Episode 13 – Bootsie Battle-Holt


Version 2“I hear of people all the time who made choices based on how they felt about themselves as math students,” shares Bootsie Battle-Holt as she explores the very real history of math anxiety. “It’s really poignant that how students feel about themselves as math students makes a tremendous impact on life decisions. One thing I am actually very thankful for with the common core standards is that we give equal credence to the math practices as well as the math content standards, and math practices are something that I think students can find a lot of success in as math students. Things like making sense of problems and preserving and solving them, that’s math practice number one […] math practices are like life practices and there is a place for everyone to find success.”

Fast Facts about Bootsie

  1. Full name: Bootsie Battle-Holt
  2. Years teaching: 11
  3. Grade/Subject taught(s): Middle school math
  4. Current position: 7th and 8th grade math teacher and math department chair, Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the year, 2016-2017 and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year 2016-2017
  5. Current City: Los Angeles, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources:
  8. Mentioned during our chat:
  9. Why teach? “I teach because every kid deserves to spend the school day with people who believe they can aim higher and achieve more than they thought possible; and I love working in a school community that shares those high expectations for all kids.”

Noteworthy Outtakes from Bootsie’s Chat

From her honest dissection of mathematical anxiety and the long term affect it can leave on people whose math avoidance goes beyond the classroom, to her passion for educational policy and vision for teacher training reform – Bootsie shares her journey to the classroom and to the oval office where she met with former President Barack Obama to discuss “the ballooning of standardized testing.

Along with that, Bootsie shares her experience teaching in the same school where her children attend and how’s she’s been able to manage seamlessly incorporating her teacher life with her parent life. As a parent to children in the public school system and a passionate educator, Bootsie is  a fierce advocate for teacher development and education policies that can empower our teachers to engage and teach to the whole child and not only to the test.

“Seize opportunities to talk to other teachers, seize opportunities for professional development,” says Bootsie. “As a teacher a lot of people will  come to you with a lot of requests and you can’t say yes to all of them but, seize opportunities to be part of the bigger picture and step out of your own classroom see what’s happening in education at large.”

Episode 12 – Bill Price


billpricephotoAnybody in power can come and take away your life, they can take your wealth, they can take your freedom, but they can never take your education,” shares Bill as he recalls the lasting impact his grandmothers words has had on his teaching life. “…that really stuck with me and I thought, ‘Yeah, she’s right.’ They can stick me in a prison cell, they can keep me away from the people that I love, they can take all of my material wealth, but they can’t take what I’ve learned. And if I can’t play rock and roll guitar […] then I want to plant seeds, I want to grow gardens on these young impressionable minds and have them be the next change makers.”

Fast Facts about Bill

  1. Full name: William “Bill” Price
  2. Years teaching: 6
  3. Grade(s) taught:
    • 2012-2012: Preschool
    • 2014-2016: Lower Elementary, 1st-3rd
    • 2016-present: Upper Elementary, 4th-6th
  4. Current position: Upper Elementary Montessori Co-Teacher
  5. Current city: Oakland, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources: Go to a recycle bin and dig out some art supplies to give students any means necessary to demonstrate understanding. Bring your instrument to work and your favorite books, share what you love with your kiddos.
  8. Why teach? My grandmother told me they can take away your freedom, your life, your wealth, and your family, but they can’t take way your education; I want to plant this seed.

Noteworthy Outtakes from Bill’s Chat

With a combination of his Boston grit, and his Oakland inspired civic pride, Bill courageously shares how stories from his underprivileged childhood has shaped his passion for teaching. From sharing about his father abandoning his blind mother to raise him and his sister, his poor upbringing and his use of those stories to connect with students – Bill’s emboldened vulnerability has delivered the most heartfelt chat with teachers yet.

