Education is a Feminist Issue

By Mika Yamamoto

This blog post was prepared by Mika Yamamoto in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view or experiences of Chat with Teachers or Jennifer Khadir, the owner and host of Chat with Teachers. Guest blogs are a further expression of personal teacher narratives – which is the mission of Chat with Teachers in providing a platform for teacher voice.

Ruben, my sixth-grade student, tells me about the mountains. There was snow there, and he’d never seen snow before then. He couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. “Write that,” I say. For the rest of the period, he wrote. That evening, I searched through my poetry books and dreamed about nurturing a poet.

But the next day, he was not at school. Nor the next. The day he came back, he was present only in body. I decided to go home with him. Do a visit.

MikasBlogMost students walked to school. Ruben took the bus. I got on the bus with him. It took a long time, with several transfers. By the time we got to his stop, I had to turn around without doing a visit—already late for daycare pick-up. Alone on the bus, I felt despair. How could I help him, when he faced so much before getting to school? He didn’t come to school again the next day. A few days later, I got a notice that he was transferred out of the school. When I asked why, the office staff just shrugged. Children transferred in and out of school all the time, it wasn’t a notable event. Except, it was.

I was a Solo Mom by then, raising two young children with no support. I had left an abusive marriage—a dangerous thing to do—and lived in fear of his revenge. I lived in constant anxiety of predatory men too, as a small Asian woman in a city famous for objectifying women. I struggled to pay both rent and daycare. One day, I caught a cold, and began to cough. The cough wouldn’t go away, and at night I had trouble breathing. I had insurance, but it was an HMO. I couldn’t get in for weeks. By the time I got to a doctor, I had walking pneumonia and bronchitis.

Around this time, Child Protective Services was called on me, because my daughter, who was three, woke-up one night and left the apartment looking for me. The apartment manager found her. She brought my daughter back to me in a rage. What kind of mother are you? I had been dead asleep next to my daughter when she woke up. The door had been locked, but my daughter unlocked it. CPS advised me to put a chain lock on the door, which was sensible. But still. What kind of mother was I? This same daughter was in an accident soon after. She fell out of a window and was in ICU for two days. I sat next to her alone, crying.

That’s when I left teaching and Los Angeles. I was spread too thin. There were too many needs of my students that were not taken care of, there were too many of my own children’s needs that weren’t taken care of, there were too many of my own needs that weren’t taken care of. I loved my job, and I loved my students, but that was not enough.

A teacher’s passion is not enough.

I moved to a community that was affordable, with many social services. We had access to a mental health center that assigned us a case manager who helped me qualify for childcare and energy subsidy. We received free therapy too.

I took a job as an emergency department technician. Here, I had good insurance. The hospital also gave employee discounts. I never walked around sick again, nor did my children. We seldom missed work or school.

The director of the department was an amazing administrator. She accommodated my need to shorten my shift—then did everything in her powers to recognize my value and increase my pay. The result was that while I worked less hours, I made the department run the most efficiently it ever had. My boss also modeled caring of her employees as people, and my workplace was my family. When any one of us was in need, we all came together; we rallied for each other. No hardship was faced alone.

I was a Solo Mom for eight years. The years when I had the medical, emotional, community, physical, and administrative support—my children and I thrived. I was the same person the entire eight years, but I was a much more productive member of society when my support was great.

So what does this mean for education? If we want passionate teachers to thrive in the classroom, we must recognize that teachers are people, and they need to be taken care of. I had to leave the classroom because I was a woman who had to survive domestic violence and parent alone. I was a woman whose needs were not taken care of, and therefore I could not be the teacher I wanted to be. I am not the only one. When we consider that ¾ of teachers are women, it is not hard to see that women’s issues are deeply connected to educational ones.

In addition, when we know that one in four children will be raised without a father and 40% of them are living below poverty line (of which my own children were both), it is not hard to see that we need to care about mothers if we care about children.

If we have a society that respects women and makes them a priority, then children will be taken care of and educated. If children are taken care of and educated, society will flourish.

Click here to check out a teacher podcast interview with Mika.

