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As the third Covid-impacted school year draws to a close, we sat down with two experienced teachers to get their take on this school year and the importance of cultivating positive relationships with parents and students.
It’s a heartwarming discussion that highlights the passion and dedication of Florida’s teachers and shines a light on the value of experience.
Morgan Mousley, English teacher, Creekside High School, St. Augustine
Megan Young, English teacher, Tocio Creek High School, St. Augustine
Andrew Spar, FEA President: Hi, this is FEA President, Andrew Spar. To stay on top of all the latest news and issues impacting our public schools, be sure to follow FEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information on this podcast, visit FEAweb.org/podcast.
Sharon Nesvig: You’re listening to Educating from the Heart. Thank you for joining our lively conversations with support professionals, parents and students as they share issues that matter most in our public schools. Here are your hosts, Tina Dunbar and Luke Flynt.
Tina Dunbar, Host: Hello, and welcome back to Educating from the Heart. I’m Tina here with my co-host, Luke.
Luke Flynt, Host: Hey, Tina.
Tina: Well, Luke, you know, May is a very special month for teachers, and I’m not referring to the end of the school year or summer vacation. I’m talking about a special event that encourages us to pause for a moment and reflect on the people who work in our schools and contribute so much to our children’s lives.
And while that moment is only a week showing teachers and all educators that we appreciate their work is an act that needs to occur throughout the school year. Of course, Luke, we all know that showing a little gratitude and appreciation really goes a long way.
Luke: It really does. And showing that appreciation is important, perhaps now more than ever because when you talk with teachers, you will hear that so many of them, especially experienced educators, feel that this year has been the most difficult of their careers. Between the stress of teaching during a global pandemic, the seemingly endless attacks from certain politicians, outrageous testing policies that negatively impact teaching and outside groups trying to form a wedge between parents and teachers, I can certainly understand why this year has been so hard.
Tina: And to complicate the situation, some parents who homeschooled their children during the pandemic now believe they know the teaching experience and understand the pressure points and frustrations that classroom teachers face. Yet during many of our podcasts, Luke, you know our listeners heard from teachers who shared their feelings of being misunderstood, unheard and above all disrespected. Teachers have told us one of the main reasons they walk away is poor working conditions, unreasonable demands, and an unrealistic expectation that they face each and every day. You know, if we really care about our educators, then we ought to recognize working under these conditions could make the job unbearable for even the best teachers.
Luke: Oh, absolutely. It is important to remember though, despite all of the loud voices screaming at school board meetings, the rhetoric coming from the governor’s office, parents still rate their public schools very highly, and they have respect and admiration for their children’s teachers.
Tina: And that is so true. As we move through the waning weeks of the school year, we figured this would be the perfect time for our listeners to meet a couple of exceptional educators from St. John’s County. And they are on a mission to help their students and parents. Morgan Mousley and Megan Young share their recipe for building positive relationships with parents and the impact that’s having on their classrooms.
Morgan Mousley, St. Johns English Teacher: I’m Morgan Mousley. I work at Creekside High School. I am on the bargaining team, and I teach ninth and twelfth grade English.
Luke: All right. How many years you’ve been teaching?
Morgan: I have been teaching for 12 years.
Tina: What inspires you to continue teaching?
Morgan: I think it’s like that moment that you get to that the light bulb comes for the kid. Right? And they’ve learned something new, and you know, you don’t get it every day, but when it does come, you’re like, okay, this is it.
In addition, the connection that you make with certain kids, right? Like, and you can always tell it’s the kid that maybe doesn’t have a connection outside of school that like that connection has, you know, made their year. Again, it’s not every kid and it’s not every day and it’s not every year, but like when it does happen, it’s enough to like make up for all of the other stuff that we have to deal with as a teacher.
Megan Young, St. Johns English Teacher: My name is Megan Young. I teach English at, Tocoi Creek High School in St. Augustine, Florida. And I’ve also been teaching for 12 years. I would say that the reason I became a teacher is because when I was growing up I definitely felt like I benefited from the consistency, the love and the support of all my educators when I was growing up, and I wanted to give back to that system that supported me so much.