Listen in as Bill encourages teachers to take risks in speaking to students about things like social justice and to engage with administration for support when needed. Bill is also a self-described “white, middle-aged, male career changer.” He talks about his admiration of lifelong teachers and their fluidity, while also recognizing his unique ability to understand the big picture scope of what lies ahead for his students in a variety of fields and life experiences.

Bill is also a devoted family man whose two children attend the public school he teaches. As a rather new charter school in Oakland, CA taking on bold moves towards transforming public education in a diverse community – Bill says his investment in the school is not just as an educator, but as a parent who “needs” the school to succeed for the sake of his children.

From the strong, yet empathetic way Bill connects with his students to the very real reasons he feels he owes his life’s work to his grandmother, Bill’s “rock and roll” personality is both engaging and warm.

Getting to the “Why” of Teaching!

blog-9I recently had a heartfelt conversation with a colleague about how hard teaching can be. We talked about the current state of political affairs regarding education and how, as public school teachers, we wonder what lies ahead in the future. Part way through our conversation, I paused and had a moment of gratitude — gratitude for the work we do as educators and gratitude for the constant collaboration and growth mindset this profession forces us to have.

As teachers, we are often told that to engage our students and increase their “buy-in,” it helps to explain why they are learning something. In math we might tackle the question, “why does math matter?” We help our students understand the personal satisfaction of being able to solve a problem, or the practical importance of knowing how to figure out real life mathematical problems like, “You have a beginning balance of $150.00 in your checking account. You purchase groceries for $115 on Wednesday. How much money do you have left until your next check gets deposited on Friday?”

It is with this sense of common purpose, especially during this very politically charged time for educators and policy makers across the country, that we take a moment to reflect on why teaching matters. Here are some reasons some amazing educators I have had the pleasure of chatting with have given for the question, “why teach?”:

  1. “To bring equity and quality to education in our Los Angeles schools!” – Andrea Burke, teacher of 14 years in Los Angeles, CA.
  2. “I am an educator because I am passionate about educating all children, regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, or any other mitigating factors, because all children deserve a high quality school experience.” – Dana Graham, educator of 10 years in Oakland, CA.
  3. “I teach because I know it makes a difference.” – Melissa Ascencio, teacher of 16 years in Portsmouth, VA.
  4. “I teach because I want to help fight educational injustice and policies.” – Vanessa Donino, educator of 3 years in several cities including: Bronx, NY, Clark County, NV and currently in Oriskany, NY.
  5. “Every day is different, a triumph, a challenge, an accomplishment, and a chance to change the lives of children and their families.” – Elizabeth Isralowitz, special education teacher of 10+ years in Los Angeles and Riverside, CA.
  6. “Because I want to help enable our future to make better decisions than those from our past.” – Danielle David, teacher for 11 years currently in Fairfield, CA.
  7. “For the children!” – Connie Lam, teacher of 3 years in Oakland, CA.
  8. “I see them survive through the inherit grit that they bring every day with them to the classroom – a skill I don’t need to teach them. I see them dream and hope and love and create. I also see them fear and wonder what the future brings. These young people inspire me to be an active citizen – as the saying goes, we will never be truly free until we all share the same rights as you and me.” – Edwina Lucero, Music teacher for 13 years in the Denver Metro area.
  9. “It feeds your soul and grows others around you.” – Meredith Jacobs, teacher of the arts for 12 years in Plattsburgh, NY.
  10. “If we don’t, who will?” – Iain Lampert, High School speech and debate teacher for 7 years in Van Nuys, CA.
  11. “I always hope to inspire other children to teach – mainly other African American children.” – Barry Turner, teacher for 17 years in North Carolina and currently in Oakland, CA.

Why do you teach?

By Jennifer Khadir

Episode 11 – Barry Turner


barryturner“One thing I do know as far as black males [in] this country, that is only 2% of the teaching population. And I question that, why? So to me, I feel like it goes back to mentoring again,” shares Mr. Barry on the topic of the low representation of black male teachers in the classroom. “… I think black students do need a black male teacher […] I talk to black male students and I ask them, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘An athlete or a rapper..” and that’s it. I ask students, ‘What do you think about being a teacher?’ And just the look on their face, it doesn’t even come across as an idea, and I feel like it’s because they don’t see it enough.”