Episode 22 – Mika Yamamoto


MikaYamamotoImage“I had this great mentor, a literacy mentor, and she was creating a lesson plan with me. We were doing a lesson plan to ‘Dream the Impossible Dream…” says Mika Yamamoto. “And in the process she made me articulate my impossible dream, and that was when I was in this terrible abusive marriage that I wasn’t even admitting to myself… and I closed my eyes and flung my eyes open and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t!’ …”

“And what making that lesson taught me,” Mika continues, “was you can’t teach unless you [do] what you ask your students to do. That is really hard, but really exciting. And so, I think teaching saved my life because if I hadn’t made that lesson plan, if I hadn’t had that mentor guiding me through and not letting me off the hook, then maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now…. Which isn’t to say that was easy, which isn’t to say that teaching is easy, and it’s not, it’s not easy – but it’s amazing, it’s constantly life-changing. So if you want to live with integrity, it’s a great profession.”

Fast Facts about Mika

– Any resources you would like to share: Teaching Tolerance
– Your favorite book: Professional: Harry Wong and Personal: Bird, by Noy Holland
– Current position: unemployed
– City, State: Chicago, IL (this is where we moved to a month ago because mid-Michigan became too unbearable after the election)
– One sentence answering the question, why teach?: It’s fun.

  1. Full name: Mika Yamamoto
  2. Years teaching: 7
  3. Grades taught: 1st, 5th, 6th
  4. Current city: Chicago, Il
  5. Favorite resources:
  6. Why teach: “It’s fun!”
  7. Follow Mika on Twitter @MikaYamamoto

Noteworthy Outtakes from Mika’s Chat

Listen in as Mika takes listeners on a teaching journey that includes everything from moving and transferring her teaching credential between multiple states, being awakened to the need to leave her abusive marriage through the beauty of teaching, the struggles of being a single mom in the teaching profession and finally, a look into her experience being told that as the only teacher of color in her Michigan charter public school that, “the community is not ready for your voice.”

Mika shares an impassioned account of how a speech she was asked to give in the capacity of a writer, not as a teacher, to the entire middle school rocked her world. During her speech, which was based on how to write horror, Mika talked about writing from experience and shared her struggles as a woman and domestic violence survivor. In her speech she said, “I will share with you my darkness so you feel safe to share your darkness with me, such that we can vanquish the darkness together.”

Soon after, students did begin sharing their darkness, her speech, Mika says, did what she intended. However, along with students approaching her about concerns they had in their lives, a parent also approached the school about a concern they had as well. A concern that ultimately silenced Mika and, what she feels, invalidated the lesson she always held true to her students: that their voice matters!

To learn more, listen as Mika recounts her experiences and emotionally shares a deep and loving message to her students, whom she never had the chance to say goodbye to after ultimately being let go from Michigan’s Renaissance Public School Academy, where she was the only teacher of color.

Click here to read a guest blog Mika shares about her take on, “Education is a Feminist Issue.”

Episode 21 – Cami Anderson


CamiAndersonPHOTO“I like to think of it as choice ready, which is to say I think every kid needs to graduate with very high levels of reading, writing, quantitative, social and civic skills,” shares Cami Anderson, co-founder of ROADS, a network of charter high schools dedicated to court-involved youth, and former superintendent of schools, first overseeing alternative high schools and programs serving 90,000 young adults in New York City and then supporting 45,000 pre-K–12 students in Newark, New Jersey.

“… I think we have to be very real [about] 21st century jobs – only one in five jobs in 2020 is going to be available to folks without a post-secondary degree,” Cami continues as she discusses the importance of ensuring that all students are learning both college-ready and life-ready skills. “So, if we want folks to be life ready, to have access to economic freedom, justice, and all those things, and even the ability to thrive in 21st century jobs, requires a ton of academic and hard-core content. Gone are the days when we have vocational careers, persay – I mean everyone always has one example about their cousin who is a plumber or something – but the reality is, the vast majority of jobs are going to require a level of academic knowledge. And I want all of our kids to know that, because I don’t want to make that choice for them because they happen to be growing up potentially in an economically challenged circumstance. Having said that, they also need to be passionate about what they do and know how to work through challenges, and de-escalate anger, and vote, and build a community. Obviously those skills are just as critical.”

