What's your education story?

A mouse on the loose, scared students and an unexpected teaching moment

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Chelsea Easter-Rose

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

We start with a story shared by Chelsea Easter-Rose, an eighth-grade English teacher at Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

I want to talk to you today about a mouse and my kids.

I work at an urban school, as they are called. All of my middle school students love hot chips. And what we started to realize was, the mice love them too. The kids would eat, and they would brush the dust off, because you don’t want to get it on your paper. And they would eat and the bag would spill and some would get on the ground. And then the mice would come out to the class.

We have one mouse that at this point could be the salutatorian because he’s like raising his hand like he’s in the class. And the mice became part of existence, our day-to-day life. When I hear a squeal, it’s one of two things: It’s a mouse or maybe children might be about to fight. I’m always ready to either catch a mouse or break up a fight.

(One day) I’m doing my uniform check, and I hear a squeal, and I run into room 301. And I’m like, “Hold strong, I’m ready to break up this fight!”

And this is a mouse.

“Miss Easter, get the mouse!” It’s over there, and I see 23 eighth-graders … and they want me to get the mouse. And I’m like, “I don’t see it,” and they’re like, “because it’s dead!”

I look at the mouse, and it’s smashed against the wall. Now I’m thinking, “One of my kids killed a mouse with a dictionary, and now not only do I have to pick up the remains of a dead mouse, now I have to investigate which one of you is about to be a serial killer.”

I walk a little closer, and I realize that something is happening. And I tell (my students), “I need you to be silent right now.” And of course, the only thing a 14-year-old can do when you say be silent is ask, “What’s going on? What’s the problem?”

I’m blocking them. “I need you to be silent right now!”

(Then a student interjects.)

She has some new information she wants to tell me. And she says, “Teacher, I want to tell you something about the mouse…”

I look at the mouse, and it does a little shift … and then the mouse unfurls its wings and takes flight. And the room is silent except for (a student) who says, “Oh s***, that mouse can fly!”

So now, I don’t know what to do. There’s a mouse flying — this is obviously a teaching moment, right? The kids are now running around the room because the mouse is flying, they are freaking out. Mr. Hernandez walks in, knocks the mouse down into the trash can and leaves, so we can all be quiet.

Then Karen: “Hey guys, what I was trying to tell you about the mouse is … I think it’s a bat.”

Here are the next three things I hear children say:

“Karen, bats aren’t real!”

“What is a bat?”

“Hold up, you trying to tell me there’s been a vampire up in this school?”

So we get back to our seats. And that’s when I walk towards the board with our objectives: “Students will be able to identify theme in the story The Lottery.”

The only thing I can think to write is: “Students will be able to know what a bat is.”

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.