Work Like A Teacher / Educate Like A Woman

The struggles I had in school have shaped me into the teacher and person that I am today. Learning new things doesn’t always come easy and that has taught me to make learning fun for my students, so they love learning and really grasp the concepts.
— Estefani Carbajal

May 7 to May 11, 2018 this year is Teacher Appreciation Week. Did you know that such a thing existed? Unless you yourself are a teacher, or you work at a school, or have children in school, or have loved ones who teach, you likely did not.

 Born to Teach: Estefani's decision to become a teacher has never been something she doubted. "I have wanted to be a teacher since as long as I can remember. My mom says around kindergarten," she says. "It’s hard to say what led me here because I always just kind of knew that’s what I was meant to do."

Born to Teach: Estefani's decision to become a teacher has never been something she doubted. "I have wanted to be a teacher since as long as I can remember. My mom says around kindergarten," she says. "It’s hard to say what led me here because I always just kind of knew that’s what I was meant to do."

Regardless of where you stand when it comes to our educators and the state of our education system, one thing is clear: teachers have a profound impact on all our lives. Whether we attended public or private school, or were home-schooled, we learned a lot of what we know because of the teachers in our lives.

Teacher Appreciation Week is an opportunity to #ThankATeacher for their impact, which, as many of us can attest, doesn’t always have to do with academics. Maybe you had a teacher like this. Someone who was more of a mentor, or a pseudo-parent, cheerleader, coach, and friend all in one. A support system during a difficult time, or the person who steered you in the right direction when you went off course. It’s also likely that this very important teacher in your life was a woman.

Teaching has always been the profession that women dominate, but did you know that this fact is becoming even more true in recent years? More than three-quarters of all teachers, from kindergarten to high school are woman and they make up 80% of the teachers from kindergarten through middle school. This arguably explains why teaching is considered a drastically underpaid position -- jobs dominated by women pay less on average than those where men are the majority.

As you can see, it’s hard to bring up teaching and education without veering into a debate. Next time you feel yourself headed there in a conversation, it might help to think about a teacher you know personally. Because behind the profession lies a person who has an immense responsibility, who impacts hundreds, thousands of lives during their career tenure, and who likely is in the profession because they love what they do -- not because they get summers off.

This week’s featured woman is, you guessed it, a teacher - a kindergarten teacher at that. She spends her days working with children at the start of their educational journeys. Her job involves listening to the wisdom of five-year-old's and finding ways to instill in them a love of learning. She does all this to a captive audience, continues her work at home and after school, all while continuing her own education, and still, she finds a way to make it all look easy -- not just easy, but fun. This teacher may not someone you’d expect to go into teaching; she struggled herself in elementary school with the fundamentals that could have held her back throughout her education. But then, something changed. A teacher intervened, and that made all the difference. 

Meet Estefani, a kindergarten teacher from Vista, California.

Estefani, tell us about your what the road to teaching looked like for you. When did you know you wanted to be a teacher and how did you eventually get there?  

I have wanted to be a teacher since as long as I can remember (my mom says around kindergarten). It’s hard to say what led me here because I always just kind of knew that’s what I was meant to do.

The road to get to where I am was still challenging and difficult, and I had to put myself out there and to take any teaching job that landed in my lap. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to get placed to long-term sub at an awesome school, where I was eventually hired to be a permanent teacher.

 As a teacher, what brings Estefani great joy is finding ways to make learning fun and interactive for her students. Here are two of her kindergarten students getting their hands dirty during a lesson.

As a teacher, what brings Estefani great joy is finding ways to make learning fun and interactive for her students. Here are two of her kindergarten students getting their hands dirty during a lesson.

A part of me feels like it was fate for my first permanent teaching job to be as a fifth grade teacher. I had a hard time in elementary school academically. That changed in fifth grade. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Pucci, was the one who took the time to help me get to grade level and busted her butt to help a group of us get ready for 6th grade. I am forever grateful for her. This is why I always thought it was so cool that my first teaching job was in 5th grade. Things came around full circle for me.

