Podcast: Shaking Up the Kindergarten Curriculum with LaNesha Tabb

35 Min Read
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Photo: LaNesha Tabb in her classroom.

Welcome back to Teachers in America! To launch Season 3, we sat down with LaNesha Tabb, who teaches kindergarten at the Metropolitan School District in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

You can follow Teachers in America wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or iHeartRadio.

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the guest and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

Lish Mitchell: Welcome to Teachers in America, a production of HMH. I'm Lish Mitchell. Today, our host Noelle Morris kicks off Season 3 with kindergarten teacher, author, and blogger LaNesha Tabb. An educator of 15 years, LaNesha currently teaches at the Metropolitan School District in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. About halfway through her teacher journey, she started a blog called Education With an Apron to share fresh teaching ideas. Today, LaNesha is also a public speaker and author of Unpack Your Impact, a book for educators. By incorporating culture into social studies lessons and repetition into her writing instructions, LaNesha introduces her students to new perspectives and skills for their success. Now, here are Noelle and LaNesha.

Noelle Morris: So LaNesha, welcome! You're from Indianapolis, Indiana. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

LaNesha Tabb: Thank you so much for having me. I've been teaching kindergarten through third grade for the past 15 years. So primary is definitely at the core of everything that I do. I'm a content creator, and I love sharing my ideas or resources with teachers, at this point all over the world. It's not even just the United States anymore. So that's really humbling, really amazing. I'm an author, which is new for me to say—I’m about a month and a half into my new role as an author. I've got one children's book out and one teacher book that I co-wrote with Naomi O'Brien. So that's really exciting. And then outside of that, I'm just wife and mom.

Noelle: So let's talk about that for a second. Let's talk about how LaNesha balances her day of kindergarten to third, and children that are Pre-K and in that third grade. How do you balance or separate yourself?

LaNesha: That's a really big question. And to be honest with you, there's not always a lot of balance. And then the balance that I do get comes in the form of a man named David Tabb, who is my husband. And he just picks up everything that I drop or that I am unable to do. He's just very supportive. He understands that I am teaching full time, but I'm also wearing many other hats at the same time, and he steps in. My home is very non-traditional in that sense. You will find him cooking, cleaning. You will find me working all hours of the night. And I know, just based on societal roles for the past how-many decades, that isn't the case for a lot of families. And I'm very grateful to him because that means nothing to him. It's, “Yeah, I'm the man, I'm the husband.” But so what? I can get dinner on the table, I can give my kids a bath.

And so I'm just really grateful because if it weren't for him, I honestly do not think that I would be able to do really anything that I'm doing. Because teaching full time and doing nothing else is more than time-consuming and overwhelming. So even if I were just doing that, that's a lot of work on anybody, to be doing that in addition to the other things that I do. Balance is tricky. Self-care is tricky. But so much of it comes because I have this space with the partner that I have. He gives me the space to do that.

Noelle: I think it's important that we recognize that. For me, it's always been my mother and my sister. If I did not have them, I definitely could not be me in my space because I'm a single mom. And I know earlier, before we started having this conversation, you've heard my 15-year-old behind the scenes who has become my house producer. "Mom, do you look ready? Are you ready for this podcast? Is everything plugged in?" In this pandemic, it's allowed me to see skills in her and interest in her. That definitely helps a lot of our conversations. So in thinking of that, what's one of the things that has come out of your children's mouths that lets you know that they see your passion and your work shine, and then they also see you as the teacher?

LaNesha: I love this question. I bring my children to the school that I currently teach at. And the children's book that I just released is a book that helps students in writing because I'm really big with writing. And it's funny, kids like it. They can laugh at it. My daughter, I've noticed all of a sudden, is calling herself an author, and she's planning her books. And she has seen me work over the past however many months on these books. And then for her to see boxes of them arrive, and I take them out and they have my name on them, all of a sudden, she's an author. And she's taking on that identity because she's watching her mom do it. And that is really, really powerful. They also are celebrating with me in their own ways—their own five- and eight-year-old ways so that's great.

Noelle: It's so amazing. Tell me how Education With an Apron or “the apron” became part of your brand.

