Episode 7: Real Talk from Teachers (Teacher Appreciation Week Special)

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I'm your host Nivi, and you're listening to get schooled. This month, we're doing a Teacher Appreciation Week episode, you're going to hear from three teachers across the US listen to their stories, what they do outside of school to keep themselves sane, and how they think you can give back to the community. This is Michelle Wellington, a teacher from San Francisco, sharing one of her favorite Teacher Appreciation stories, you know, the little six year old because I taught first grade something she said since said to me like, you hate God, or she said,

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I can't remember. And, you know,

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she came back and she just really love now there's just like, dear Miss Wellington, like, I'm sorry, I told you that you hate God

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teaching you my ABC this year. I you know,

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it's just

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so it's just like, so just so beautiful. You know, it's like, not only like, receive that, like apology, and just like know, okay, you're six years old, I heard that some were angry. You were expressing your feelings, but then to just like, know that she could, you know, put pen to paper and just like, express her. Her gratitude. This is a little six year.

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That's so cute. That's funny.

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Yeah, right to say, you know, and that's like, not even like, I just heard so many ridiculous things over the year. And so

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yeah, it was just like, you know, and she, you know, she gave me a hug.

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After about a decade of teaching, Michelle actually took a two year break, to focus on herself and get clear on her priorities. In fact, she wasn't even sure that she wanted to pursue the profession anymore. But after two years of reflecting and finding herself, she realized that she does want to teach, and she does want to give back in the form of education. But there were a few priorities that she had to keep in mind, she was telling me the importance of working out regularly taking care of your physical body, and also making sure you have the time for interests that you really want to pursue. In her free time in San Francisco. Michelle not only has her own coaching business, but also holds a regular women's circle, to empower the people in her community, Michelle got really clear on what she wanted to do with her life and how she wanted to pursue her purpose. And she told me, what service as an educator means to her.

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My role, in my opinion, as a teacher is to is to serve the students who come here every day who, you know,

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want to learn, or maybe in some cases don't want to learn, how do I encourage them and get them excited, so that they can, you know, have live lives that they're meant to live? You know, and, you know,

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believe in them and, and it's a lot of character building as well. And that's a huge part of teaching, I got my to help them, you know, learn to read and send them off. It's like, how do I mean when they come in? And they're sad, because they had like, a conflict with another kid in the classroom? Like, how do I? How do I help them build them up? How do I get them to, you know, talk about how they're feeling. So it's a lot of character building, as well. And so, you know,

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teaching them teaching them various skills that they're going to need outside of the classroom as well. And so I really see my role as being of service and how that looks is helping them reach their academic goals and personal goals as well.

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There are some teachers like Michelle, who have known all their lives that teaching is what they wanted to pursue, was kind of a no brainer for them. But I spoke to a teacher named Ali checker, she teaches at a title one school in Fort Worth, Texas. She told me, she got into being an English teacher, because of her love for the subject. Not necessarily her passion for being around middle school kids for the rest of her life. However, once she got in it, she realized why she was here to stay.

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I would not like I didn't graduate college and think like, yeah, you know, my destiny is to work with middle schoolers or to advocate for them. Anybody happens is that like, Yeah, but then I meet them. And I thought that the world was like, their oyster, I thought was that, you know, I work as hard as I can. And I push the kids to work as hard as they can. And then I tell them, like, if you work really hard, then there are all of these opportunities that await you. And like all this stuff. And then like, slowly over the years, like I realized, like, wow, when they leave my middle school, I'm sending them into an April, really, really personalizes it, when you see students who like go on to the high school, and then they're not scheduled in the right class.

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I asked Ali more about her transformation from being a teacher who cared primarily about the content to being one that was so deeply invested in her students about your job over the last 10 years, that has turned you into into a fighter for your students and what they care about.

