What's your education story?

When a kid threw a chair at her, this IPS teacher didn’t hold it against him

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos


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.

Beth (Medawar) Sperry will start this fall teaching at Global Prep Academy, an Indianapolis Public Schools innovation school at School 44. Previously, Medawar was a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at School 51.

The reason I’m actually a teacher today is because I started my fourth grade year with the chicken pox. I had it so bad, I had to miss the first two weeks of the school year. But when I showed up, the teacher … she was not very nice to me. She was actually very verbally abusive.

She told me I was fat and ugly every day. She told me I was worthless. She told me I would never amount to anything in my life, and she said this in front of my peers, in front of my friends, and it changed their opinion of me. I remember one day my mom made cupcakes for some reason, and I brought her one. She looked at me and threw it in the trash in front of me.

For the whole year, I did everything in my power to please her. That was the year I decided to I was going to be a teacher, and I was never going to allow a teacher to make a kid feel the way I felt.

Thankfully, I had very good teachers after that who kind of helped build me back up. When you go through something like that … how do you look at a place where you’re supposed to be safe and learn?

Teachers are supposed to be role models, and these kids look up to their teachers just like they look up to their parents. I was in a situation where I had no one to look up that year. It changed who I wanted to be.

I tell my students, “You’re not going to get that here, and you’re not going to treat others that way.”

A few years ago, I was having a really rough year. (When a kid transferred into my class), he had severe anger and emotional handicaps. He threw a chair at me. He came back after spring break, and he had it in his head that I was going to hate him forever. When he walked in that door, I looked at him and said, “Hi, how are you? Welcome back.”

And ever since, for those nine weeks, that child was the most perfect child because he knew I didn’t hold it against him.

He ended up getting kicked out of our school.

A couple months later, it was around Christmas time, and I was standing in Von Maur … and all of a sudden, I have this person, like, attack me from behind. And I turn around and it was that kid, and he just looked at me and he said, “You know, you changed my life. You made me a better person. You were the only person who ever believed in me.”

That right there solidified the fact of why I’m doing what I’m doing. Even though I didn’t necessarily coddle him, or do anything differently than I do for any other kid, I made that difference for that kid. And I really wish someone would’ve noticed that for me.

I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. I never wavered from it.

I blame the chicken pox.

What's Your Education Story?

Bodily fluids and belly buttons: How this Indianapolis principal embraces lessons learned the hard (and gross) way

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Christine Rembert at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

For Christine Rembert, principal at Francis W. Parker School 56 in Indianapolis Public Schools, education is the family business.

Her dad teaches chemistry to adults, and her mom is a retired high school English teacher. So it made sense that Rembert, too, would be an educator. As she has transitioned from a teacher to an administrator, she’s done a lot of learning — in fact, she considers herself not the person with all the answers, but the “lead learner” in her school.

And it hasn’t always been glamorous. Dealing with bodily fluids, for example, is a regular part of her day. As a new principal, she confronted that head-on in an anecdote she recounted in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of her story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

The last story I have to tell happened in my first few months as a school administrator, and I’ve learned many things from this story. I was sitting at my desk and doing some work, and my behavior person came in.

That’s the person who’s kind of the bouncer in the school who manages all the naughty kids. So we had that person, and she came in, and she was a tall woman — over 6 feet tall. She looked down at my desk, and she said: Do you want me to tell you the story first?

And I, in all my brand-new administrator wisdom, said no. And she goes, well, I have a teacher and a kid, and we need to talk to you.

And I was like, OK come on in!

Well, note to self: When the behavior person says do you want me to tell you the story, you need to say yes right then.

Because the reason is you have to not laugh.

So the teacher came in, and she has a Clorox wipe, and she’s (frantically wiping her nose). And I was like, OK, that’s weird. She sat down, and the child came in, and she was kind of sad.

I proceeded to hear the story whereby the child had stuck her finger into her (wet) belly button and then held it up to the teacher’s nose and said: Smell my finger.

Public education is like living in a fraternity house.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Rembert’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.


What's Your Education Story?

How this Indianapolis high school teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

To say that Sarah TeKolste and her student, Lori Jenkins, started off on the wrong foot would be an understatement.

New to teaching, TeKolste had high hopes for her Spanish class at Emmerich Manual High School, but she was met with sullen students who missed their former teacher. TeKolste wanted to forge a connection with Jenkins and her friends, who sat each day in the back of the class making their displeasure with her teaching blatantly obvious.

But TeKolste didn’t give up — on teaching Spanish or trying to reach Jenkins, who was dealing with personal issues that made school the least of her worries. Now, years later, both agree the tears, exasperation, and efforts were worth it. The two have grown so close, in fact, that Jenkins made TeKolste the godmother of her daughter.

TeKolste and Jenkins were two of eight educators and students who participated in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of their story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Sarah TeKolste: Aug. 4, It’s the first day of my first year as a teacher. I basically meticulously tailored my resume for the past five years for this moment where I’ll become a Spanish teacher for Teach For America.

And I’ve done all these ridiculous things like make this classroom management system that’s very detailed, and I’d made this classroom vision, and I think I’m really ready for what I’m getting myself into. I’m starting at Emmerich Manual High School.

I spent the summer getting prepared, and I’m basically an overly caffeinated nervous wreck.

On the first day of school, about 50 percent of my students come into my classroom, and they are just royally pissed that they don’t have Ms. Brito as their Spanish teacher anymore. That’s probably my first clue that things might not go super smoothly that semester.

Lori Jenkins: It was my senior year and I wasn’t very thrilled because last year we were informed that there were going to be a lot of changes in our staff and faculty and policy.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I had issues with change because a lot of my life has been constant change, and I had no control over it. Due to financial issues at home with my family, and my hormones and emotions were through the roof. I was just going through a lot at the time. But the only place that I had hope for solace was Ms. Brito’s class.

And when I arrived to Spanish class, there was no Brito. Ms. TeKolste’s upbeat smile, her happiness, it irritated my soul. My safe haven was taken from me, and I had to find it somewhere else, in someone or something else.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of TeKolste and Jenkins’ story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.