LaNesha: So in the classroom, let me back up, at school, I am a very lazy dresser. I rotate between the same seven to nine black dresses. Plain. I have on one now. It's a plain black dress. And I was like, what can I do to kind of jazz those up? And one day, I don't remember why or how, but I put an apron on, and the kids loved it. Because it had cupcakes or something on it, and they thought it was so cute. And then I just started wearing them. And then they had pockets. And I realized when kids were giving me things all day it's, “Oh, this is perfect.” I've got these pockets here and I can put little notes and things.

And I started just collecting them slowly, thematic ones, ones for different holidays, just cute ones. And they got to the point where the kids were like, "What apron are you going to wear tomorrow?" And I own over 70 of them now. It's kind of ridiculous. But that's really all there is to it. It was just me trying to disguise the fact that I wear black dresses to work every single day. And they were cute and they were fun, and they just became a tool that I used for, I wouldn't say student engagement, but student relationship-building because it was just something that they could connect to me with.

Noelle: So at some point I could imagine there might be the aim of 180, and see if you can have a different one every day. Do you have a favorite apron?

LaNesha: No. There's no way. I have a gingerbread apron I'm obsessed with. But for whatever reason, I feel like gingerbread is very holiday winter. You're not going to pull out the gingerbread apron in April. So seasonally, that's one of my favorite ones. And I've got a buffalo plaid. No, there's no way I could pick.

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Noelle: Let's talk about writing. Because I know that's a passion of yours. How do you find passion and a love for teaching writing in the earliest grades? It just seems like that usually happens with teachers that are in the upper grades. What with you and the grade levels that you love to teach did writing also become a passion?

LaNesha: I've seen such exciting writing pieces come from my students. Because I don't want to sound like my head is big or anything, but I just can get little kids to write. I just can. The system that I kind of came up with for my students, where I basically spent a month indoctrinating them with the writing process so they could say it forwards, backwards, upside down, it doesn't matter, in their sleep—there was a little chant that I taught them, and they internalized it, and it's just in their soul. And so then I taught them what to do on each level of that writing process.

And it almost became like a game. I had a display on the wall. And it was almost like, okay, I did all the things I need to do on level one, the pick-an-idea phase. They had success checks that they had to do before they could move to level two. And it became like a game. They were like, "I did this and I did this and I did this." And they didn't check with me. They checked with a friend. The idea was that I could get out of it, let them depend on each other or themselves to produce a piece of writing. And if their friend was like, "Yep, you did this and this," you can go to level two. They're running up to the wall and they're moving their picture to level two. And they have a new goal sheet of things they have to do on that level.

And I taught them so explicitly what to do on every single level that, by the time they got that, they don't need me. “Why do you need Mrs. Tabb? I know what to do next. I have to pick an idea. Okay, and then after I did that, I have to plan it out. Then I got to write the thing. Then I have to edit it, and then I have to revise it and then I publish it. And then I go back and pick a new idea.” They don't need Mrs. Tabb. And so even the most reluctant writers (participate)—because so many kids, they hate writing. Because if they don't know what to do, there's anxiety there. It seems like this big beast of a thing. But the way to get writing anxiety to go away is to teach them how to systematically get something created.

And then the teacher—all that's taken care of, so I spent all my time working on the craft because they had the process down. So I was actually able to get in there and help them improve the quality of the craft, instead of running around, being like, "You don't even know how to write a sentence. You didn't even put a capital letter here. Oh my goodness. You just put periods all the way"—you know, kids put periods all the way down the end of the paper because they just that's what they think a sentence is. All that, it was gone, because I taught them explicitly. And once they had it, they can write pretty much anything I asked them to write. And it's just the best. I love it.

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Noelle: Your energy—I just loved watching you explode with energy and enthusiasm. So what I'm hearing you say is, first, get the process out of the way because the main part about writing is agency and voice. And if you're training them and getting them to really understand that metacognition behind structure and within the craft, then you're proving that empowerment can happen in the earliest of ages, which means then they want to speak up for themselves and be heard. Do you have a writing project that you do every year?

