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?

This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Andrew Pillow

Dozens of educators gathered recently to tell stories of the challenges and joys of teaching. The event was organized by teacher Ronak Shah and sponsored by Teacher for America. In the coming weeks, Chalkbeat will share a few of our favorites, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Andrew Pillow teaches technology and social issues at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle. He grew up in Louisville and graduated from the J. Graham Brown School. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

This story starts way, way back in Louisville Kentucky. I went to the Brown School, and the Brown School is the very best school in the state of Kentucky. That’s not hyperbole. That’s objective fact.

Within the Brown School, even though it was a very good school, they actually have different tracks of students. They had me take this test. After I took that test, lo and behold, I was in one of the higher tracks.

When people would go to class, the regular kids would go to (one) class, and I got to go to another class where we got to do higher-level stuff. We’re walking around. We’re measuring stuff. We’re doing projects around the school. I’m feeling very, very good about myself.

There was this girl at the Brown School, her name was Crystal. Crystal was the apple of my eye. She was my crush for essentially 12 years. She had this caramel skin, long, natural hair. She was the real deal.

(One day) we’re walking around. I’m with my eyeglass, doing all the math and stuff like that. I’ve got this really big ruler, which was probably a yardstick looking back at it. I’m in sixth grade, seventh grade.

Crystal’s in the hallway with her class, and then she turns to her friend Ashley as we’re walking up — she turns around in her loud cackling voice and says, “Here come the retarded kids.”

I just stopped. I’m like, Oh my god. Is that what this is? I’ve heard about such things at other schools, but surely that’s not this.

I went home and asked mom. She’s like, “Yeah, you have an (individualized education plan), but that doesn’t mean anything.” She said a bunch of stuff that probably sounded really good to her, but when you’re in middle school and you find out that you’re not in the class that people think highly of, there’s really nothing anybody can say.

From that point on, I disrupted class at every possible point. I became the class clown, or as what I overheard the teacher in the lounge say one time, the “class terrorist.”

I didn’t feel confident about answering questions, so when people would answer questions and they would get them wrong, I would sing, “He’s a smart guy.” It spread to every grade in the school, and it had the intended effect because everybody was afraid to raise their hand, just like me.

Let’s fast forward to my second year teaching at KIPP. I’m going through and we are in my history class and there’s like 30 questions so every student has to answer a question. And I have a kid and he is (dancing) every two seconds. As we get further down, his dancing gets worse and more provocative. (Then he gets the whole class dancing.)

I told my mom about this, and she said, “It sounds like (the student) is a lot like you. The way he got worse, as he got closer to having to answer the question tells me he was doing the exact same thing that you were doing.”

What I realized is that he didn’t want to have his “Here come the retarded kids moment.” This changed the way that I’ve looked at every student in the classroom. That was the day that I learned to embrace the people and the students that I saw myself in.

What's your education story?

This teacher got her student to listen by bringing down the wrath of ‘Nana’

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Anita Saunders poses for a photo after telling her story at the Teacher Story Slam last month.

Dozens of educators gathered to tell stories of the challenges and joys of teaching at Ash & Elm Cider Co. The event was organized by teacher Ronak Shah and sponsored by Teacher for America. In the coming weeks, Chalkbeat will share a few of our favorites, lightly edited for clarity.

Anita Saunders works with programs for young children at Indianapolis Public Schools. This story takes place during her time teaching at Tindley Preparatory Academy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

I did not go to school to become a teacher. I went to undergrad, graduate school, got my doctorate, worked in the nonprofit world and then joined (Teach for America). For my TFA career, I was placed at an all-boys middle school.

This event happened my second year teaching. One day, they are supposed to be doing a research paper on the Underground Railroad. And I had just finished explaining to them what the assignment was and what they were to be doing.

They are all working silently, and I’m thanking the lord that I finally got them quiet for a little bit, and we are actually getting some work done. Then I hear, “psst, psst …” You know, that whisper that starts to happen, that you know is going to grow louder and louder if you don’t get control of it.

I give what has been dubbed the “Anita stare.” I give the stare to tell him, “Get your act together.” Then I use my non-verbals. I go closer. I give him the look.

He was quiet for a little bit, and then all of a sudden, I hear this: sniff. sniff.

It’s the same kid that had just been talking, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

For about the next 5 minutes, he’s talking and snorting snot. I’m thinking, well, sending him to the office, I’ve been there with him before on this. And going to the office really doesn’t faze him very much. I know, though, if I call his mother, then that’s going to fix it.

So I pull out my cell phone, dial the number. I got mom on speed dial, because you have to do that with a couple of students.

Phone rings, and someone answers, and I say, “Hello, good morning. This is Dr. Saunders from the school, and I’d like to speak with Jonte’s mom.”

This voice comes back: “Well, she’s not here right now. What can I do? What’s going on?”

I said, “Who is this?”

“This is his Nana.”

I said, “Well ma’am, he’s having a little bit of a struggle in class right now. He’s talking, and he won’t stop.”

She said, “What is that boy doing?”

I said, “He’s talking,” — and I’m looking right at Jonte — “he’s talking, and he won’t stop.”

She said, “That boy knows better than to do that. We take him to church every Sunday. He knows he’s supposed to be respectful, especially at school.”

I said, “Well ma’am. I know you do a good job, you and his mama do a good job. But the lesson in church is not getting through. Maybe he needs some more church. Do you guys go to Wednesday meeting?”

She said, “His mama and I go, but he’s got basketball practice on Wednesdays.”

I said, “Well you know what” — and I’m looking at Jonte — “maybe he should miss basketball practice.”

He’s shaking his head, She’s talking to my Nana! She’s talking to my Nana! And I’m still looking at Jonte, and she said “Really, you think that’s best?”

And I said, “Yes ma’am I do. I think he could gain from more church and less basketball. Another thing. He seems to be a little ill right now. He’s snotting and everything.”

I said, “I’ll see if I can get him to blow his nose a little bit, maybe send him to the nurse, but as long as he stops talking for right now, that’s going to be enough for me right now. You let his mom know that I called.”

She said, “Well you think maybe, so I should take him to church? Should I give him some medicine when he gets home?”

I said, “Well, that may not be a bad idea: A little more church, a little more medicine.”

She ends the conversation with, “Well, you the doctor.”