Onalee Smith: Welcome to HMH Learning Moments. I'm Onalee, and for today's Teachers in America episode host Rose Else-Mitchell, [an educator and learning scientist], sits down with Brittany Mamphey who teaches fifth-grade reading language arts at Mt. Healthy North Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Brittany teaches in an urban setting where [teacher] turnover is high, but today you'll hear what keeps her coming back to the classroom. Now let's turn it over to Brittany and Rose.
Rose Else-Mitchell: Let me start with why teaching? Why did you go into teaching?
Brittany Mamphey: There's a few reasons. My mom is in sales and my dad's in accounting and knew for sure I didn't want to do that. Sitting somewhere and in a cubicle and not having the interaction necessarily with other individuals except via e-mail. That's not me. I want to communicate. I want to talk. I also had a lot of impactful teachers growing up.
Rose: Do you remember one of them?
Brittany: Yes, I do. Miss Connie and she was my eighth grade math teacher and I remember from sixth and seventh grade I kind of was not in advanced placement, classes but a little bit higher classes. And I remember it was like September–October and she came to me in the cafeteria in eighth grade she said, "Hey, why are you not signed up for my Algebra 1 course?"
Brittany: And I'm like, "I don't know." She was like, "You took prealgebra last year and everything else was advanced. Why don't you give it a try?" And she gave me that confidence. And math is still not my strong subject. I still think I got C's in the class, but her taking that time out of her day to approach me and say, “Hey, I believe in you. Give it a try. We're going to get through this together.” That made me very confident and trusting of teachers.
Rose: Yeah, and do you remember the moment that you decided to be a teacher?
Brittany: Yeah, so in high school there was a program that we had through a career center that you went to your senior year where you took some classes at The Ohio State University and tried to dabble a little bit in teaching. And they had came in and did a presentation at my high school about what teaching was, and this is what the program is if you signed up for it. And first of all I was like, Hey I only have to go to school in high school half a day and then I get to go to a college campus. That's pretty cool.
Rose: So it was a mixed course where you were basically getting college credits while at high school?
Brittany: Correct. And I was like okay, I can spend half a day in high school and half a day here. And Mrs. Kidwell, she was the teacher who gave that presentation and the way that she spoke about teaching and how impactful it was, it had me sold.
Rose: So, your influences for teaching obviously came from teachers.
Rose: Do you think you might be having that effect on some of the kids that you teach?
Brittany: I think I am. There's a few kids at parent-teacher conferences where the parent's like "She said she wants to be a teacher". And I'm like "Oh no no no no no no no." And I mean that's like the highest form of flattery. But it's also I'm glad that they are interested in education and they want to be teachers, but also I mean as we're going to discuss in this podcast the things that go along with that I'm like, no.
Rose: So, tell me about your first year teaching. I certainly remember mine.
Brittany: It was awful.
Rose: It was, right?
Brittany: It was absolutely awful.
Rose: Tell me what was most awful.
Brittany: Classroom management. I mean the amount of control that I had over students was very minimal. I thought that I could just come in and teach and that would just be it, but it's much more. It's much more than that. It's about building relationships with kids and gaining their respect and then you showing them respect for that kind of work. My first year teaching it was an interesting year because I was a long-term sub. So, I was there from October all the way to the end of the school year. So, having that title is like long-term sub. The kids...
Rose: Play around with you?
Brittany: Yes, exactly. And they I think because of like "sub" they just assume that certain behaviors were acceptable. So what I did is when I got hired on that summer I read a lot of books. I went to veteran teachers about classroom management and I said if it doesn't work out next school year I'm done. Like it's a wrap. If I can't manage my kids I'm done teaching because I know over the summer I've given it 150 percent to get this turned around. And the next school year was a thousand times better.
Rose: So, what was your key to success do you think?
Brittany: My key to success was creating a classroom management plan. My classroom was very structured. I created a plan that, how are kids going to pass in papers? How are kids going to get up and ask for a tissue? How are kids going to get into groups for group work? It seems very authoritative but in order for your classroom to run you have to have certain procedures in place or it's absolutely chaos. So, my first two weeks of the school year obviously were diving into academics but it's also unit zero was what I call it, unit zero. Before we even get started with stuff I'm teaching classroom expectations with my kids.
Rose: I love what you said that you have to earn their respect and they yours, right? It's there's nothing automatic that says because you are the teacher you should be in charge. Why do you think that is?
Brittany: I've only taught in one sort of demographic which is urban education, which we have a lousy retention rate of teachers. So, they're used to a revolving door of teachers. So, after my first year they were like, “Are you coming back? Are you coming back Ms. Mamphey?” And I'm like, “Yeah I'm coming back.” So, each year I think when kids—even kids that I don't have in fifth grade—when they see my face that I've returned, they know that I'm invested in them and they know that I care about them. Even little first graders who see me in the hallway and like “Hey, I've seen this lady last year.”
[Read more on the Washington Post about teacher retention rates, particularly in urban school district.]
Brittany: It automatically sort of earns you, this is a person who has been here more than just a school year and is really dedicated to my success. So, I think kids see that and I think that automatically, I mean you have to build a relationship that doesn't automatically give you the respect. But it definitely contributes to that. When you're consistent they know.
Brittany: Sometimes their home lives aren't very consistent, but they know that they can count on you each day. Each day you're going to be there. Each morning, I'm going to be standing at my door saying good morning. Put your things up. Grab breakfast.
Rose: Yeah. What you're talking about is sort of the basics of creating a sense of security. I mean it's actually a lot like parenting. The idea that you'll always be there. The idea that they can, you know, do something wrong and things will still be okay. That's a pretty profound idea and I don't think one we talk about very much. That's what teachers do. They're creating a sense of security for kids.