Fast Facts about Cami

  1. Full name: Cami Anderson
  2. Years in education: Over 15 years in both traditional and non-traditional education settings
  3. Grades taught: Middle School
  4. Current position: Founder and Managing Partner, ThirdWay Solutions
  5. Current city: New York, NY
  6. Favorite resources:
  7. Why teach: “Every single child, regardless of what zip code they are born in, deserve to be in an amazing classroom and a good school that delivers on their genius; there’s no more important or difficult job.”
  8. Follow Cami on Twitter @camianderson12

Noteworthy Outtakes from Cami’s Chat

Recognized by TIME magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, Cami Anderson is a fierce advocate of high academic expectations and a well-rounded educational system that meets the needs of all students, from all walks of life.

Equality doesnt mean Equity“I think equality means everyone gets the same amount of things – teachers, money, resources, breakfast programs, etcetera – on the theory that somehow we have a level playing field already,” says Cami on the differences between equality and equity. “And so therefore the same amount of [resources] will allow everyone to achieve at the same levels.

“And we know that’s not true, our country has a very rich history of systemic racism in particular, and other -isms, that make it unfair for certain groups of folks.” Cami continues. “Equity is when you invest whatever you need to invest to make sure that every young person, in this case education, is able to perform at the highest levels academically, socially and civically. And so that means – and I am perfectly comfortable with this – some young people need more in order for them to overcome the barriers that have been placed in front of them. Not by their own choosing, but just by circumstance or zip code.”

Listen as Cami goes further in depth about this topic, her work to provide formerly incarcerated youth with quality education that leads to a High School diploma and more.

Want to learn more about Cami? Click here for her full bio.

Episode 20 – Mareike Hachemer


mareikehachemer“I think as humans we tend to think of success as being self-made … and feelings of failure to be caused by someone else, maybe a bad teacher, and that is often true, I guess. But, I think we don’t give the good teachers enough credit, because we take them for granted, like we sometimes take other good people in our surroundings for granted,” says Mareike Hachemer, an educator of 14 years from Wiesbaden, Germany, on the importance of uplifting the teaching profession in the eyes of society. “I think it’s important for us to share their stories as teachers … ask them how they contribute to the global goals. And I think it’s important that we continue convincing education journalists to take a new approach.

“We focus on the negative,” continues Mareike as she discusses the tendency of top news stories about teachers focusing on things like sexual harassment or teachers who publicly shame students. “…but I think it’s important that we also focus on what’s being done, what works, why does it work …. A more prominent position for education news. Lots of big newspapers only have education news once a week or once there is something very big like an international study. There are so many stories about education that need to be told and that the public can learn from and teachers can learn from and students and parents can learn from. I think those need to be shared more often and they need to be on a similar importance as news about the economy or news about other social or medical advancements, and they certainly need to be on a higher level than real estate and pop culture.”

Fast Facts about Mareike

  1. Full name: Mareike Hachemer
  2. Years Teaching: 14
  3. Grade(s) taught: K5-13 and university level
  4. Current position: Teacher, UNESCO-Delegate, Global Educator Task Force at
  5. Current city: Wiesbaden, Germany
  6. Favorite resources:
  7. Why teach: Because 60 Million teachers and 1.2 Billion students have the power to change the world!

Noteworthy Outtakes from Mareike’s Chat

As the third Global Teacher Prize Finalist to chat with teachers, Mareike talks to listeners about the need for teaching global citizenship and building the skills in our own classroom that will help lead to students who are self-directed learners who are critical thinkers, productive citizens and lifelong learners.

“[Teachers must take opportunities to implicitly teach] the social emotional skills, and the behavioral skills, so that [students] can make a difference, locally, nationally and globally,” says Mareike. “That first started for me when I asked a group of 15-year-olds, who they thought could make a difference in the world, and they all said no one can.”

Mareike shared how her students insisted people like Bill Gates could make a difference in the world but remained unconvinced about other examples she presented to them. “They also tended to look at those change makers in a very negative way and suggested that they had ulterior motives, or that they just wanted to be in the center of attention, or that they just wanted to, I don’t know, be self-important. From that, came the idea of letting them try to make a difference.”