Fast Facts about Barry

  1. Full Name: Barry Turner
  2. Current city: Oakland, CA
  3. Years teaching: 17
  4. Grades: Early Elementary, and currently a mixed 1st-3rd grade Montessori Classroom
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach: “I always hope to inspire other children to teach – mainly other African American children.”
  7. Resources Barry mentioned:

Noteworthy Outtakes from Mr. Barry’s Chat with Teachers

From his time as a communications professional turned educator in private schools and now working as a teacher in an Oakland school taking Montessori public and transforming the way children learn — Mr. Barry talks honestly about his journey and his passion for connecting with his students, especially his student’s of color.

Barry also shares his take on the importance of professional development and why it’s imperative that teachers continuously seek out opportunities for growth. Whether to spark motivation, or inspire ideas, professional development and collaborating with peers in the field can be a great way for teachers to stay passionate about what they do.

5 Ways To Increase Parent Engagement In Your Classroom

2085ed47-2efa-48cd-b792-521c4aa42e5dStudies show how important parent engagement is in a student’s academic success. But truthfully… parent engagement is also extremely beneficial to you as a teacher too. With a background in communications, and as a parent myself, I love collaborating with peers about the best ways to communicate to parents to increase home and school connection.

That said, it can vary widely by district and community, and depend greatly on things like socioeconomic status and language barriers. However, by making the best effort up front, you can set yourself, and your students, up for success. Here are five ways I use my parent hat to help me to communicate with my teacher hat:

  1. Understand Why Parent Communication is Essential
    Don’t let it be an item on the checklist; make it a strategy for achieving your larger classroom goals. Like I mentioned earlier, parent engagement is not only important for a student’s academic success, it can also make a teacher’s life easier! From engaging parents to help with making copies, bringing in snacks, helping to organize classroom events, or increase your student’s buy-in, your parents are your best “assistants.” No matter the economic disparity, potential language barriers, or the academic levels of your parents — they all generally have one thing in common: they love their children and want them to succeed in school.
  2. Determine Your Parents Needs
    Sure, all parents want their children to succeed, but truth be told, not all parents know what exactly what that means and how they can contribute to the classroom. While it might take some extra work in the beginning to determine and establish your parents needs, it will help in the long run when you’ve been able to come up with a system where you have a basket of homework assignments that need to be checked off in your grade book, or a pile of paperwork that needs to be filed, papers that need to be copied or a classroom library that needs some love. One of the things I work on every summer is a letter to parents introducing myself and offering my contact information. I also include a list of ways parents can help. I like to not only email this letter, but put them in the snail mail too. If you’re not able to get home addresses early enough, send a copy home with their child on the first day of school.

    Back to school night’s can also be a great way to engage parents and have sign-up sheets. Find out if there are parents who speak different languages, learn about them, ask them to introduce themselves and their hobbies — I had a parent who loved to bake, guess what? She was my go-to for bake sales and even came into the classroom and taught kids how to follow a recipe for yummy fruit tarts! I worked at a school where the majority of parents only spoke Spanish, one parent who was fluent in both English and Spanish helped to translate any communications I’d send throughout the year. This not only made her feel useful, it made the Spanish speaking families feel more included.

    If your parents do not show up to back to school night, as they didn’t at a very underprivileged school I have worked in, it will be more challenging, but not impossible. As a parent, I know how much it means to me for my child’s teacher to have an open ear to me. When you have a chance, ask them how they are, really listen with your eyes, ears and heart. The more you open yourself up, the more they will want to engage. Posting paper notices and sign-up sheets outside your classroom door can help too!