Unknown Speaker  5:32  
Um, you know, well, part of it is what I've described, right? Like, you see the way the world greets them. And it's just, you know, I'm, in fact, I'm going to reference, you know, something that happens is there's a kid who came out to me as trans. And again, it was just like, I had a friend who was trans, but I just didn't think about it much. I like in my spare time, I do a lot of art. So it's an art supply store, like, Oh, no, I feel like art supply stores are the refuge for cooking people. You know,

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and I'm shopping around in my art supply store. And it's like a local indie art supply store. It's not like a big chain. And the conversation that the employees were having, were about whether they're so like, an open cashier spot. And if there was a this person had a friend with friends, this is trans. So the other employees are saying like, Oh, definitely don't tell them tell them not to say that they are not trained. Yet, I can tell tell them not to say that because you know, the boss will never hire them. And also the key wants to hire an equal amount of like, men and women. So they tell them this and tell them that and they turned us up. And I just, I would just I'm like, I'm picturing my students. And I'm, like, you know, I think that it's unfair, but I kind of grasp, expect that if you're going to get a job at a law office, like a very traditional view, but like I just like, it breaks my heart to think about like, some unsuspecting like high school or college student location at like an art supply store. And it's already been, where they even applied, you know, or that in order to get their job, they'd have to they deny themselves. So I like, you know, I was just like, yo, so I'll be ashamed of yourself. I saw tell,

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only story really stuck with me, because it showed me how getting close to students and having empathy for them and constantly being surrounded by their lives and the challenges they face really shapes your perspective as an educator and a community member. So I wanted to get a better sense of how we could understand and empathize with the teachers in our community. What is it about their jobs and their lives that they want us to know?

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Here's Michelle Wellington again.

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I'd like them to know that.

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I mean, this seems pretty obvious, but we work really hard.

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We really care

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a lot. In that,

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I think, in general, just teachers are sensitive. We're deep feelings, sensitive people. In regardless, if you're brand new, and just like straight out of your teacher educator program, you've been teaching for like 30 years, you're a little burnt out,

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or very burnt out. Like we're, we're sensitive, and we care. Like there's a reason that we're here. This is one of the most challenging Careers Out There. You know, and every single year, it's just a new batch of children and a new culture coming in. And like every year, we do it over and over again. And the ones that stay for a long time, it's because we really care about the children.

Unknown Speaker  9:00  
Yeah, about the world. Being a teacher isn't easy, emotionally. And there's also not a lot of financial support in many schools. I was talking to a colleague who founded Get Schooled with me, as some of you might remember, she works at a charter school in Boyle Heights in LA, she was telling me how the structure of how they can get resources for their classrooms is really, really challenging. You have to submit an approval request weeks in advance, which, if you are a new teacher like her can be difficult. You don't necessarily anticipate weeks in advance. Last minute materials you might need for a specific lab. The way it

Unknown Speaker  9:46  
works at my school is you have to submit a request form for anything that you want to buy using this schools money when I get kind of probably in most companies as well. Yeah. But unless you're like a very advanced teacher and know exactly what you're going to teach all the time, it's it's hard to plan. So ahead and get those materials you can't get like reimbursed. No, you cannot buy No, you cannot get any reimbursement at all, at all. And it's really frustrating. And there's a lot of like red tape around it. And

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you can't get reimbursed even if I go to the store to buy something, because I know it'll be faster. Yeah, it doesn't work that way. There have been very few times where they've allowed me to bring a receipt, I think only once in my two years of working there.

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And sometimes teachers just want to do something fun. However, if that involves money, that can mean that teachers end up paying

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out of pocket, there was one time where I just wanted to throw a party for the students because they just, they deserved it. And that's not justifiable underscore material, which I get. But parties are fun. For our they make, you know, they give you connections and memories that last so long, I spent over like $200 of my own money. And me and a lot of other teachers to spend our own money to throw party just because you end up loving the students so much. And it almost feels like teachers get exploited, because they know that they know. I know it's like a vicious cycle like they care. So they'll spend their own money and they'll keep doing it because they care.

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teachers do a lot to support themselves through these challenges. Michelle Ali, Ilana mentioned that they have time that's completely kid free. They have hobbies outside of work when they can make time for it. It's not always easy, but it's something that they do to keep themselves grounded. However, there's also a lot that the community can do to help out our educators.

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I asked them, What are some ways that the non educator folks out there can do to give back. The first major part of this is being informed. Here's all a on some of the ways that we misunderstand teachers and schools and low income communities, and how that needs to change.