LaNesha: Nope. That's the interesting thing about it—is most teachers that I know, or most schools that I've worked in, we have either a writing curriculum or we have a program that we have to follow, or we just follow the standards. And that's what I've been doing more recently. And in the primary grades, really the writing standards aren't all that intense. In kindergarten, it's literally use words and pictures to tell a narrative story. The end. That's open to a lot of interpretation. And it's the same thing for a persuasive piece and for an informational piece. And so, we would just have to take those standards and make something happen. And I feel like in the past, before I really led with the writing process, it was just a frustrating time where I would show them something and model it, and then be like, "Okay, it's time for you to go."

And then one kid will be like, "I can't think of anything." And the next kid would be like, "I'm done." But literally, they're popping up all over the classroom. And I'm thinking, “I can't help. Okay, let me call all the ones who need an idea. You come sit here.” And then I'm working with them, but then what's going on in the—you know what I mean? And it just was a nightmare. And the reason I get so excited is because nobody ever asks me about writing. Anytime I'm on a podcast or on Instagram Live, it's always about social studies, or it's always about social justice or anti-racism. So I'm like, “Yes, someone's asking me about writing.” Because those other things are passions of mine, but I'm an excellent writing teacher and reading teacher, and no one ever asks me about that. So I'm very grateful to you. So that's why I'm really excited.

So, no real big projects or anything. But just even in the mundane, I have seen such amazing pieces come out of just writing an informational piece. I had a student who was my most reluctant writer, and he would not write anything for me for so long. And we got to an informational unit. And I had been harping and harping about, "Okay, boys and girls, we are going to be writing. You have to tell me something that you know all about. It can be cars; it can be motorcycles. I don't care if it's nail polish. I don't care what it is. Just something that you know all about. And you can give me some facts about that thing."

And he just sat there forever. “I don't know anything. I don't know anything.” And then finally, one day he said, "The only thing I know all about is cuss words." And I was like, "Great. Go get your idea sheet because we're going to write this book about cuss words." And I'll tell you what, he wrote the best book of that entire unit. It had a table of contents. It had glossary. I mean, it had diagrams so you knew which finger was the middle finger.

Noelle: I'm sorry. I am cracking up laughing because that would have been the student that I would be like, "Can I live with him?”

LaNesha: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I mean, so I called his mom and I told her the whole thing. And I said, "Listen, he's saying that the only thing he knows all about is curse words." And the funny thing was his curse words were like stupid, and they weren't even real curse words. And he was like, "That's the only thing I know all about." And I was like, "That's fantastic. We're going to do this." And we sure did. He wrote the best book. And I mean just labels and diagrams, and all of the things to teach other people all about cuss words. And it was fantastic. He didn't get to read it out loud, of course, but he let me keep a copy. It's so good.

Noelle: I would have wanted to keep a copy. And I would probably have tried to find somewhere to get this published by a kindergartner. Because to me, that could go truly viral. I applaud you LaNesha because to me, that is what I love about teaching, is finding those moments where you don't shut it down. Because he finally was like, "I'll tell you what I know about." And then had you been like, "Well, sorry, that is a big no,” you would have been an out. And to me, he now has met a teacher, his kindergarten teacher, who has already given him the space.

But to me, LaNesha, a child has to know by third grade that a teacher has loved them and has seen them. And that's also so critical in those moments. I know if I was in your classroom, if we were all in your classroom, all of us can imagine your classroom is a system of organization. Color coding, ways to know how to use your environment for that agency and being self-sufficient, which means you have a plan. But I also have a feeling that if I was ever had the privilege of watching you in action, that your plan happens also in the moment because you are absorbing all of their energy and curiosity. So when was the last time that you were following your plan, and one of your little scholars asked a question, you're like, "You know what? That's a really good question. Everyone, put this aside; let's jump right into this." Are you comfortable with that?

LaNesha: Oh, yeah. 100%. You described me perfectly. I've been very fortunate to work at schools with administrators who don't really micromanage. And they trust (you), as long as you're getting it done. I tend to know the target. I have to do the learning board and that whole thing. I've got the success criteria to target. That's fine. But I do. I get in there, and I try to be very responsive. It actually just happened. Currently this year, I'm teaching virtual kindergarten, and there were 40 students in my class.

