What's your education story?

Leaving finance was easy, teaching was hard, but this educator realized: ‘I’ve got to figure it out.’

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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.

Tom Hakim is now an assistant principal at Cold Springs Elementary School in Indianapolis Public Schools. He’s been an educator in Marion County for eight years.

I worked in corporate finance for four years — I was a finance undergrad — in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was always involved and volunteered a lot in high school and college and did a lot of things in the community … (As an adult), I was a big brother in Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and I was coaching rec league basketball, I was teaching Junior Achievement, so that was actually my first experience going into a classroom teaching kids.

But through all of that, (those activities were) what I was really getting excited about in my days, not so much the day-to-day work I was doing in my current job.

So I just started looking at education and what options might be out there. And I read an article in the Detroit Free Press about Teach For America, and I had never heard about it prior to that. This was a chance for me to transition very quickly into a career that I think I may want to do, and that happened.

Even in a program like that, where you get the “meat and potatoes” of training of how to be a teacher, your first couple years, it’s just so hard.

But there was more of an idealistic commitment to it. This is what I think I really want to do, so despite the challenges, I’ve got to figure it out.

I was part of the 2009 (TFA) corp, taught in the charter world for five years here in town, and then had an opportunity three years ago to move to Washington Township. It’s actually the only place I’ve ever lived in Indy, and it was kind of the right fit at the right time.

I was a department chair at one of their middle schools. It was one that was the lowest performing at the time, Northview.

I think for the first time in my teaching career, I felt, in addition to working really hard and wanting to provide a great education for the kids of the school I was working in, I also felt that bigger commitment of the community because that was where I was living. My own children are going to school (there).

So it made it even more real for me, the “why” behind what we do.

I grew up outside of Detroit. When you really look at it, some of the issues that plague Detroit Public Schools are some of the same things we see here in Indy. My experience was not comparable to what I see some of our kids going through on a day-to-day basis.

So I think there’s the initial shock of that, but then there’s this next phase, where if I’m really going to be a part of this, I’ve got to understand all the factors that are really involved and going on here, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy work.

Over two years (at Northview), we went from lowest performing to highest math (test scores) in the district in my time as the department chair, which I primarily attribute to the team I had around me.

I was teaching one grade level, but again, it gets back to this idea that when you get the right teachers on board, growing in the same direction and pushing for the right things, pretty great things can happen.

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.