Luke: So, you had mentioned what keeps you going is those light bulb moments, share one or two examples, specific examples of when either that light bulb has gone off and you were like really proud of a student or a connection that you’ve made that’s meaningful.
Morgan: This year I’ve had one. I have a 12th grade girl who an IEP [Individualized Education Program], and it’s for a really like extreme anxiety. And so, at the very beginning of the year, I read her IEP and I was like, “Oh God, this girl sounds like she’s going to be a nightmare in class,” because it was like, “she may, you know, have like complete meltdowns in class. You may need to like, leave the classroom. You just need to let her go.” And I’m like, “oh God,” like, I dunno, like I’m just preparing myself mentally. She was the most delightful, like sweet young lady that I could just tell, you know, suffered from extreme anxiety.
And one of the first, it was like the first couple of weeks of school, I had an ESL [English as a Second Language] girl in that class who barely spoke any English, like, and I could tell every time she’s very good at reading and, you know, she can process and it takes her a while, but like conversational English, she doesn’t know what’s going on in class, and I always feel so bad. So, you know, after I’m giving directions, I’ll always try and go over and explain, but the girl with extreme anxiety sat next to the girl with ESL. And so, she would notice like when I didn’t, you know, I was going to another student and didn’t have time to explain, she would take the ESL girl and like very slowly explain to her and make sure she knew what was going on.
I was like, “wow this girl, I just love her.” And then the next day, another girl had a complete meltdown in class, something, I don’t know, some sort of drama. So, I let her go to the bathroom and take care of her stuff. And I was walking around, passing by the girl with anxiety, and she had left a note on the girl who had to leave’s desk and was just like, “I hope you have a better day. I’m so sad that these things are going on.”
And at Creekside we have a character counts program where like, we’re supposed to give them little notes that say “Character Counts” and they get to turn it in for a piece of candy. And then there’s like a drawing at the end of the month for like a bigger prize. Sometimes it’s like tickets to the football game or, you know, some sort of gift card places around town have donated. And so, I just knelt down by her desk and I was like, “I’ve just noticed that your character is amazing,” you know? And I told her about the ESL girl, and then I noticed her note.
And she went home that day, and apparently she was having the worst day ever, and I made her day. And her mom sent me this really long email that was like, you know, “Teachers so often don’t understand my daughter, and you seem to understand her and I appreciate it. And like, you’re amazing. And I just love your teaching style. And she talks about you all the time.”
And I was like, well, this is why I do it. Right? And to me that was like not a big thing, but to that girl, it was, you know, it just made her year, and we’ve had a great year together this year because of it. So. Yeah, that’s what, that’s what keeps me going.
Luke: I taught middle school for 12 years, and sometimes I wondered like how different are my kids from high schoolers? And it sounds like not at all, very similar issues.
Morgan: Yes. There’s still the drama in high school. There’s still all of that. I think they handled it a little bit better than they did in junior high, but yeah, it’s still very much.
And yeah, it’s weird. I’m like that “Character Counts” sounds so ridiculous for these seniors in high school. They love it. I gave another girl “Character Counts” because she was telling me about this drama she was having with her friends, and she was telling me how she was sticking up for her friend and telling her to like stick up for herself and in these wonderful ways. And I was like, “I just think that that’s so mature of you. I’m giving you this “Character Counts” card. And she was like, oh, and then like months later she opens her folder and her “Character Counts” card is still in her folder. And I was like, “you were supposed to turn that in for candy.” And she was like, “No, I just like to look at it every day and know that you thought that I had character.” And I like, “oh my god!” So yeah. It’s those moments, you know?
Luke: So, I’m not at all surprised that when we asked you about something inspiring curriculum didn’t come up at all. So, so could you expound a little more on the importance of the relationships that you were talking about, both with the students that you clearly have, and then also it sounds like with the parents, how excited the mom was just for you to recognize her daughter.
Morgan: This year I’ve really embraced parent communication. I’ve kind of always shied away from it unless I really needed to contact the parent, and this year I’ve been sending like every other week, I choose three students to send a positive email home, and it has made me realize how important it is to pull that parent relationship into the relationship with the student as well.
