In this blog series, we are interviewing members of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.
Why did you want to become an educator?
Being an educator was never part of my plan. I wanted to be a diplomat and aligned my undergraduate and graduate studies to THAT goal. I worked as a Desk Officer serving West Africa for the U.S. Agency for International Development. It was only after an 8-year old boy in Benin asked me what schools were like where I lived that I came to my senses, because I couldn’t answer his question! I started working with Teaching for Change (the ED was leading a Youth Leadership elective course at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C.) and that’s when I fell in love with the idea of teaching.
Tell us about your background in education.
Once my love affair with teaching started, I wanted to learn more about how to make schools strong enough to deliver on the promise of Brown vs. Board and ensure that students had access to the strong teaching and learning experiences that were their birthright. I took a position helping resident teachers integrate technology, then a teaching license, and then a terminal degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?
It was different than most folks, I bet! I started teaching officially in a school where I’d already worked for four years – as a teacher residency supervisor and a technology coordinator. So, I already knew all of the teachers and many of the students in the school. So, I got to spend my “official” first year not having to worry about stereotypical first-year worries – classroom management and teacher-student relationships. Instead, I got to figure out content tips and tricks for D.C. History, which WAS new for me!
Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over? Why or why not?
The regrets list is long – where to begin? I had an opportunity to teach AP U.S. History, but got scared at the last minute and passed. With what I know now, I would have jumped at the chance to learn more about how to integrate rigor into my instruction from day one, instead of having to learn years later the importance of scaffolding the minute you know where your students are. Even though I knew everyone in the building, I kept my classroom door closed and my teaching to myself, instead of establishing a critical friends group that would have helped me give and receive the kind of feedback on my teaching that would have helped me grow it much faster. I wish I had sought out colleagues beyond my building to learn what they were doing in spaces similar to and different from mine. I could go on…
What is your unique perspective when working with teachers, coaches, or principals?
My perspective actually stems from that initial regret – not learning how to push and support my students until later in my teaching career. Students only do as much as we push and support them to do. I have watched countless educators ask for more from their students, support them to meet those ambitious goals and be blown away by the results. I have too many data points to suggest that this is specific to geography, race, language or economic status. This is about strong teaching.
What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?
I would love to say educational technology, but I have to qualify that to be about the integration of technology tools into instruction, instead of just knowing about the myriad of technology tools out there (there are too many to know them all now!). I can also say that I’m an expert in helping teachers build the systems that can help ALL students be successful, differentiating their instruction in a way that meets students’ needs without going crazy in the process, or working 18-hour days!
What in your opinion is the most important aspect of school in order to best serve students?
Teaching. Joyful, connected, rigorous teaching that serves ALL students. Period. Not easy at all, but necessary.
What is your best advice for a first-year educator?
Read James Baldwin’s A Talk to Teachers if you want to be the kind of educator who believes that teaching is about more than teaching students how to add and subtract. Though that essay is over fifty years old, it could have been written yesterday and describes perfectly the work of educators who want to help children “read the word and read the world”, in Freire’s words.
If you could only tell educators ONE thing about No-Nonsense Nurturer®, what would it be?
No-Nonsense Nurturer is a philosophy that benefits ALL teachers and ALL students EVERYWHERE. I don’t know where adults can thrive without following directions, notice who else is following them, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of following those directions and being in real relationships with those around them. No-Nonsense Nurturer teaches those skills to children, setting them up with those skills long before they’ll need them as adults!
What’s been your proudest moment working with students?
I took a plane and then drove an hour and a half to see the college graduation of one of the first students who graduated from the high school I led. It’s what folks often don’t get about the blood, sweat and tears that educators pour into their work. Sometimes, years pass before you really know precisely how powerful your work was. Seeing her there, in her cap and gown, in her adult-ness, was worth every moment I’ve ever spent with every student anywhere. I’ll never forget it.
By Nataki Gregory, VP of Education and Strategic Partnerships
To read more about Nataki, click here.
Click here to read Nataki’s post on our blog where she shares easy ways that teachers can move beyond the foundational elements of strong relationships with their students in order to drive achievement and cultivate a culturally relevant classroom. Nataki also wrote this meaningful piece on our blog in the wake of the Parkland, FL school shooting, on how No-Nonsense Nurturers can respond when tragedy strikes, even in another state.
Check out other CT3 Education programs such as No-Nonsense Nurturer, Real Time Teacher Coaching, and Real Time Leadership Coaching to find out more about Professional Development for Teachers and Leaders, and building relationships with students and their families.