in the cards,” she says. “Yet here I am, 10 years later, still teaching.”

Because the track athlete wasn’t an education student, she didn’t have a background in teaching, and volunteering initially was challenging. “At first it was tough because I’m just out of college, I don’t know these kids, the demographics are different from where I grew up, and the kids are different from me when I was growing up,” she says. “But I think once they saw that I was there because I wanted to be there, and it showed in my actions, they took it easy on me.”

In my high school and my college experiences, I was kind of in a bubble, and becoming a volunteer definitely opened up my eyes to other people and other situations in life.

Bruce credits the great group of Brothers for helping and supporting her. Coaching also definitely helped her assimilate into the school. But it was the students that inspired her and changed her career aspirations. “The connection with the kids, feeling like ‘I don’t want to let them down,’” she says, is what motivated her. “Just the bond that you have with the kids and watching all of the kids graduate and them coming back and saying thanks. I don’t think I would be happy anywhere else but teaching.”

In addition, the experience changed Bruce on a personal level. 

“In my high school and my college experiences, I was kind of in a bubble, and becoming a volunteer definitely opened up my eyes to other people and other situations in life,” she says. “Once you volunteer, you know other people are depending on you, kids are depending on you, the school as a whole.”