Thinking Critically About Our Current Education System

Hi, my name is Kevin Cataldo, and I’m a recent graduate of Felician University in New Jersey. I was the chapter president of the Alpha Zeta Rho Chapter of KDP on campus. I’m also a representative of KDP to the United Nations, as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), and I am at currently a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

On July 15, 2019, Teachers College welcomed K–12 educators and all other stakeholders from across the country and around the world to its 4th Annual Reimagining Education Summer Institute (RESI).

During the Institute, participants got the opportunity to critically think about our current education system.

In fact, during Day 1, the participants were asked to keep the following questions in mind: Why must we “reimagine” education here in the United States? The remaining 3 days focused heavily on the following: (a) racial and cultural literacy, (b) equity pedagogy, and (c) culturally sustaining leadership.

Here I am with Dr. Ladson Billings!

This year’s keynote address was delivered in an eloquent, powerful, and thought-provoking manner by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a KDP Laureate.

She is considered a pioneer of culturally relevant teaching, a pivotal area of study in education that I hope to learn more about as I continue my graduate studies at Teachers College.

The Institute was extra special for me this year, as this was my first time participating in it. I also was a dialogue session co-facilitator.

During the 4 days, my co-facilitators and I provided K–12 educators and other stakeholders with a brave space to share their thoughts, feelings, concerns, and knowledge about our education system. As a soon-to-be first-year third-grade language arts and social studies teacher in Newark, New Jersey, the Institute provided me with hope that I have the power to “reimagine” our education system and truly make a difference in the lives of my students.

At the conclusion of the Institute, both educators and stakeholders were asked to return to their respective school communities with a crucial question in mind: “What Now?”

In other words, what will I do to bring equity pedagogy into my school community?

Today more than ever before, the United States and the world must join forces and “reimagine” education, especially since one’s society depends heavily on an educated citizenry.

Furthermore, as a member of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, and as one of its UN Youth Representatives for the upcoming 2019–2020 academic school year, my goal is to raise awareness about this unique Institute at the world stage—at the United Nations Headquarters.

To end, raising such awareness can be beneficial not only to educators, but to other stakeholders within the United Nations as well.

Why? Think about it: The goal of the Institute is to help educators realize how vital it is for schools and stakeholders to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDG 4: Quality Education).

Teachers Are So Much More Than Teachers

Hi, I’m Katelynd Dreger. This is #WhyITeach.

Simply put, I am in it for the kids.

I go to school each day knowing that my kids need me. I am not just a teacher; I am a safe person, I am a parent, I am a counselor, I am a nurse. I enjoy helping others.

After graduating with my BA in Elementary Education, I spent a year and a half substitute teaching. I enjoyed being able to help so many kids. Some days it was obvious that I was able to help a kid, or maybe two, beyond simply teaching and filling the role of ‘teacher’ for the day. While on other days, it wasn’t so clear.

I eventually moved to Southwest Kansas to teach first grade. I was amazed that I had to teach my students to put toilet paper in the toilet and flush it because some of them did not have working toilets at home. This was also my first experience with a large number of students learning to speak English as a second language. While in Kansas, I made some strides with many students, which was incredibly rewarding.

One student, with whom I had a strong connection, required my help after he had gone to second grade, and his teacher passed away in the fall. He was a very loving and caring kid, so this hit him pretty hard. His mom came to me when he started acting out at school. He and I spent some time together during my planning period the following day. We talked about what was bothering him; we cried together, and we read a favorite story. Things started going better for him after that.

I know I am not a magician. But I also know how much relationships matter. Taking time to listen matters.

Another student I had while in Kansas struggled with his anger and was a reluctant reader. We were able to work on a system together to help him control his anger. Further, through an author study on Ezra Jack Keats, I was able to get him interested in reading. I’m not sure if it was the activities we did with the books or if it was just the right thing for him or a combination. He was particularly enamored with “Peter’s Chair.” His mom shared that they had that book at home and he’s never been interested in it. Sometimes it’s all about timing. Sometimes it’s all about the relationship. Sometimes it’s both.