Mareike’s students were then tasked with a four-week challenge to make a difference. She discusses the challenges her students faced at first with doubt and their tendency to think up overly ambitious ideas. However, she then talks about the opportunity for building problem solving skills, and learning about scaling their ideas down to meet their tight four-week deadline. Part of the work also included the need to consider possible setbacks. In the end, students were able to see ways they could make a difference in the world by offering tutoring to peers, visiting a local animal shelter or helping the homeless.

Through perseverance and reflection, listen in as Mareike shares her passion for helping students reach their full potential and become active citizens.

Episode 19 – João Couvaneiro


João_Image1“Every kid has a smart phone in his pocket, most kids have iPads or tablets or devices like that, and with these mobile devices we can have access to the world,” says Mr. João Couvaneiro, a High School history teacher in Almada, Portugal and a 2017 Top 50 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. “If you bring this technology to the teaching methods, you are using the tools that kids are using in their daily life. [Students] are hyper connected, they are doing lots of stuff online and we can use it for good or for bad… Bringing these devices to the teaching process, we are dealing with the tools that kids recognize and feel that are useful for all their learning.

“For instance,” João continues, “if we adults are at a dinner and speaking about a subject
that we don’t know that much about, we Google the thing we are speaking of. Why not do that in the classroom? I’m a history teacher … if I am speaking about the New Deal in the States, or if I am speaking about Mussolini, or if I am speaking about the European
construction, I can have access right now to lots of media that is available online, and that enriches my teaching process. So I can be more effective in the teaching I am doing if I am using all the resources available … so why shouldn’t we bring the technology that we have available in our daily life to the classroom? Students are very fluent with these technologies, teachers sometimes are not that fluent, but if teachers are comfortable with the idea of not leading the process all the time, but scaffolding the process, teachers can achieve much better results using these powerful tools.”

João_Image5Fast Facts about João

  1. Full name: João Couvaneiro
  2. Years teaching: 21
  3. Grade(s) taught: 7th-9th grade and college courses
  4. Current position(s) and location(s):
    • Mozambique – Teacher and Teacher Trainer (School in a Box)
    • Portugal – Deputy Director of the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (ANQEP)
  5. Current city of residence: Almada, Portugal
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Mentioned during our chat:
    • UNESCO: Encourages international peace and universal respect for human rights by promoting collaboration among nations.
    • School in a Box: A community digital engagement project developed by the Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT), Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. The School in a Box project is a program in Mozambique that João helps to facilitate the advancement of local teachers in incorporating the use of film and digital technologies to enhance learning among a typically underprivileged community of learners.
    • Apple Distinguished Educator

Noteworthy Outtakes from João’s Chat


João Couvaneiro, a son of teachers, lives and breathes teaching – whether in his own history classroom in Portugal, or in schools in Mozambique that are often times a far distance to travel to and from, are overcrowded, and lack an adequate number of quality teachers.

Having been a former oversees territory of Portugal, Mozambique is also João’s birth place, and so when he was asked to join the School in a Box Project through UNESCO, he jumped at the opportunity to help train teachers on how to use technology to enhance student learning.

Listen in as João talks about how this work aims to support teachers in becoming comfortable with using iPads and setting up projection and solar energy components. Teachers are also trained to quickly and easily create lessons using these technologies. The focus entirely being on making learning relevant and meeting the needs of bringing students in Mozambique into the 21st century.

João_Image2João’s commitment to teacher development, in a still rather underdeveloped community, is evident in his description of the very real struggles teachers and students continue to experience.

“[Empowering] teachers right now in Mozambique and in Portugal, it means different things,” says João. “In Mozambique the wages of the teachers are very low, some of them struggle a lot just to arrive to the school because there is no public transport system, they have to take several private transports to arrive just in school. It is a very difficult reality. The school we are working in it’s a school with 5,000 students, so teachers don’t have good conditions to work… showing [teachers] different technologies, showing them that they can use different tools that we are providing them [allows them to] have access to all the resources that we have in Europe or the States.

“They can have, right now, access to the internet. They can use different apps to enhance their lessons, so they are bringing their teaching to the 21st century, and that is empowering teachers,” continues Mr. João. “…being a teacher in Mozambique right now, it is not that different from what teaching was 100 years ago, with a book, in front of the class, the students in a passive mode. Changing that allows these teachers to be a teacher of the 21st century… so we are allowing teachers in Mozambique to be teachers of the present.”