Noelle: Forty?

LaNesha: Forty. Yeah. I'm serving 40 families. We just had some flip back. So now it's down to about 30. But it just happened. We were doing a reading lesson, and it was a story where I was having them do a very basic skill—identify character and setting. But we had defined character as the animals, or the people, or the objects that do the talking and the thinking and the feeling. So that was their standard for what a character is.

And the story we were reading was called Mango, Abuela, and Me. And it was about a little girl and her grandmother. They spoke different languages, and it was about becoming bilingual. And at the end of the story, there's a parrot that they buy to help with the speech. And the parrot was talking. She would say, "Buenos dias," and he would repeat, "Buenos dias," whatever. So we're going through the lesson at the end, and I'm asking students to identify a character via Zoom. And they're like, "Grandma," or "Abuela." Sure. "The little girl, her name was Mia." Great. And then somebody was like, "The parrot." And another kid was like, "That's not a character. That's just a bird."

And right there, I was like, "Well, wait a minute, though. Because what did we define a character? They have to be in the story, they have to do talking and thinking and feeling or whatever." So I let them go back and forth. And they had this little mini-debate going on on whether or not that parrot should be qualified as a character or not. And that wasn't in the lesson plan. And that wasn't something that I thought was going to come out of that conversation. I was just supposed to be hitting character and setting. And we went on for about five minutes trying to figure it out. Because technically the parrot did talk. Did he have feelings? And the kids were like, "You don't know. You don't know how he feels." And so that sort of thing happens all the time. And I feel like that's what I live for. I don't know how I could teach and not be allowed to go off on tangents like that occasionally. I don't do it all the time, but occasionally that's necessary.

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Noelle: Hey listeners, if you need another podcast to keep you up to date on the world of education, check out Shaping the FutureTM. My friend and colleague Matthew Mugo Fields sits down with industry experts to discuss how education and innovation can change the world. Subscribe to Shaping the Future on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Now, let's get back to the episode.

Noelle: LaNesha, how do you manage 40? Are you setting up little mini sessions, or do you have 30 kindergartners in a virtual environment at one time? And how do you keep track of them on the screen?

LaNesha: So both. We start our morning every day together as a class of 40. So from 8 to 9, we do whole-group. And about half of it would be just typical morning meeting things. And then the second half of that hour would be reading. And it's a game of, you feel like a fitness instructor that's on the DVD, and she's like, "Oh yeah, you guys are working it. I see you." And you recorded that a year ago. You can't see me. That's a lot of what it is. I've gotten really good at lip reading. I will have a screen behind the big screen so that I can see what they see, but then I can see them on my big smart board. So I'm looking at all of them, and I'm operating under them with a screen behind them, but I can see it on another screen.

And so I teach from a PowerPoint basically. Everything I want them to see, I put it on there. We have not yet tried breakout rooms because I just don't feel like they're quite ready for that. Maybe this next quarter we can flirt with that a little bit. But it's just a lot of lip reading. So if I ask a question, and I see somebody say the right answer, I'm going to go, "Oh, yep. That's right, Noelle. I love that." She thinks that I can hear her because I just responded to her. And then calling out their names as much as possible. Every morning, we say “good morning” to every single person. I'm taking notes on their outfits, or if they got a new haircut because I'm trying to trick them into thinking that I see each and every one of them.

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And then after that hour, we come back on throughout the rest of the day in smaller groups. So they just know when to log on. But again, I've been very fortunate where I work. They have given me the freedom to craft a schedule that makes sense and that's appropriate, and that works for a teacher with 40 five-year-olds on a Zoom call. I'm not one of those schools that I've heard (about), that it just breaks my heart, where the kids are sitting in front of the screen from 8 until 3, which I've heard tons of teachers with that. And that's hard.

Noelle: Yeah, I would think that it would be hard too. And so let me make sure I'm also understanding, the audience is understanding. You're teaching in a classroom, but your students are virtual. But you have your classroom space.