After teaching in Kansas, I moved back to Southwest Michigan where I taught in a small private school for a few years. While there, I had a student who moved to Michigan from out of state when his father died in a car accident. On top of all of the emotional baggage he was carrying, he also struggled to be understood due to speech troubles. Some days, he needed extra love. Some days, he needed space and a chance to sit at our calm down spot (a classroom staple, inspired by him). Some days, he needed a break from the classroom. It was challenging every day to know which of these he needed, but it was so rewarding to know when we got it right.

Now, I am in a public school again. My kids need me every day. Many of them are going through life in ways that 8-year-old should not have to.

I’ve found that relationships are critical in all settings, but they mean so much more to the learners in my current environment.

Finally, while my title is classroom TEACHER, I am so much more than that. I teach for many reasons.

  • I teach to help kids learn to read and do math.
  • I teach to help kids learn to be successful citizens.
  • I teach to help kids learn to be true to themselves.
  • I teach to help kids through their problems, both at home and at school.
  • I teach to make a difference in the lives of kids.
  • I teach to make a difference in my community.
  • I teach to make a difference in my state.
  • I teach to make a difference in my country.
  • I teach to make a difference in the world.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

Teaching Is An Expression Of My Authentic Self

Hi, I’m Mischelle Duranleau. This is #WhyITeach.

The question, “Why do you teach?” is still one that makes me pause even after 20 years as a classroom instructor.

I teach because I must. This is my best answer.

As an elective teacher in a small high school, I wear many hats. I have taught every level and form of art common in schools, psychology, sociology, health. and even home economics. No matter the specific subject and projects, I am blessed to teach much more than that. I teach students to believe in themselves, to celebrate failure, to build relationships that have a lasting impression.

It is difficult to draw one story from my memory banks that stands out as the pivotal “Aha!” moment. In twenty years, I have chosen to be open and honest with my students so that they could see how to face challenges with integrity and grit.

My true purpose is to teach the skills of embracing uncertainty and learning to be brave. When I was diagnosed with stage two, uterine sarcoma, my students shared in the emotional and physical transformation which was chemotherapy. Even though I was exhausted, bald, and frail, I made the choice to continue teaching during treatments. If I am to be completely honest, my students gave me their strength when I felt empty.

We talked openly about courage, fear, and embracing life just as it shows up.

Several years later, my school was rocked by the unexpected death of a very popular senior student months before he was supposed to graduate. His suicide rocked me to my knees. I questioned, “Was my presence of any value? Was I really making a difference?” The answer was clear when I came into the building the next day to a classroom full of students looking to me to help them navigate the unimaginable.

At that moment, I knew that teaching was more than information delivery.

Teaching is the courage to care, cry, and be human with my students. I must teach hope, integrity, and the skills needed to know that life will continue. To impart the ability to perceive and rise above to each occasion, knowing that we are in this together.

My room is a place of belonging, is safe to fail, feel vulnerable and to face life’s challenges with bravery.

I teach because it is an expression of my authentic self, essential as breathing.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

Paying It Forward: Celebrating The Impact Of Teachers On Me

Hi, I’m Jasmine Bush. This is #WhyITeach.

Currently, I am the seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Esperanza Charter School within New Orleans, Louisiana.

I teach because it is truly my passion! I am in love with instilling knowledge, confidence, and overall motivation within my kids.

I teach because of the great impact my teachers had on my life. My teachers were more than teachers; they filled the spaces left unfulfilled in my homelife, and that helped me grow into who I am today.

I teach because I feel as if it’s something that I am made to do. The work is hard and not free from stress, but I do it for our future.

I teach because it’s truly who I am; I am not just a teacher. I often act as a caregiver, social worker, parent, mentor, therapist, etc. I teach in an urban setting and my students are faced with many opportunity gaps that interfere with their academic success. I teach because I can offer a bridge for those students to overcome those gaps. I plan lessons that expose my kids to many different experiences. I teach my kids and my kids also teach me. We are together in this as a team!

I teach because I truly care about and respect offering students quality education no matter their location or economic status. I grew up in a rural small city in southwest Georgia where resources were limited. Most students went to school, graduated, and went back to work on the family farm. My teachers gave me the notion and confidence to dream bigger and that I could achieve whatever goals I aspired. I teach so I can offer these ideas, notions, and goals to my children who are also faced with the idea that they can’t reach their goals because of who they are or where they live.

