What's your education story?

As a student, school was literally family for this Tindley teacher

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
ShaDe' Watson is now a teacher at her alma mater, Tindley Accelerated School.

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Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

ShaDe’ Watson is a special education teacher at Tindley Accelerated School. She also graduated from Tindley in 2009 as part of the school’s second graduating class.

I grew up in a single-parent home, and I was just always active in education. My mom, in the summers, we were in the library doing the reading program. I just kind of knew — I never really felt the struggle, but I knew my mother worked hard.

I finished sixth grade in Wayne Township. I didn’t do seventh grade at all, and I went to Tindley for eighth grade. My mother had heard about Tindley, and she thought it would be a good school for my brother. I’m usually the kind of student who can excel anywhere, so she took me there.

It was a little scary, but I was able to do it with my good grades.

My mother is from South Carolina, and so I did eighth grade at Tindley and in ninth grade I went back (to South Carolina) because my grandmother got sick. She had cancer. The feel wasn’t the same. The care of the students wasn’t the same when I was in South Carolina, and I was in a magnet school where you’d think it would be, but it wasn’t.

So my mother sent me back, and I stayed with my older sister for a while, but I moved in with Mr. Robinson and his wife. And I’ve been there ever since. At the time, Marcus Robinson, he was our principal, and he was like our dad. He’s my father figure — I’ll call him “dad.”

I wasn’t the only scholar who they took in. And there were other teachers who took in students whose parents were out of town. Every adult at the school took on a child, went the extra mile to make sure we were good where we were.

There was always a teacher there to correct you, a parent there to correct you, and it didn’t have to be your parent. It could be anyone’s parent. I think that’s what got us so close, our graduating class. Even if we don’t talk a lot, we’re there. It’s just something I’ve never experienced before at a school. Those are my brothers, those are my sisters, those are my parents, those are my aunties.

That’s probably why my loyalty to Tindley is where it is now, and I was willing to come back and teach. I trusted the people that said I could do it.

I felt like these people aren’t just here to teach me, they actually care about my life outside. I try to do that now with a lot of my scholars. We’ll be at the school until 8 o’clock to make sure they have what they need. If this child might not have eaten, I’ll make sure I have someone to give to them.

I don’t know if a lot of people realize that taking this extra step means the world to a child.

What's your education story?

How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate

PHOTO: Provided
Jean Russell

Jean Russell is on sabbatical from her work as a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne after being named the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year. Her work as 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year ignited her interest in education policy, and she is in the first cohort of TeachPlus statewide policy fellows. Nineteen other teachers from urban, suburban and rural areas are also members of the class. Below is Russell’s story condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For more stories from parents, students and educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

When I started this January as the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year, my overarching goal for my year of service is to focus on recruitment and retention of great teachers. One of the things that came up was the opportunity to serve on the ISTEP alternative assessment panel. (The committee was charged with choosing a replacement for the state’s exam.)

I definitely felt like that was something that is affecting recruitment and retention of great teachers in Indiana, and yet I was reticent about whether or not I was equipped to really be a part of that and to be a helpful voice at the table because policy is not something in my 26 years of teaching that I’ve had anything to do with before this.

The first couple of times that I went to those meetings, I like I just was out of my league, and I didn’t really feel like there was much I could contribute. And I think it was the third meeting, there came a point where a couple of people were saying things where I just felt like having the inside-the-classroom, in-the-trenches voice would really help the conversation.

I was so nervous. I remember, I was shaking, and my voice was cracking. The meetings were in the House of Representatives, so I had to push the button and lean into the microphone, and I’m like, “Hi, I’m Jean Russell.”

But I said what I knew, “I’ve been giving this test for 25 years and these are my experiences, and this is what I think.” I think the biggest surprise in that moment — I won’t ever forget that moment — was that they listened. And I knew that because they were asking good follow-up questions and making references back to what I had said. It sort of became a part of that conversation for that meeting. I never became very outspoken, but I think at that point, I realized that there is most assuredly a time when teacher voice at the table is important to decision making.

I feel like the four walls of my classroom just blew down, and suddenly I realized how many stakeholders there are in my little classroom, in my little hallway, in my little school.

(In the past, policy) just did not make my radar. I think I just felt like, nobody was really interested in what I thought. The work of the classroom is so intense and there’s such a sense of urgency every day to move everybody forward that this broader idea of education, I think I just thought it was something that happened to you and you just work within those parameters. For the first time in 26 years, I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily the case.

What's your education story?

This high schooler broke out of his shell with the help of 3D printing

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Jason Brewster

Indianapolis Public Schools opened a makerspace in Arsenal Technical High School last year in partnership with 1st Maker Space, which runs after-school programming and drop-in hours for students. Students can build creative projects — and hone their problem solving and technical skills — with tools such as sewing machines, laser cutters and 3D printers.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
A 3D printer at Arsenal Tech 1st Maker Space.

We met Jason Brewster, a 1st Maker Space staffer, during drop-in hours in December. Brewster graduated from Arsenal Technical High School last year and plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College. Below is his education story condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For more stories from parents, students and educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series

My neighborhood school was Manual High School. I chose Arsenal Tech because of the math/science magnet. I thought I was interested in math, science, engineering. But ultimately I figured out I wasn’t. With numbers, there’s a certainty to it, and I loved that. (But) the pressure that the math side put on you — you had to be the perfect student. I didn’t like all that pressure.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Two pieces of a sword an Arsenal student is building with a 3D printer.

I switched to (career technology education) my sophomore year. (My focus was) visual communications and printmaking. I thought 3D printing would be in the same realm as like screen printing. I did camp with 1st Maker Space, and they gave me a scholarship, and I became very involved with them. I was helping them run teacher training. Eventually they just hired me on.

I remember getting a text from (1st Maker Space president Kim Brand), and he was like, “How would you like to work for us?” I was like, “Yeah. I would love to.” We met here at Tech, and I started working that day.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Another student is creating a Pokedex, an electronic index of species from the Pokemon game.

Not to be morbid, but I think I’d be very depressed (without art and 1st Maker Space). Before all this, I was depressed, I was sad, I was down and out. And I think I’d be still in the same sort of situation.

I was not happy with where I was at. I had maybe three friends, and I didn’t have an outlet, so I became an artist. I broke out of my shell being an artist. I talked to people more. I got involved with a lot of things.

I never thought I would see a 3D printer in person for like the next 10 years, let alone ending up working with them and building them and repairing them. It’s crazy. I sew. I embroider. I want to get into glass blowing — I think that’d be really cool.

I would consider myself pretty happy with life.