  3. Make It Easy For Yourself!
    Along with knowing your school policy when it comes to communicating to parents, see what kinds of apps are available to make communicating to parents easy. I have used Google+ Community as a supplement to the monthly emails my school requires teachers send from our school messenger account. I’m able to instantly send updates, photos, reminders and glimpses of what we are doing in the classroom frequently. It’s as easy as snapping a picture and posting it on your Facebook or other social media app. Through Google+ I am able to make the community for my classroom private to only the individuals I invite. Parents can opt in or opt out… they pretty much always opt in! I get frequent feedback about how fun it is to see posts. Parents and students have also reported that it’s a great tool to spark conversation at the dinner table. Instead of, “How was school today?” Parents whip out their phones, open their apps and say something like, “I saw you exploring maps today, tell me more about what you learned?” Of course, not all parents will have the access to these kinds of apps, again, I encourage keeping a parent bulletin outside your classroom as well. My parent coordinator helps to update a dry erase calendar outside the door and and prints and posts the latest messages and some photos as well.
    Note: After the school year already started I learned about an app called, Bloomz. I already started using Google+ Community with my families this year, but I plan to give Bloomz a try next year!
  4. Value One-On-One Communication Too!
    In today’s technology driven world, it is easy to hide behind emails and apps to communicate, but do not underestimate the value of one-on-one communication. Seeing my son’s teacher give him an encouraging look at the end of the day and a quick smile really makes my day when I pick him up from school. The more you make the slightest effort, the better chance you will have in roping in your parents to consider things like being a chaperone on a field trip, or finally downloading that app, or even trusting that you, like them, have their child’s best interest at heart. At dismissal, my student’s get picked up at the classroom door. This is one of the opportunities I take to touch base with parents one-on-one. During dismissal, my students engage in what is called, “D.E.A.R.” time, Drop Everything And Read. For the last 15 minutes of the day, students read silently to themselves, and with a “dismissal helper in tow,” I stand at the door to greet parents and have at least a second’s worth of face time with them. This may also be when I say things like, “Did you check out the updated bulletin board?” “Be sure to check your email, I sent an update!” or, “Don’t forget to sign up for a parent-teacher conference!”
  5. If Your Student’s Invite You To a Game or Birthday Party On The Weekend: GO!
    So, this is where my parent hat totally gives me a HUGE advantage. I often find myself spending time with not only my students, but students from other classes in my school on the weekends. Whether a play date with my son and his friend’s from school, or playing in a local park or museum, I often find myself running into kids from school. As a matter of fact, just last weekend I was at a local science museum with my 3 and 8 year old boys and ran into a family from school. While my older son was off playing with a friend, my toddler found a playmate with the family kids we met up with.

    But I digress, I cannot begin to express how extending yourself to your students and their families beyond the school day can help build a strong relationship and accountability. When I worked at a school in East Oakland, with students who often did not have many adults who took an interest in their activities, seeing me show up at their ball game was the highlight of their week! Of course, this may not be possible with all the birthdays and events on weekends and wanting to well, have a life of your own… but there are always creative ways to allow your students to see you outside of the classroom setting. Last year I had yard sale and invited parents and students to come and join. Some families brought things to add to the sale, and the kids loved squeezing lemons and running a lemonade stand — they decided all proceeds should go to a local charity!

Whatever the effort you make, just remember, that by opening your communications efforts to your student’s families will be beneficial to their success and to yours!

Episode 10 -Iain Lampert


Initially I thought that the best teachers were able to create success stories out of any student, but it really does take two to tango,” says Iain Lampert when recounting one of his own personal a-ha moments as a teacher. “I initially was hurt when a student would transfer out of my class, because I took it personally. And the challenge was realizing how sensitive I was … and to stop taking it so personally.”