And I just feel like my student relationships this year have been stronger than they’ve ever been because of that one piece of, I have this strong rapport with parents at home now. And so now we’re all three working as a team and that’s how it needs to be in education. We don’t need to like put this divide between parents and teachers. We’re all a team, and we all want the same thing, which is these students to be successful. And so that’s, that’s been my main takeaway this year is like, oh my gosh, why have I been shying away from this when it’s added such a positive environment to my classroom?
And so, I’ve always followed Megan’s lead, and she said, “you always start with a positive thing about their student, right. And then go into the details of what you need to go into and then end with like, we’re here to help the student together. And like, let’s work on this as a team.” And I feel like that sandwich of like, starting out with a positive and then ending with like let’s work together on this has helped a lot.
I think also being the first one to reach out to the parents when there’s a positive thing going on, because a lot of these kids, their parents have never heard anything positive in school, right, from their teachers. And so, yeah, I think every other week sending those positive notes home with them when it does become a problem, the parents have already heard something positive from me.
Tina: So, Megan, how have you transformed the teacher parent relationship? Give us an example of how it’s worked for you.
Megan: Sure. So, Morgan and I kind of discussed this metaphor yesterday about education being like a stool, and the parents are one leg of the stool, the students are the other leg, and then the teachers are that third leg.
And if either one of those legs is shorter or less invested than the other then the stool’s not really stable, and it’s not something you’d want to sit on, right? So, I realized kind of early on in my teaching career that when I had support from parents, and when we all realized we were on the same team, that it made my job a lot easier, and the kids were successful as a result.
So, I kind of invested my time and effort into building those relationships with parents early on, and post pandemic we have found all these great resources for communicating with parents. We’ve always had emails. But now in addition to emails, we can send out videos, we can send out newsletters. We have learning management systems like Schoology, where we can post all assignments with directions. And I think that the communication with parents has just improved as a result. And that we’ve really seen us working as a team more often than not.
And I’ll give you one example of parent communication. So, I started a club called Future Educators of America at my high school, and we got a group of kids together that were considering becoming teachers, and then those kids brought more kids. And so, now we have like over 20 kids, which was really exciting to become future educators.
And some of them were uncertain at first, and we just kept communicating to parents, you know, “Hey, we’re going to go on this field trip.” We’re exploring this option. You know, it’s not necessarily these kids are going to become educators, but they’re exploring this option to see, is this something that’s for me.
And so are the high school I work at is right next door to a K-8. So, we had a field trip one day where we walked over to the K-8, and the students planned lessons in advance and got to teach all day, all seven hours, in a different classroom. And it was so exciting to see because on the way there, the nerves were high, they were so nervous. They were silent. We walked over, and they were all just kind of freaking out. And then I got to walk around and observe them all teaching and that the smiles were ear to ear. And then after the fact, when we all met up afterwards to do our debrief, they just were so excited. And all these kids were like, “yes, we want to be teachers that was so much fun!”
And I had so many parents reach out to me. I actually had got stopped in the parking lot. I thought I was being attacked. I was like, “oh gosh, here we go.” Like, this person drove their car up in front of my car. So, I couldn’t leave. And I was like, okay, well, this person obviously wants to talk to me, and I get out of my car and it’s this mom. And she says, “I just need to thank you because my son has been so distant from me these past few years.” And she’s like, “we really haven’t been communicating well. And ever since joining Future Educators of America, and going on that field trip, he feels like he has passion. He feels like he has direction.” She’s like, “he’s so excited.” And we talk all the time, and I just like, she was crying. I was crying. It was just a beautiful moment because she was reconnecting with our son because he felt like he had purpose again. And that was a special moment I’ll never forget.
Tina: Wow, that’s what education can do.
Megan: Yeah. They were also extremely tired after that day of teaching pictures, they were exhausted.
Tina: But that’s a great experience. It really is. How do you deal with the difficult parent? I mean, I understand the point that you made that some parents have never received positive information about their students.
Luke: And maybe had very negative experiences themselves as students, right?