LaNesha: I do. Yep. So I got flipped the day before school was supposed to start face-to-face. Our virtual numbers spiked. And there was one virtual teacher who was already, her numbers were climbing till 60, 70, 80. By the time it hit that 80 mark, she's like, "There's no way I can do 80 children." So they asked me to flip. I said, "Sure." So I've got one corner of my classroom set up so that it looks like a classroom. And I stand in front of my smartboard. And there's books behind me and the whole thing so that it looks like school for them. But yeah, I physically report to school every day and teach from that area.

Noelle: What's it look like and sound like when you sign in because you can't meet with your people and cluster? How do you build up your energy? When I was part of a faculty, part of my energy build was my morning of just seeing my faculty friends, my teacher BFFs. How are you managing that? How are you restructuring that time to keep yourself motivated and your peers motivated?

LaNesha: Just the way my personality is set up, I'm the opposite of that. I don't enjoy all lot of interaction in the morning, just in general. And this year's weird because I do have a lot of great colleagues that I love, but because of the nature of virtual teaching, there's a lot of days where I'm just in my little dungeon, is what they call it. I'll go days, and I won't even see people. If I don't venture out, there's no passing to go to the lunchroom, or the cafeteria, or the playground. I'm in that room.

And so in the morning for me to get my energy up to meet with the kids—I mean, it's kindergarten, so you really don't have a choice. Once their little faces are there, it's go-time. And I do a pre-party every morning. So about 15 minutes before Zoom, I just start the Zoom meeting. And I share the screen and I will play a silly video, or some songs, whatever. So they are logging on. They know they can log on early. By the time I get there, I'm not waiting on droves of children to come, and most of them have already logged on. And then I try to do something shocking or funny as soon as I turn my camera on. I might have a funny headband on, or I might have a filter on because I want them to laugh as soon as they see me.

Because the last thing I want is five-year-olds to dread going to their laptop or their computer. Because if that's the case, then their parents are going to be like, "We can't do this." And they're going to try to enroll them back in school. I can do my part to keep social distancing as an option. So I took it personally, as a personal goal of mine, to keep my virtual students as happy and get as much done with them as I can so that they would remain because the more of them that flip back, the tighter the class sizes are for my colleagues. So we started the year with 15, 16 kids. They're now running out of space. They're like, "There's no way for me to safely social distance anymore." So it's been tricky to do that. I guess what I'm trying to say is my energy comes because I'm trying to keep them happy. We're having a great time. We're learning, we're doing the thing. You get energy from doing that.

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Noelle: I always find it interesting. I know that I am overly extroverted. I read the book Quiet for the intent and the hope that maybe I was secretly an introvert. And my friends were like, "Noelle, there's no way." So I appreciate us having this conversation, and realize it takes all of us and our different personalities to get the job done. So you mentioned being an author. If you could go back and talk to your first-year teacher self, what is one piece of advice that you were thinking about, reflecting on, or that you wrote in your book that you wish you would have known in year one versus year 14, 15?

LaNesha: Goodness. So much of it. Really at the heart of this book, the tagline is How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture Centered Curriculum, which we argued with our editors for a long time because that's long. But we were like, "It is what it is." They're like, "We need to shorten that." And we're like, "We're not shortening it." No, I'm kidding. They were great. But that's what it is. And I was so concerned. And I really do have so much gratitude for the fact that I started teaching in 2006. So Pinterest wasn't around yet, Instagram definitely wasn't around, Facebook was on the rise. I say all that to say I didn't have the pressure of going viral or having the cutest classroom. I feel like if I did, young LaNesha very easily would have gotten caught up in that because I enjoy a nice aesthetic. I do. I like things to be cute. I like things to be pleasant to look at. I very easily would've gotten swept up in that.

And a lot of the things that we talk about in that book is, listen, you only have 180 days with these children. You need to stop worrying about everything being so cute. You need to make sure that you are teaching honest and inclusive history. Stop doing this heroification thing as defined by James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's not all about heroes over everything. No, we need an accurate, well-rounded look at things that happened in the past because it affects so much of what we are dealing with today.