I am a first-generation college graduate, and I am completing my Masters in Teaching on May 11th.

So why do I teach?

I teach because I am an example of the outcome of having compassionate, understanding, confident, and knowledgeable teachers like me can offer in developing minds to facilitate student achievement and success in life.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

Growing Up, I Needed Someone To Tell Me It Was Going To Be Okay. Now, I Get To Be That Person

Hi, I’m Joshua Case. This is #WhyITeach.

As a child, I was diagnosed early on with both ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome. The Aspergers diagnosis was later changed to PDD-NOS, and I still suffer from both as an adult.

Today, as a 28 year old married man, I still struggle to keep my composure at loud social situations such as banquets, and my wife often has to repeat anything she tells me.

It’s hard to even sit down for a video game or a movie, no matter how much interest I have.

However, it could have been much worse.

I still remember every milestone as I got older. At age 12, I watched my first fireworks without running away. At age 14, I made the first friend that I kept for more than a year or two. At age 18, I had my first romantic relationship. At age 20, after confiding in a friend about my disabilities, they told me they could never tell. And at age 24, defying expectations, I earned an MAT and started teaching. This was the moment where I felt like a real civilized human for the first time, and I earned that MAT so I could help other children feel the same.

Today, I have a wide array of experiences, which I have tried to use in order to achieve that goal.

I started as a middle school science teacher in a high-needs school, where 99% of students were eligible for free lunch. Despite my difficulties growing up, I recognize my privilege as a white, Jewish boy from one of the best school districts in the state. This teaching placement was an adjustment.

But in each student, I saw potential and knew I was drawn to that location to play a role. I became as much of a counselor as I was a teacher and was able to apply what I’ve learned in my own situation(s) to help them succeed in a world that worked against them.

Some of them keep in touch, telling me how I prepared them well for high school and the goals they have for life.

Today, I am a special education teacher. I still teach pull-out environmental science classes and plug into a variety of subjects, but my focus is on working with students like me. Many of my students have the same disabilities as me, some have others, but they’re all beneficiaries of my support. I feel proud of each and every one of them for all of their milestones—showing up to class, turning in an assignment on time, opening up to someone, and whatever else they struggle to accomplish.

I teach because, when I was growing up, I needed someone like me to tell me I was okay. Now I get to be that person.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

My Teaching Inspiration Is My Brother, My First Pupil

Hi, I’m Ilana Rashba. This is #WhyITeach.

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed learning and teaching others.

When I first found out that I was going to be a sister, at four years old, I was ecstatic to have a “real student” other than my stuffed animals.

Little did my brother know at that time, he was my very first pupil and is now the reason why I do what I do.

I was always “that student” who absolutely loved school since academics came easily to me. I look back on my own schooling experience and I am truly filled with wonderful memories. I can pinpoint exactly which teachers challenged me, encouraged me, and shaped me into being the person I am today. I am one of the lucky ones.  I loved school and school loved me.

I couldn’t imagine anyone not loving school in the way I did—except there was one; my brother had a very different relationship with school than I did. Sure, he never really put up a fight about going, but I know that for him school was challenging and a place where he didn’t feel good about himself.

As the older sister, I tried to help him and show him the ways that helped me, convinced that my way of learning would be successful for him. When they weren’t, I felt so defeated. I kept looking for different ways that would allow him to understand multiplication.

I realized that my brother, like many students, just needed the information presented in a different way. I thought about what my brother liked and suddenly it came to me.

The best way for my brother to understand the 7’s times tables was through thinking in terms of football touchdowns; a connection worked and stuck like glue! 9 years late, he now has a great relationship with school and is about to graduate from college—possibly with honors!

I teach to make a difference in all my students’ lives.

I teach to make connections with my students that will enhance their relationship with school.

I teach to make students excited about school and learning because I’ve personally seen the difference it can make.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

I’m Not Proud Of My First Year, But I’m Glad I Didn’t Quit

lindseyHi, I’m Lindsey Warden. This is #WhyITeach.