14316712_10153870036428202_3288112764384533690_nFast Facts about Iain

  1. Full name: Iain Gabriel Lampert
  2. Current city: Van Nuys, CA
  3. Years teaching: 7, including coaching Speech and Debate since 2010 and teaching speech classes since 2014
  4. Grades taught: 6th-12th
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach? If we don’t, who will?
  7. Some of Iain’s favorite resources:

Noteworthy Outtakes from Iain’s Chat with Teachers

Listen in as Iain takes us on a journey through his time as a child who had no desire to become a teacher, to a High School student who found his voice and passion for speech through various theater and debate classes. And, finally to a dedicated teacher to a future generation of confident communicators.

Iain shares his love for speech and debate and how he  uses his passion to teach children to use the skills they learn in his class in all parts of their lives that include communications – whether interviewing for a job or communicating with a partner.

Some valuable tips he also shares for any new teachers in the field, regardless of grade or content area, is the value of self-reflection. As a lover of all things speech and theater related, Iain talks about teaching being a stage for educating children. He has a deep recognition of all the roles a teacher plays: teacher, friend, counselor and more – many roles that a  teaching program simply cannot prepare you for. But be that as it may, Iain encourages new teachers to never walk into a classroom for the first time without first recording yourself and playing the recording back twice.

First to listen to the audio only. By isolating your voice, says Iain, you are able to hear whether or not there are any problematic things in your voice, such as verbal flubs. Second, Iain suggests watching yourself with the video portion of the recording only to see if you have any awkward hand gestures or if you move in any unstructured or unfocused way that may be distracting your students.

Why Arts Education Should Not Be Ignored!

“California College of the Arts educates students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing … the college prepares students for lifelong creative work by cultivating innovation, community engagement, and social and environmental responsibility.” – California College of the Arts Mission Statement

Recent plans to defund two federal agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), has left me inspired to feature both Edwina Lucero, vocal arts teacher in the greater Denver area, and Meredith Jacobs, arts teacher to children with special needs in upstate New York, on recent Chat with Teachers podcasts. With many left unsure about the future of the arts (including literature, film, dance, music and more) I wanted to chat with these arts teachers about their experiences, passions and tips for keeping the arts alive in schools. Here are some highlights they shed on the importance for keeping the arts alive in public schools:

The Arts Lead to Everything!

pullquote_art“Don’t you realize art is the most important in the building?” shared Meredith when recounting an exchange she had with colleagues. “Arts back up all of the other academic areas… the arts does back up your ELA [English Language Arts], the arts does back up your math, the arts does back up your gym.” Meredith went on to say that she and her students recently studied the Northern Lights through art, and how it sparked scientific conversations in her classroom. She and her students are currently working on an art show focusing on Egypt, opening her students eyes to the social studies component of Egypt’s history and culture. It is no new concept that art is more than just googly eyes and glitter (although those materials absolutely have a place in the classroom as well!)…but that the arts play a pivotal role in kids lives to help develop many fundamental skills and interests that support an array of other content areas in a child’s academic life as well.

The Arts Offer Hands On Learning

image.jpgWith so many studies that show the benefits of concrete learning, most notably the teachings of Maria Montessori who says that to learn how to count, a child must count actual objects, to feel and see the difference between 1 and 10. Arbitrarily pointing to pictures on a card doesn’t help a child truly internalize the concept.

Meredith shares this sentiment and believes that “students must have that hands on experience. That tactile sensory – feel it, touch it, do it [experience].” She says, “we need to let them sit down and figure out things.” With today’s focus on the common core state standards, which highlights the need to be fostering problem solvers in the classroom, Meredith went on to share how a group of her middle schoolers with extreme behavior issues, were tasked to recreate King Tut’s Death Mask together.

“Here’s the materials,” she said, “I want to watch you problem solve. I want to see you figure this out. How can we solve the problem of building this. And those kids always tell me, even my high schoolers, ‘thank you letting me figure this out, I figured it out a way that was different than what you showed us.’ And that to me is the win. Because we need to have kids that can figure things out and with all the testing that is being done, they are learning to the test, they are not putting their hands on things, it’s not that concrete development that’s happening,” and that’s why teachers of the arts, like Meredith, will always be huge advocates of the arts.