And then even just the idea of the thematic units—we talk about that quite a bit in the book because it's so prevalent in the primary classroom. Right now, if you look on Instagram right now at most primary kindergarten classrooms, you're going to see teachers doing pumpkin crafts. And we bring the pumpkins in, and we measure the pumpkin, and we scoop the seeds, we wrap the pumpkin seeds, and then we have a taste test report, or apples, or it's a gingerbread, or it's shamrocks, or it's whatever, replace your theme.

But the problem with that was, we were realizing that I'm seeing my preschool children bring home activities that are very similar to what the first and second graders are doing. So you mean to tell me that from Pre-K until first or second grade, we need to learn the lifecycle of a pumpkin that many times? What are we doing? So that's really at the heart of that book. First-year teachers, I know. It's difficult because for so many of us, that's what we did in school. And you're like, “Oh my gosh, I’m finally a teacher. I can finally buy all these apples and bring them to school. And we're going to do a huge apple week. And I'm not knocking apple week. I'm not saying don't do apple week. But I'm saying you have to think about the fact that they probably did that in Pre-K or kindergarten. What are you going to do to shake that up?

And especially when we live in a world where so many things need to be covered, they need exposure to so many things. So why not do some economics lessons, or civics lessons, or geography lessons? And that's what Naomi and I set out to do. So we started working together in 2016, just our own classrooms. We were writing lessons and trading them back and forth and trying them out on our students. And then literally, we were like, “This is the best time of the day.” The kids are like, "When are we going to learn that stuff? When are we going to learn about those different kinds of people? When are we going to learn about..." All of a sudden they were craving social studies. And we were like, “This is it. This is what's missing.” This is what made me excited to come to the school because I was so excited to teach them all the new things that I had learned under those subtopics.

So that's what I was saying. As a first-year teacher, I know it's tricky—Pinterest, Instagram, we're trying to be all those things—but learn your craft, get a firm foundation, make sure these kids know how to read and write. And then open the world. Don't get stuck down in the Christopher Columbus craft. There's a whole world of things out here that we could be teaching kids. And we get stuck in the same things year after year after year.

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Noelle: I love what you just said. And talk about unpacking your impact. It cannot be finite. And I love your advice to young LaNesha. Because it's the same thing. I would've just been like, “Oh, I'm going to have the epic fail classroom of Pinterest every time.” My bulletin boards were so ugly, LaNesha. But I knew my students were creative and more artistic, and they would help me design my bulletin boards. We cannot focus on being a viral sensation or an edu-celebrity. That to me should come from authenticity, from inviting others in. And first starting with the love of what we do, being ready for those little faces that you're about to see on a Zoom call, and making them laugh and love learning.

I am so thrilled to have this conversation with you. I've been waiting for this podcast. I can't wait for people to know that you're doing some exciting work with me and Teacher's Corner. And for those of our listeners that are also part of our Teacher's Corner, and our online professional learning, you'll see LaNesha. I hope you've already seen her on our social. But LaNesha, I have to ask you what would be your walkup song. If I was doing a show where you got to come and present—let's imagine vaccine is there, we are traveling again, and I get to have you at one of our events. What song would you want me playing as you come up to the stage?

LaNesha: Oh, man. Honestly, it would be anything by Beyonce. Probably something from her latest album—

Noelle: Homecoming.

LaNesha: Oh, yeah. That's exactly it. The intro to Homecoming.

Noelle: The intro.

LaNesha: That's what it would be.

Noelle: Okay. So basically you're saying anything Beyonce, but I also have to have the marching band. You have to have the lights.

LaNesha: I want the hat.

Noelle: With the hat and the whole thing. Okay, so one last piece of advice. Teachers who are virtual or hybrid, how do you want to encourage us to be thinking of 2021 and beyond? What's 2021 going to bring us?

LaNesha: Oh gosh, what I really hope is that 2021 brings peace and freedom from feeling like we have to save the world. Here's my issue with teaching, which sounds like a horrible setup. But here's my issue with teaching or teachers. We have been put on this pedestal where people will call us heroes, which sounds so nice. But when you really think about the impact of calling somebody a hero, what you're doing is you're putting a tremendous pressure on them. And you're saying that, even though all of these things are so hard, you rose above it, and you did it anyway.