When people hear that I teach middle school, they usually think I’m crazy, and when they hear where I started my teaching career, they usually think I’m even crazier.

I started teaching in 2015 through a placement program and picked up my life to move to rural Mississippi, where I spent a few weeks in the summer preparing to welcome over a hundred seventh graders to my English classroom in the fall.

Sweltering in the unreal Mississippi summer heat, I threw myself into learning all I could in informational afternoon sessions while co-teaching in a summer school classroom each morning. I was not even remotely prepared for the challenges I would face in my own classroom, no matter how enthusiastic and confident I felt.

My classroom lovingly decorated, books for a classroom library carefully gathered, and lesson plans for the first weeks of school written, I quickly realized that I was an outsider in a tightly-knit community.

The compliant and respectful kids that were selected for my summer school class gave way to children who ran the full gamut behaviorally, emotionally and academically speaking. Less than twelve of my students that year were reading at or above grade level, and that wasn’t the worst news compared to test scores from their previous achievement assessment.

The school leadership, who cared deeply about their students but fought high-impact battles against apathy, funding difficulties, and alignment of teaching practices to the requirements of newly adopted Common Core State Standards, held me to high standards and were in and out of my classroom often to help me troubleshoot my problems. As I began coming to terms with exactly how difficult my first year in the classroom was about to be, my students were also realizing that I basically had no idea what I was doing. My classroom ran wild, my students disliked me, and I was filled with anxiety over my instructional and management failures. Many of my co-workers expected me to quit before Christmas.

I didn’t quit.

Whenever I felt like quitting, I thought of Desmond*, a tiny boy in my inclusion class who spent the first quarter failing every test. One day in November, he made a 70. Then, he made an 80. When he made his first 100 and jumped out of his seat dancing with joy, my heart swelled with pride for him and his success. I began to realize that even though my kids deserved a better teacher than me, I might be making a small difference in some way.

I also thought of the kids I couldn’t seem to reach, like Cory, a chronically absent boy who would miss school for weeks at a time. One time, when he finally did come back, he revealed that he had been living for months with an abscessed tooth that the family couldn’t or perhaps wouldn’t get treated. I thought of students I could see parts of my experiences in, like Kadir, a Yemeni refugee whose family had settled in north Mississippi and who I often imagined felt even more out-of-place than I did. I thought of students whose stories crushed me to my core, like Tamora, who seemed upset one day and divulged to me in the hallway that she was being abused by her step-father.

I continued to teach for the academic outcomes, like Desmond’s and worked hard to turn my students into readers and pull them to higher levels of achievement. But I also continued because I realized quitting would just be one more example of instability in the lives of children who craved adults who cared, and adults who wouldn’t give up or quit on them.

I’m not proud of my first year teaching.

I know I did poorly in the classroom, and I know my students deserved and needed a more experienced teacher. Or a teacher with ANY experience at all.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching now, and am nearing graduation with my M.Ed.

Pursuing my master’s degree in teaching has helped me fill in the gaps that I had from taking a nontraditional route into the profession, and my classroom runs more smoothly than ever. My students and I love learning together using a project-based approach and have done everything from tracing our family genealogies back to the 1800s and 1700s in American History to drafting United Nations resolutions and debating them in a mock UN session in English.

I genuinely love my work in the classroom and enjoy seeing my students excited to learn. While I have since moved to a different town and now teach students in a suburban setting, I carry the lessons learned with my first groups of kids with me daily and remember that children in any school need teachers who care. A few students from my first few groups have since reached out, now as high schoolers, and thanked me just for being there and for coming in every day.

This is why I teach.

Aside from helping students improve and meet academic and behavioral goals, I teach because I love the human connections this career has allowed me to form.

Knowing that I can make a small difference each day, just with my own kindness and tenacity, and knowing that I am modeling qualities like empathy, perseverance, and open-mindedness for the world’s future leaders and activists is so rewarding, and it keeps me coming back to the profession year after year.

When my time to serve students comes to an end, I know I will look back with love on my extended community of learners and look forward to the future with hope for all the extraordinary things they will do in this world. ❤️🍎✏️

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

*student names have been changed