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 Teach 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.”

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.