Megan: I personally think it’s best to meet in person. And I try to encourage that I’m super proactive about it versus reactive. And that’s just something I’ve learned over the years is when I feel something that starts to seem like conflict. I invite everybody in for a conference that the parent, the teacher and the student, again, those three legs of the stool, because if we all can get together and resolve whatever conflict is happening, then we’re on the same page again, and I’ve never had a parent teacher conference that didn’t end in solution.
You get together and you say, well, “what do you want out of this class?” And what are things that you would like to see me do? And here’s somethings I’d like to see you do.” And we, by the end of it, realize we’re all, we all want the exact same things. We want this kid to be as successful as they possibly can. And when, once you realize that you’re all on the same page and for the same goals, that makes you guys a partner, instead of, you know, enemies,
Tina: What’s the fear? Because parents need to understand too, you know, that there’s this invisible barrier that both sides have to work on.
Morgan: I think starting out as a young teacher, I started right out of college at 22. I worked at an alternative school, so it was a lot of the behavior, you know, I had, that was a lot of behaviors at my school. And so I think my career just started with this, like, and parents aren’t involved at the alternative school at that level. So, I didn’t have a ton of parent contact to begin with.
But then I think also starting out so young, I was like, yeah, these parents are so much older than me. And like, I’m just this young person that, you know, they are thinking that I don’t know what I’m talking about. And you know, I’m so young and, and they think they know what’s best for their kid. And you know, I think that’s, that just kept developing and festering.
I think a lot of teachers, people assume that we’re very social people, but I’m, I’m an introvert, you know, I can be extroverted with my students and in front of them every day. But then, you know, when it comes to just talking to strangers, like that’s not my cup of tea, I’m not the first that’s going to go up and talk to a stranger. And that’s what it very much feels like with parents was like, “I just talked to this person I don’t know anything about like, and they’re already gonna be mad because their kid is failing or whatever.” And so, it just would build up in my head like this is this really scary thing. Yeah. I definitely think email is the root of all parent…What is the word I’m looking for? Like discontent. You know, I’ve gone through an email exchange back and forth and, and a parent I think was misunderstanding.
Luke & Tina: Yeah. It’s very difficult for a tone. Yeah. Yeah.
Morgan: So after, I think probably like the second or third email, I was like, “why don’t we meet?” And I, because I have always had this kind of like, you know, nervousness around parents, I tend to like either find a counselor if I think it’s counselor worthy. Or an administrator if I think it’s going to be some sort of disciplinary like situation, and I invite them as well. But I agree with Megan having the student there is key as well, because I think a lot of times students are telling parents one thing and teachers another, and then when the parent and the teacher is trying to talk.
Like something’s getting lost in translation. Right. They’re getting two different stories. And so, with the kid right there, they’re like, “okay, like, yeah, I, wasn’t completely honest with everybody involved.” So, but yeah. Pulling in that administrator and that, or that counselor often helps as well. Then you have another person in the room that can kind of mediate if it does get a little spicy. So, um, yeah, I would agree having everybody involved needs to be there.
Megan: I just want to piggyback on that because this isn’t anything that we’ve been trained to do. We’ve never been taught how to have a parent teacher conference or how to resolve conflicts. And it’s something that we over the years have learned to do on our own.
So, it’s difficult I think for a new teacher to have not only all the skills of planning, lessons, providing feedback, you know, building classroom communities, but also conflict resolution, it’s just not one of the skills that we’re trained in. So, parents being understanding of the newer teachers who aren’t there yet, that the communication that they get from those newer teachers might be mostly electronic. But I encourage school districts, I encourage principals, I encourage teachers to seek out that type of training because that really does bring parents and teachers together.
Tina: But where would they find that training? I mean, isn’t there a great value in having some of your colleagues who have been doing this, your senior colleagues, your more experienced colleagues there to assist and mentor?
Morgan: Absolutely. I mean, I’m in year 12, and I just now feel comfortable and confident talking to parents. So I, the past two years I’ve ended up teaching next to a second year teacher, two different I’ve been at two different schools and, yeah they both always came to me and were like, “this is the situation: How do I respond?” And so, I’ve been able to kind of, you know, give them that advice. But yeah, I think it is a lot of, you just have to get in there and experience like the bad and reflect on, okay, well that conversation did not go. I would want to know what the, what went wrong there. Right. And, and go from there.