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This is like one of many areas where I feel like the American public has this really like loopy idea because we have a whole genre movies, it's called like inspirational teacher.

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Because I think that sometimes when people are picturing Title One, or like if you hear the term inner city, they're picturing how Pfeifer like a very intense, you know, classroom where she's having to, like inspire kids, whatever, but actually, like that's most most schools in the US have the majority of students who are below the poverty line. And I Well, like I just came from an event at a museum, um, where I saw students like presenting their art, and, you know, being student, docents and their poetry and like, that's a title one school. So my experience of teaching in a title one school is that, you know, there's just like, my students are so full of potential and talent. They're, they're really wonderful, like, the things that they're lacking in our like, sometimes material. And it's just an honor to like, it's an honor and a privilege to teach them every day.

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And I wish, like, I wish I could bring everybody into my classroom, and like knocked out of their heads the idea that like, you know, teaching new title one is this like heroic thing. And like, the reality of like, actually, like my students are complete the lights.

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There's a lot of systemic beliefs that have shaped policies across the United States that leak into schools. And before doing this podcast, I honestly didn't know that much about them. Allah tells us a little more about some of these policies. And she's telling me that, in today's world, it's really easy to bridge the misinformation gap, it's really easy to get involved in local politics, and vote. And that's an easy big way that we can make a difference.

Unknown Speaker  14:21  
Um, I think that we need to be upfront and and with ourselves, and the fact that like, the way the schools are distributed right now, permeation practices that are decades old, look at it, like who is going to your local elementary school, and I literally mean, like I say, with such confidence, and like, I am confident that anybody listening to this podcast right now, the way that you're a local elementary school is just as good. It's not a square, like an octopus? Well, I think that if we were just, if we could just like, take step one, and acknowledge that, like, ya know, that the the makeup of who's going to which schools is very purposeful, you know, so, so paying attention to that, you know, even if it's like a little uncomfortable to think about, like, where you live in where you're distracted, like, you know, pay attention to local elections on things like school board, pay attention to things like, you know, that like, there's, there's small things that make such a huge effect. Like, for instance, you know, the way that gifted and talented is identified. In some schools, it's opt in, like, you know, parents and teachers identify who gets tested. Imagine where the bias is there. And in other places, it's opt out. So everybody is tested, unless they do and, and like, when you do it that way, it's much more likely that you're actually going to catch everybody.

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I'm the bias of like, well, who, what, what looks like a GT kid in our eyes. So I think like, you know, being a little bit more realistic and honest with ourselves, and just paying paying attention to, you know, the different policies that are at your, your kids elementary school or in your neighborhood. I think those those make make difference.

Unknown Speaker  16:04  
As I've been having conversations with Michelle Ali Atlanta, I've come up with three ways that we can make a difference in our communities. I think that shaping the future of education isn't an easy task. But there are baby steps that we can take along the way. The first is to financially empower teachers to buy resources for their classrooms. I asked Lana, if someone gave you 1000 free dollars a year, what would you use it on? And she asked me am I limited to just school supplies and as I know, you can spend it on anything. And she said, honestly, it's still probably spend it on my classroom.

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It starts small with talking to teachers, you know, asking them what they want. Figuring out how you can help, a small donation can go a long way.

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Contributions can also be made in terms of time, not necessarily money. Only suggested volunteering an hour a week at your local public school to read to second graders. literacy is something that's not available to students of all backgrounds equally. And unfortunately, it is the key to opening doors to many opportunities. If you have any free time, check out your local public school and ask if that's something that you could do to give back. And the third thing is to really get involved in local politics. Figure out who in your community is running for school board and what they stand for? Where did they come from? What kind of policies and beliefs do they have? Now with social media? these answers are more easy to figure out than ever before. And all it takes is a few minutes of googling to make a semi informed decision that could potentially have a far reaching positive impact on the future of education.

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Thank you to Michelle wonton Ali checker and Lana say Cali for being interviewed on this episode. All music credit goes to Connor Ramon, thank you to everyone who's helped us achieve 1000 downloads with our most recent episode of Get Schooled. We really appreciate you listening, liking and subscribing. Please continue to share Get Schooled with your friends. You can find all of our episodes, contact information and more at soapbox project.org

Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Nivi Achanta