Here is a sneak peek at João, and the School in a Box Project, working on empowering teachers in Mozambique through the use of technology:

Along with his commitment to his work in Mozambique, João also shares about the work in his own high school classroom in Almada, Portugal. Additionally, he talks about what it’s like taking on all the projects that he does while also being a husband and father to a nine-year-old son and newborn baby boy. Here is a look at João’s students in Portugal:



7 Ways Politics Has Affected My Teaching

If there is one thing the most recent Presidential election has done for society, that no one can deny, it’s that it made talking politics cool and relevant again. Sure, Former President Barack Obama has gone down in many people’s eyes as the coolest and most casual president in history, but no doubt about it – even back during the primary elections PoliticsinEdof 2016, people who were never much into politics starting talking about it, living it, breathing it in ways that hasn’t happened in many years…. even in classrooms among students as young as in first grade.

During a recent morning circle with my students, my 1st-3rd grade class was asked the question, “What are some things you would like to see improve in our classroom?” instead of naming things like, “more books in our library,” or “longer recess!” they began listing things like, “immigrants should be treated fairly!” and, “we need to stop a wall from being built!”

I was floored and impressed with their thoughts, and their insightful knowledge of the current political climate around them.  The impact of political decisions and processes on children has since been on my mind and a deep area of interest I have been exploring on several chats I’ve had with teachers. Check out some ways that politics has affected our teaching:

  1. We have to be activists!
    “We have to be activists,” reflects Phil S. Quinlan, 7th grade social studies teacher in Scottville, MI, as he chats about what he believes is the role of educators when discussing the current state of politics with students. “How did all of a sudden our profession become demonized?” he continued. “I have an opinion on it, but I have to be careful as far as, if I want to encourage my students to have voice and choice, I have to model that. I don’t want the students to know my perspective. Because what am I doing? I am not really enabling them to have a thought of their own. So, when it comes to students, I want them to ask driving questions, essential questions of the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s and try to make connections… of how politics, and today’s world, plays into their future.
  2. We have to plant seeds
    “Anybody 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 Price, upper elementary teacher in Oakland, CA, as he recalls the lasting impact his grandmother’s 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.”
  3. We must seek inspiration from our students
    “I am inspired by my students at the high school I teach at in Denver, Colorado.  My students are primarily Latino/Hispanic, and a large percentage are children of undocumented parents, or are undocumented themselves.  I see these young people defeat the odds every single day,” shares Edwina Lucero a teacher in the Denver metro area for the last 13 years.

    “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,” Edwina continues. “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.

    “The arts are the avenue I travel with these young people. It is on that road that we are able to intersect with things like human spirit, empathy, empowerment, and knowledge of self.  This country is full of free-thinking, critical-thinking, and forward-thinking people. Regardless of your politics, the arts are an integral part of our existence. Whether you are celebrating triumphantly or marching in resistance, you are doing so to the beat of some drum – the music, the art, the expression of self – they are part of who you are.

    “We cannot allow the tyranny of fear to overtake our culture. Now is the time to write, sing, play, dance, sculpt, and create our destiny.”