And they’re not always gonna go perfectly, but I think for the most part, when you do have an actual sit down in person meeting with everyone involved, there is some positive that comes out of it. But I think, yeah, as a new teacher, it is scary to have that happen, you know, to, to have to put that in place and feel like we’re, you know, I think everyone, the parent and the teacher are both in there, kind of on the defense. And I think we need to learn to let down our guards and just hear each other. And then things work out
Tina: And working together. Because like you mentioned that you’re using Megan’s formula and that’s about it sharing, networking, mentoring one another. And I think this important.
Morgan: Yeah. And I think you have to find somebody who has a similar style that you do as well, because you know, if that’s not your personality that’s not going to work. It’s just like the teaching style, right? If that’s not in your teaching style, that lesson plan is never going to work. And it’s the same idea with parent conversations, like find someone who has a similar style to you. And I think it’ll end up.
Megan: And I think Morgan hit on a very important concept, which is that there’s value in experience. And sometimes our experienced teachers don’t feel valued. And that’s unfortunate because I am the teacher I am today because of people who were more experienced than me, who taught me how to be a better teacher. So, we need to support and appreciate our experience educators, because they’re the ones teaching us all these soft skills that we didn’t get taught how to do in college. And they’re the ones who are developing us as leaders in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
Luke: Absolutely. I mean, your, your passion is, is evident and I, you know, um, I think I can speak for Tina, but I’ll, I’ll speak for myself, I would love to be in either of your classrooms. It would just be wonderful. Yet you took two days away from your classroom to come up to Tallahassee. So what is so important that you had to come up here to advocate for when you obviously have so much passion in your class?
Morgan: I honestly, when they sent out the call of, of HB 1197, going through the Senate, I was like, “well, I, you know, I don’t know, like I’ve got to be in my classrooms the last week, before spring break. I don’t really need to.” And then I got, I like put down my phone because I got the text message, but then I read the bill, and it got me all fired up. I’m on the bargaining team. Right. And I’ve, this year I’ve realized how important teacher advocacy is, and to have to be able to have our voice in you know, our contract and our working conditions and our pay.
And so, then I got all fired up after reading the bill and I was like, “no, I need to go.” And I will rearrange my schedule and make this work. And Megan was like, “yeah, I’m going,” and she has a student teacher in her classroom. So, she, you know, it was kinda easy. She could get us out, and her intern would still keep things at status quo, but I was like, “no, I’ll make it work. I’ll make it work.” But it is, it’s so important that we have. We’re able to advocate for ourselves, right? I mean, who better to advocate for students than teachers? We teach our students every day to advocate for themselves. Why would we not be able to then advocate for ourselves in addition to, you know, making sure that we know what the students need. We see them day in and day out. So, we should have a say in the process.
Megan: I will agree with everything Morgan said. Yeah. When I leave my classroom, it, it is difficult. You know, it’s, it’s more work. Any teacher will tell you it’s more work to not be there than it is to be there. And even more so with an increase in class sizes and with the mass teacher shortage that we see on the daily. You feel guilty every time you’re not in your classroom because you know you’re contributing to this problem and you’re exacerbating this issue that already exists. So, the immense guilt we feel being here right now, it’s a lot, however, it it’s for the students.
The students are what’s most important. And so knowing that I’m here and I’m fighting for public education. And my, ultimately my students, that’s what makes me feel a little bit better about leaving them for those two days because I know that ultimately we’ve, we’ve been heard here and everyone knows that the teachers are here and we’re going to fight for what’s best for our students. And that makes it all worth it to me.
Luke & Tina: Yes- WOW! Those were two incredible answers. Yes, they were.
Luke: So, what else do you want us to know?
Morgan: The other aspect of this teacher shortage that is affecting teachers is we’re losing this sense of community within our schools, because we have such a high teacher turnover rate. Like I’ll make friends with the teacher next door to me, you know, and I’ve helped this new teacher and then halfway through the year or at the end of the year, they’re leaving the profession. Right. And so I know at Creekside, I think we had 20 new staff members this year, me being one of them out of 120 and out of that, we’ve still had teachers leave this year.