The Arts Give Students a Stage, a Voice, Confidence and a Sense of Community

“Right away I started taking my kids into the public to perform,” says Edwina, a vocal arts teacher in a predominantly Latino/Hispanic community, a large percentage of which are children of undocumented parents, or are undocumented themselves. Edwina says that there’s a cool thing that happens with choir kids, especially students new to choir and who when they are exposed to performing in public for the first time are able to see right away the purpose of all that went into the practice they’ve put into leading up to the event. Edwina shared anecdotes of how she was witness to several students who grew into confident leaders in their school due to being given a stage and voice to build confidence on.

Most notably was an account of a student who joined Edwina’s class with an already established history of being a troublemaker that past teachers had problems with. Edwina shared that through his time in choir, he was able to channel the “class clown” within himself and find a place to perform and build self-confidence. He grew in maturity and became a leader in his class.

Being able to perform is also an easy way to extend student’s learning beyond the walls of the school building. Edwina says that “music and arts programs are really easy to build community around.” She says arts programs are the backbone and heart beat of the school and the place where “pockets of community can happen.”

Higher Learning Institutes Care, So Should We!

img_20170129_152453With arts programs essentially at the cusp of extinction – most notably in under-served schools in underprivileged communities – I can’t help but ask, “Are we doing our kids a disservice by not providing more arts funding?”

Along with the mission statement from the California College of the ArtsMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is grounded in the objective to “advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” All those areas include the arts in some capacity. While their official admissions requirements do not require material beyond the application, portfolios and additional materials helps to highlight a student’s application and showcase some of the characteristics that are so important to universities like MIT, such as “creative insight, technical skill, and a ‘hands-on’ approach to learning by doing.” Check out the MIT Admissions Portfolios & Additional Material page and see for yourself how having things like music & theater arts, visual arts and a “maker” portfolio can benefit student’s chances of truly being “college ready.”

Meditation, Enjoyment & Relaxation

According to Stress.org, “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness promotes meta cognitive awareness and enhances attention and engagement. According to Mindfulness in Schools, “Many visual art activities require unique focus, and cause the “artist” to set aside all other thoughts and worries.”

Talk about a long winded “If __________. Then ___________,” sentence!

Meredith talks about the special needs of her students and the awareness that most of them will probably not pursue many far-reaching higher learning institutes beyond High School. But despite that, for many of her students who display some of the most aggressive behaviors, art is an avenue they use to practice meditation.

“You can use art to escape,” Meredith tells her students. “Other people use drugs or different stimulations like video games or music, and you can still use those things, but with art you don’t have to quote and quote meditate…” the joy element that naturally comes with engaging in art is naturally meditative, which also explains the recent popularity of adult coloring books.

Never were my students  more spellbound than when they got to experience, some for the first time (some for probably the ONLY time) in their lives, Caroline Lee, a violist with the San Francisco Ballet orchestra, play her instrument in our classroom:

How Can You Commit to Integrating the Arts Into Your Classroom?

With the future of arts education uncertain, all while the importance of creative problem solving Americans becomes all the more necessary in the 21st century, it becomes a lot more clear that as teachers we need to be more creative in finding ways to integrate arts into our classrooms.

If I had to make one actionable commitment to integrating the arts to my classroom, it would be to engage my 1st-3rd grade students in one of my favorite books, One by Kathryn Otoshi, a wonderful picture book about standing up to bullies. I can’t wait to see how my students would bring this book alive through creating costumes and performing this story in front of an audience.

What is one way you think you can commit to bringing art to your classroom? Because after all, as Meredith aptly reminds us, “what a grey, sad place it would be if we didn’t have these open thinking creative minds.”