  4. We have to design curriculum based on citizen engagement and helping students see themselves as change makers.
    What began as one teacher’s “crazy idea” has now become an annual tradition at Urban Montessori Charter School (UMCS) — where I have the pleasure of teaching in Oakland, CA —  “TARDIS Time Travel Change Makers Day” has become an annual tradition at UMCS. Students get to explore change makers: people who make peaceful, positive change in the world and focusing their energy on creating research projects and costumes to match the change maker of their choice. This project engages children to explore how ancestors have shaped the larger story of where we come from and how we have changed the world and helps them envision themselves as confident change makers. Teachers get to act as Time Lords and invoke the TARDIS (from Doctor Who) to bring together all the researched change makers to share about themselves. Children are invited to wear costumes they’ve made ahead of time as a classroom art project and dress up as a peaceful
    representation of what they envision their change maker to have looked like.“One crazy idea, to a spirit week activity, is now a School Wide Community Celebration,” says Gilbert Parada, Lead Teacher at UMCS. “I am very grateful and excited to have seen my ridiculous idea become something real, and, something that inspired many children to see change makers in our past to present timeline, with the inspiration to think of their future change making potential.”
  5. We have to share and relate to our students so they know they are not alone.
    “I just think all the women in my family are pretty amazing. They really inspired me, because growing up there was no fathers around. It was kind of an interesting situation. You know of course, I had to go through my traumatic experiences as a young person, but I got out of it,” shares Jackie Rodriguez-Vega on relating and connecting to her students. “But I think that’s one thing that really connects me with my youth, I am just so open about how I grew up. I was raised by a single mom and a lot of kids connect with that, because they’re raised by single moms, or they’re raised by their grandma, or they’re raised by their tia, their aunt. My father left my mother when I was five, and she was two months pregnant with my sister … my mom, she’s just a hard worker. She raised three kids on her own, and she just completely inspired me.”
  6. We must validate one another in this amazing teaching profession that we are in together.
    “Find ways everyday to avoid the isolation,” reflects Estella Owoimaha-Church, a top 50 finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize as she discussed the heartfelt validation she felt among colleagues at the recent ceremony in Dubai. “The isolation I think is what leads to the depression and teachers leaving the field in […] hoards, it’s the isolation – we’ve got to figure out how to avoid that. So connecting with like-minded teachers and working with like-minded teachers, and doing everything we can to uplift the entire profession. I know that’s hard and we maybe didn’t sign up for that, but I think it’s kind of on us now and I appreciate Varkey, Mr. Sonny Varkey and the Varkey Foundation, for what they’re doing to do that around the world. We’ve got to avoid the isolation.”
  7. traininggroundQuoteWe  have to truly have zero tolerance for bullying and take the time to stop class and have discussions about things we hear our students are feeling.
    At no point during my teacher training program was it mentioned that teaching was actually 90% relationships and 10% academics. At least that’s what it feels like, and what many teachers I have had the pleasure of chatting with  have expressed too. During my first year of teaching I was so focused on making sure I delivered the best lesson plans possible, that in hindsight, I realize that my students, and myself, would have benefited immensely from strong relationship building first. Now, as the political climate has permeated the classroom – empathy and creating a classroom culture of inclusiveness through things like restorative justice circles are what matter most.
    Sure, bullying should never be tolerated – but it shouldn’t just be something discussed with the students or families involved in the situation either. The restorative process of mediation and conferencing in a circle that includes the entire classroom community provides a space where everyone can have a voice about how they are feeling about things going on around them. Whether a specific instance of bullying, or a general consensus of feeling like a change needs to happen for the betterment of our classroom community, students are able to speak out around the circle. The entire process is value driven and designed to bring healing and understanding to the community.

    Students are empowered to “design think” around solving a problem together. It’s not about me telling them what the rules are, it’s about them noticing and caring about a problem, brainstorming a solution, prototyping that solution and coming back together to reflect and start the whole process again if need be. If that means we spend a chunk of time together in this process, then that’s what needs to happen. Rushing to the content, if something is truly affecting the classroom community, will only lead to students who are not ready to learn and a teacher burnt out and frustrated that a well-thought out lesson plan has gone down the drain.

As I reflect on all the ways that politics has affected my teaching, a pattern presents itself: Our classrooms are a training ground for the real life our students will undoubtedly step into one day. We are there to teach content, but we are also there to help build values of respect, honesty, listening, truth, sharing, and growth.

Episode 18 – Jackie Rodriguez-Vega


JaclynImage“I mostly teach Raza, I mostly teach Mexican youth,” says Jackie Rodriguez-Vega as she explores the effect of the current political climate on the Latino youth she teaches, which also include young people from Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador and more. “They already know what’s going on. They know that people in positions of power are not for them. And what do you do with that? You know, you’re in a U.S. History class and you’re talking about the beauty of voting… I’m personally trying to build young people who are going to be critical about what’s going on all around them. Especially politically, because they are influenced by it, right? They live in this country – everything that they go through is through that. So, I want them to see perspectives, I want them to see all these different sides so that hopefully when they do get older they want to participate in that process. But it’s kind of hard when deportations are happening, or that fear … all those things that are real.”