And so, it’s like, we are struggling to form this community, and that’s what’s been one of the greatest things about being a teacher is forming this community. A school needs to be a community. Right. And so that has had a big impact on on everyone, I mean, I think when teachers are community, then, you know, students benefit from that as well. They know that everyone’s kind of in it for them. And I think they can benefit from that. And, and it’s been a struggle the past couple of years, for sure. I’ve definitely felt that that sense of lack of being able to form strong bonds with your colleagues.
Tina: So, you know, it’s interesting that you mentioned the sense of community that you really need. It’s not just a community amongst teachers, but it’s a community with everybody that’s working in the schools because, like you might need guidance counselors, or you might need a school nurse, or you might need… And so often when we talk about our schools, it is important to make sure that we have all of our teachers in place, but it’s even more important in terms of supporting our teachers correctly, as well as our students, to make sure that their support resources, the individuals who support you are also in place too.
Morgan: And I think our biggest shortage, at least at the school that I teach at is for paraprofessionals
Tina: There you go.
Morgan: Those are, paraprofessionals are key in, you know, developing that community and making sure students are successful. And so, to be short, a para is a big deal. And I know my, the teacher that’s next door to me, she has two support classes, so each of those should have a paraprofessional in them and she doesn’t see them often.
And she’s got crazy classes. She’s a second-year teacher, you know, and every day after those two classes, I can just see the look on her face, you know, when she’s standing at her door, and I’m like, it was another rough day for her, you know? And she wasn’t able to help certain kids because that para wasn’t there.
Megan: We’ve had critical shortages at our school as well. We are down nine custodians, four food service workers. And it doesn’t mean the job’s not getting done. It means that the history teacher next door is mopping my classroom. It means that I have a great student fourth period who after a fire drill and there was mud everywhere he swept it all up. Like it means the job’s getting done, but it’s getting done by people you know who-
Tina, Host: All of the other people….
Megan: In their free time are trying to, I try to keep up with the demand of the, of their job and others. So, you’re right. The support staff is it’s a crucial part of a school just functioning day in and day out. And those positions are equally as hard to fill, if not more. Anyone who’s still in the classroom is there because they care about the students, and you can trust teachers to do what’s best for your child work in partnership with your teacher to do what’s best for your child.
But I feel like there’s this narrative that teachers are not trustworthy. Teachers are not doing the right thing, and teachers aren’t, they’re just not professionals. And that’s not the case. The most hardworking professionals I’ve ever seen have been in the classroom. And so, I really, I wish that were the narrative. And if we want to see some alleviation of the mass teacher shortage, we have to change the narrative.
I, myself, this is back when I went to high school, had a teacher tell me not to become. She said, do not do it. You won’t make enough money to support yourself. And I said, I’m not going into it for the money. You know, I really want to be an educator. I want to work in public schools. And so, I did anyways, and I have so many students whose parents have told them do not become educators.
And until we change the narrative, and we make this profession, that’s not only something that someone can financially sustain themselves on, but something that’s seen in the public eye as a worthy and noble profession, we’re going to continue to see these issues. So, change the narrative. Teaching is a great profession, and I encourage everyone out there to apply.
Tina: Wow, no surprise about the dedication of Florida’s educators, and Megan and Morgan are a perfect example of that. I love the way they shared their motivation, what keeps them grounded in the profession and the inspiration that encourages them to advocate for their students every day. And Luke, the image that Megan shared about the three-legged stool; she is so correct. Wouldn’t you agree?
Tina: Yeah. In order for students to succeed, it is essential that parents, students, and educators all work together and are all equally committed to student success.
Luke: You know, and best of all, they put out the call to encourage more people to join them and become teachers; teachers working together to grow their profession is what it is going to take. Truly the only way to make it through these difficult times is to unite and collaborate. While certain politicians choose to sow chaos, because they believe that that suits their own political agenda, we know that by coming together in community is the only way to make sure that every child in Florida gets the education they deserve.
Tina: That’s correct. And our teachers really need everybody’s support. And that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening. And until we meet again, keep educating from the heart.
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