What's Your Education Story?

‘Everything is going to be great,’ he told his teacher. She wishes that was the end of his story.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Katie Speer shared her story at an event hosted by Indy Teachers Lounge.

Educators from across Indianapolis gathered to tell stories about the joys and heartbreaks of teaching at a storytelling event hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy. Chalkbeat sharing a few of our favorites, edited for clarity.

Katie Speer is a middle school teacher at KIPP Indy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our occasional series “What’s Your Education Story?”.

This story centers around a student that I taught last year. He was in my homeroom, and this student was literally everyone’s best friend. He could meet someone and then they would be best friends. His smile lit up the room. His laughter was echoing in the lunchroom. Everyone loved him.

The problem was, I taught him at the end of the day. By the time he got to me at 2:50, he was worn out from just bringing joy to the world.

He’d come to my class, and he’d be like, “Hey Miss Speer!” And I’d be like, “Hey, how are you?”

And then five minutes into my class, he’d be (snoring), just out, out to the world. I would call his name out in my class. I’d walk over. I would tap him.

Then I moved his seat, directly to the left of me. And every minute, I would just poke him. Over time, he was immune to my pokes.

I was like, “OK. We got to figure this out. You are not passing my class, but you are brilliant. We have to fix this.”

So my solution was, I had to start calling home. His dad was great. He would be ready to answer the phone during my class. The second his head would start to go, I’d be like, “no, we are calling dad.”

And he hated it. It was the only thing that I could get to work. And he was like, “Oh, you are the worst. You are petty. You are lame. I hate you.” All of that.

I actually called his dad four days in a row, and he was so mad at me. But then, the next progress report came out and he was passing my class.

I’m like, “OK. I can do this. I can go home every day and feel like he hates me, but it’s working.”

At my school, we do this thing called shout-outs. We end every day on a positive note. The students have the floor, and they shout out someone in their homeroom.

He’s like, “I have a shout-out, I have a shout-out.”

He said, “Miss Speer, I would like to shout you out for always calling home. Even though I say that I hate it, I know that you do it because you love me, and I know that you do it because you want to make a difference, and that means a lot to me.”

The school year goes on, and he passes all of his classes. And it’s time for promotion. We always gather in homerooms to prep for promotion and go over the details one more time. And he shows up in suit pants, the nicest dress shoes, this beautiful suit vest and this bowtie and a bright yellow button-up.

And he’s like, “Miss Speer take a picture of all the boys. Miss Speer take a picture of the whole class. Miss Speer just take a picture of me, because I look great.”

The night comes to an end, and I’m literally standing on the sidewalk waiting for people to get picked up and I’m just sobbing.

He gives me a hug and he’s like, “Everything is going to be great. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being great. You are going to be fine. We are going to be fine. I’m going to be fine. It’s gonna be good.”

I would love for that to be the end of this story.

But unfortunately, three weeks into summer, he was killed in an act of gun violence.

I think that although this story isn’t happy, it’s something that I want to share because everyday, I am pushed to be a better person and a better teacher. In his memory, sometimes I do the tough things or I go the extra mile, or I make those calls that I really didn’t want to make because I know that I’m going to hear it from the student, because I know that it matters. I want to continue to be that person.

Shout out to all the teachers who do that every single day, because it’s hard to make the hard phone calls. It’s hard to go the extra mile. It’s really hard to go home and feel like you are not on their side. But it matters. It makes a difference.

Shout out to him because he makes me a better person every single day.

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.

What's Your Education Story?

Her motto was ‘There’s no crying in teaching’ … until she actually became a teacher

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Allissa Impink at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

Allissa Impink started her teaching career determined to make a difference.

As a Teach For America corps member, she headed into her first job as a special education teacher in 2015. A former social worker, Impink had a strong background helping children and witnessing tough situations. She was prepared, she thought.

But becoming a teacher and facing the realities of leading a classroom challenged her in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Impink, now a teacher at Cold Spring School in Indianapolis Public Schools, was one 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 her story about how she made her transition into teaching and what she faced in her first year. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

In 1992, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies of all time came out — “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. When I quickly set the scene for you, Tom Hanks, who stars as Jimmy Dugan, is yelling at one of his female players, who made multiple, multiple mistakes throughout the game. He yells to her, “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”

Well, there’s no crying in teaching.

I was an English major in college, and it was my goal to become an English teacher upon graduation. However, due to college athletics, I was unable to realize that goal of obtaining my teaching license through the School of Education route. So in 2006 upon graduation from college, I interviewed for Teach For America. I was onto my third and final interview round, but apparently crying during an interview is not the best way to show empathy.

“Dear Allissa, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected to join the 2006 corps.”

So change of plans — social work. I was a social worker at the Department of Child Services for eight years. The typical tenure of DCS social workers directly out of college was six months. I’ve done my best to fight off the secondary trauma, and sleepless nights, and the politics of all of it.

Are we really doing what’s best for children, I would ask myself. Are we really keeping kids safe? Does the administration know what we really are going through? Have they ever performed a home visit? Do you know what it’s like to be on call and to remove a child from their home at 3 a.m. in the morning? I needed a new career.

I needed a transition to a career where I was still focused on children, and families, and the community. I still wanted to work hard and make a difference. I wanted to give back and I still wanted to teach. So I interviewed for Teach for America for the second time in 2014. Social work had hardened me. I was no longer a crier. I’m an experienced adult now. I’ve been a supervisor, I’ve testified in court, I’ve led trainings, I’ve supported families, I’ve bonded with children — Hell, I’ve kept children safe.

“Dear Allissa, Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you’ve been accepted to the 2015 corps.”

I cried often my first year of teaching, but what I’m not is a quitter.

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

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