Fast Facts about Jackie

  1. Full name: Jackie Rodriguez Vega
  2. Years teaching: 6
  3. Grade(s) taught: Jackie has taught middle school through people in their late 60’s.
  4. Current position: History teacher at a neighborhood high school, Jackie currently teaches Latin American History & U.S. History.
  5. Current city: Chicago, Illinois
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources: Jackie is a big advocate for Paulo Freire and believes teachers who want to inspire and do creative work in the classroom need to check out his work. Also, Funds of Knowledge, recognizing people of color come with inherent knowledge and it is our job as educators to unpack it and build upon it.
  8. Why teach: “I teach because my sole purpose is to heal with my community and I believe the act of learning is a healing experience. I work with Mexican/Latino youth because I believe they deserve the best educational experience possible. My mom would always tell me when I was a kid, our people need a good home, she was a real estate agent, and I believe my people need a good education and that is why I am a teacher.”

Noteworthy Outtakes from Jackie’s Chat

Ms. Jackie Rodriguez-Vega, an educator of 10 years in Chicago Illinois, teaches in the same public school system she grew up in, and in the same conditions as her students — she says she has decided to stay and give back to her community by helping to improve her neighborhood.

Jackie is also the daughter of a single Mexican-American mother, who she says always influenced her to give back to her “people.” She credits her mother for the work she puts into impacting her students every day.

“I just think all the women in my family are pretty amazing. They really inspired me, because growing up there was no fathers around. It was kind of an interesting situation. You know of course, I had to go through my traumatic experiences as a young person, but I got out of it,” reflects Jackie as she delivers a passionate account of how she is able to take what could have potentially been an excuse to make poor decisions in her life, and turned her childhood experiences into an opportunity to build relationships with her students.

“But I think that’s one thing that really connects me with my youth, I am just so open about how I grew up,” Jackie continues. “I was raised by a single mom and a lot of kids connect with that, because they’re raised by single moms, or they’re raised by their grandma, or they’re raised by their tia, their aunt. My father left my mother when I was five, and she was two months pregnant with my sister … my mom, she’s just a hard worker. She raised three kids on her own, and she just completely inspired me.”

Listen in as she shares more about her emboldened passion for teaching the Latino youth in her neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, or “Chi-town,” as she calls it — all while appreciating the need to provide hope for things like higher education, but also recognizing that every young person’s journey will be different, yet valuable nonetheless.

Episode 17 – Estella Owoimaha-Church


EstellaimageFind ways everyday to avoid the isolation,” reflects Estella Owoimaha-Church, a top 50 finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize as she discusses the heartfelt validation she felt among colleagues at the recent ceremony in Dubai. “The isolation, I think, is what leads to the depression and teachers leaving the field in […] hoards, it’s the isolation – we’ve got to figure out how to avoid that. So connecting with like-minded teachers and working with like-minded teachers, and doing everything we can to uplift the entire profession. I know that’s hard and we maybe didn’t sign up for that, but I think it’s kind of on us now and I appreciate Varkey, Mr. Sonny Varkey and the Varkey Foundation, for what they’re doing to do that around the world. We’ve got to avoid the isolation.

Fast Facts about Estella Church

  1. Full name: Estella Owoimaha-Church
  2. Years teaching: 11
  3. Grade(s) taught: 9-12 grade, High School
  4. Current position:
  5. Current City: Los Angeles, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources:
  8. Mentioned during our chat:
  9. Why teach: “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” (Dr. Cornel West)

Noteworthy Outtakes from Estella’s Chat

The high rates of incarceration in the United States are felt far beyond prison walls. From resentment, anger and a student track record that went from a gifted and talented student on the brink of failing out of High School, Estella understands firsthand the impact of EstellaQuotedigging herself out of a hole she dug herself into in a subconscious attempt to lash out at her imprisoned mother.

“It takes empathy, it does.” says Estella as she discusses the importance of practicing empathy in order to build relationships and the power of allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your own truth to help your students, in turn, be vulnerable with you.

Estella goes on to say, “I teach it explicitly but […] we have to believe no matter what, in our kids, in who they are, where they come from, and love them, period. That’s it, there’s no asterisk, no side note, no subtext, that’s it. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t love the kid in front of you, no matter religion, no matter race, no matter ethnicity, nationality, immigration status – if you can’t love the kid in front of you, without them having to do anything or ever speak a word, then this isn’t the field for you.”