But what you also have to think about is the fact that that hero has now made the bar up here where everybody may not have the same ability to access the things. So even just recently with the pandemic, and I was on a rampage for awhile because I saw these posts popping up everywhere of teachers that were like, "Oh, I built individual desks for my students. Oh, I built myself a glass shield, a plexiglass thing, and I'm hanging this from the ceiling." And everyone was going wild over it. And they were getting covered by the news. And I'm thinking to myself, but what about the teacher that does not have the money, the time, or the resources to build those things? Why does one class get to be safer than the other? Why does it have to be like that?

And it's just the fact that those sorts of stories were getting like praised as, this is it. Look at these heroes. You're going above and beyond. And then the poor teacher who could be the best teacher in America, but doesn't have the same resource and access is feeling less-than. And that's the problem I have, because teachers should not feel less than for spending their own time, money, and resources to achieve this viral hero status. And that is the thing that is really taxing to me.

And I've been telling the people that this year—this is year 15, this is the first year of my entire career that I have become a contract teacher. Not because I don't love my students, not because I don't love my school, but because I love me. And because I know mentally I have to stop at some point. Because we all know if you let a teacher work, she'll work until there's nothing else left, which that never happens. But we never stop. We never ever stop. And so you have to, at least for myself mentally, for self-care purposes, I had to stop. And when it's time to go, I grab my bag and I go. I'm a wife, I'm a mom, I'm a friend, I'm a sister, I'm a daughter. They all want pieces of me as well.

And I really hope that teachers can feel the freedom to do the same thing. And I get a lot of people that are saying, "I know. I hear you say that, but it's so hard because it's not going to get done and it's not going to..." But what would happen if we all decided to take care of ourselves? What would happen if we all decided, you know what, no, I can't work until 8:00 tonight only to get up and be right back here at 7:00 in the morning? What would happen if we all started to shift? And like I said, I really can't stand too high and mighty because I just started doing this year 15, but I encourage other people to start setting some more realistic boundaries and get that freedom. Go and do something after work. Take that time for yourself, disconnect from that. And remember, you're a person. We're teachers, but we are people. And we want to stay healthy, mentally and physically. So that's what I really hope 2021 brings.

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Noelle: Excellent advice. I'm really thinking a lot about even some of my word choices and the desire to have every teacher know, I see you. We see you at HMH. We get it. So thank you for that reminder. I will do my part in 2021. So thank you so much.

LaNesha: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Noelle: The conversation with LaNesha gave me a lot to think about. One, I got to be on a Zoom call with her. So I was able to see her ability to make a colorful, inviting space on a wall. LaNesha has a lot to say. She's given voice and empowerment to the youngest learners. As I got to see her eyes light up when we talked about her writing instruction, her approach, and the book that she's written. But towards the end of this episode, we started talking about superheros and teachers being asked, what is your superpower? Guys, I have to admit, I've asked that question. I do sometimes like to talk about that with teachers, because I want them to feel so empowered. But LaNesha has me now thinking, how can I change that question? Or how can I use it so that every teacher—regardless of their means, their district, their access to technology, equipment, their space, or their educelebrity status—is recognized and know, we see you and we know you're doing the best of the best. You are creating the future.

So that's what I want us to think about as we continue to reflect on this episode. What are the three things that you know you did so well and that you're proud of? What are three things that you are just naturally good at and you might want to share with others? Make sure you pick up the phone and you tell another teacher what you see in them. And hey, if you want to share those with us, reach out. We're always wanting to talk to new teachers and bring you into the Teachers in America podcast. Until next time, your friend, Noelle.

Lish: If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America podcast, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. Be the first to hear new episodes of Teachers in America, by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you enjoy today's show, please rate, review, and share it with your network. You can find the transcript of this episode on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. The link is in the show notes. Teachers in America is produced by HMH. Thanks again for listening.


SHAPING THE FUTURE is a trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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