Despite her difficult upbringing, Estella spends time describing the need for teachers to be willing to have an open heart and to learn from their mistakes. Her vulnerable honesty about her childhood, migrant parents, imprisoned mother and an eventual rebound thanks to some very inspirational teachers she’s had along the way, helps to capture Estella’s passion for teaching to the whole child.

Validation is another component of Estella’s work as a Varkey Ambassador, as she also recognizes that many in the education field have long felt demonized in this profession. Listen in as she describes her sincere feeling of validation among other finalist at the recent Global Teacher Prize ceremony in Dubai and how, if she could, she would bottle up that feeling of validation and pride and share it in every teacher’s morning cup of coffee.

Episode 16 – Louise Craig


Louise Craig“Veteran teachers mostly just know that this one aspect of their day is not going well and they’ve usually tried a few things and they just need another set of eyes that are saying, ‘Well this is what I see, and this is all the good things and maybe this is just what we need to tweak.'” reflects Louise Craig, 2nd grade teacher and an Instructional Specialist at the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in California. “Sometimes new teachers… there’s just so much, they just don’t know where to begin. And it has to be broken down and said, ‘You know what? The kids know that you care about them, that’s the first start and now the next step would be this…,’ because I don’t know about you, but my first and second year I just didn’t even know what I didn’t even know.”

Fast Facts about Louise

  1. Full name: Louise Craig
  2. Years teaching: 14
  3. Grade(s)/Subject(s) taught: 2nd, 3rd and 4th multiple subjects
  4. Current position: 2nd grade teacher and an Instructional Specialist at Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District
  5. Current City: Suisun City, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources: Other teachers!
  8. Why teach? To see the light in the eyes of students as they figure it out!
Noteworthy outtakes from Louise’s chat
Listen in as Louise delivers a humbled chat about her journey from mom of four who spent time volunteering with her kids in programs like 4-H, which guides children through projects grounded in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship, to a veteran teacher piloting a new kind of mentorship model with the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District (FSUSD).

Grounded in the belief that veteran and new teachers alike need, and deserve, a mentor who can provide one on one coaching that includes modeling, emotional peer support and a more, Louise describes her passion for her role as an instructional specialist.

Learn more about her role and the way that FSUSD helps mentor teachers balance their time in the classroom and their time with their mentees so that they all feel supported in their efforts to grow as educators for the sake of the children that need them the most.

Why “Subject to Change?”

In early December I had the great privilege to have an intimate chat with Vanessa Donino about her experience teaching incarcerated youth. She recently started a blog of her own where she is sharing more about her commitment to the education and rehabilitation of the young people at Oneida County Jail in Central New York. Thank you Vanessa for sharing your voice as a guest blogger here on Chat with Teachers:

Why “Subject to Change?”
by Vanessa Donino

incaceratedyouthI had a bit of difficulty finding the right title for this blog; how can I find the perfect name that encapsulates the essence of my very unique student population? I teach incarcerated youth at Oneida County Jail in Central New York, and when thinking of a title for this blog, I thought of what my students have taught me—and the answer may surprise you.

quoteMy students have taught me many valuable lessons. I’ll take it a step further—my students have inspired me. Their perseverance and seemingly never ending supply of optimism is a testament to their commitment to improving their lives—a task which is not an easy one.

They do not have to be reminded that having a criminal record will dramatically hinder their chances of progress upon release. Former prisoners are routinely denied employment, housing, education, and other benefits that would help ease their integration into life on the outside. Gainful employment will be difficult to procure, even for non-violent convictions. Public and private colleges and universities include questions about criminal history on their applications—a practice that is being challenged right now by the state of Maryland, and by movements such as Ban the Box.

However, with these many hurdles that they will have to face, many of my students are driven to complete their high school equivalency diploma, and for a very proud few, to go on to college to pursue their professional ambitions.

Their drive to create positive change within their lives in spite of the many challenges they will have to endure has created a personal challenge for myself: I want my perseverance, willingness and adaptability mirror theirs. I want to be able to meet my life challenges with the same humble strength they carry with them through their own challenges. I want to be the educator they deserve, and the exemplar global citizen from whom they can (hopefully) get inspiration.

In this way, as a learning community, we are all subject to change.

Subject to Change {an alternative education blog}