Since school did not come easily for me, I have always felt more attached to my students who also have a difficult time with learning. I have the ability to connect with them and understand that they may need a little more from me to become successful.

The struggles I had in school have shaped me into the teacher and person that I am today. Learning new things doesn’t always come easy and that has taught me to make learning fun for my students, so they love learning and really grasp the concepts. 

What were some of the challenges and setbacks you faced getting to where you are today?  

On top of what I’ve already mentioned, finding a job after I graduated was so hard and unexpected! People hear all the time about how we need more teachers, but the area I live in is more competitive than I realized. I had to bust my butt and put myself out there so many times for job interviews or work opportunities, but was left empty-handed.

I didn’t let that stop me even though, to be honest, it was discouraging at times. I made a point to sub at all of the different schools in the district that I did my student teaching in, so that I could get my name out there. I became close enough with some principals, and they started asking me to long-term sub when those positions opened up. These principals started giving my name out to other principals, and that is how I would keep getting offered long-term positions.

 Being a teacher means getting to tap into your inner-child on a regular basis. Here is Estefani, or should we say, Miss Carbajal, dressed up for Dr. Seuss Week. 

Being a teacher means getting to tap into your inner-child on a regular basis. Here is Estefani, or should we say, Miss Carbajal, dressed up for Dr. Seuss Week. 

Looking back, I think this was the best next step for me after graduating. It allowed me time to get more comfortable and confident with teaching in a way that regular sub jobs and student teaching couldn’t. I believe everything happens for a reason and in the right time.

Even though I was working everyday and getting my name out there, it was still very difficult for me to stay positive. While I was substitute teaching, I would still apply for full-time teaching positions whenever they popped up. It seemed that no matter how many applications I put out into the world, I would not even get called back for interviews! This really took a toll on me and my personal goals. In college, I never planned for it to take some time after graduating to find a full-time teaching job.

I was almost ready to start looking into the possibility of moving when my luck changed. I was asked to long-term sub for a fifth grade class at a great school, subbed for a few months with that class, their teacher decided to retire, I interviewed for the position, and this is where I got my first full-time job and became a permanent teacher. I still remember the day I was offered the job so vividly. I’m still at the same school and it’s been the perfect fit. 

What was your first job and what, if anything, did you learn about at this first job that has helped with your work today?

My first job was tutoring high school AVID students. I was in charge of a small group of students and helped them with their English homework. AVID is all about helping the students work to find the answer on their own and not necessarily giving the students the answers. I think this has helped me let my students do the same and encourage them to  work through their mistakes rather than just giving them the answers to a problem.  Every job I have ever had has had to do with kids and teaching in some sort of way!

Describe "a day in the life" of a kindergarten teacher.

I try to wake up by 6:30 every morning (emphasis on try!). This gives me some time to get ready, chill for a little bit, feed my cat and dog, walk the dog, and sometimes enough time to grab a much-needed Starbucks before getting to school. My commute is about 20 minutes each way, depending on traffic and have to be at work by 7:30 a.m.

 Today, Estefani is Miss Carbajal to her class of 20+ young learners, but the journey to get to this point was not as easy as she expected. On her experience searching for a job after graduating, she says, "...finding a job after I graduated was so hard and unexpected...I had to bust my butt and put myself out there so many times for job interviews or work opportunities, but was left empty-handed."

Today, Estefani is Miss Carbajal to her class of 20+ young learners, but the journey to get to this point was not as easy as she expected. On her experience searching for a job after graduating, she says, "...finding a job after I graduated was so hard and unexpected...I had to bust my butt and put myself out there so many times for job interviews or work opportunities, but was left empty-handed."

Every three weeks, I have duty for the entire week and that is from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. before school starts. When I have duty, I don’t have time in the morning to get ready for the day so I have to make sure everything is ready the day before or I have to go to work even earlier.  School is in session from 8:00 a.m. to 2:18 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:51 p.m. on Mondays. Monday’s are the days that we have team meetings after school from 1:15 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.

I am allowed to leave work at 3:00 p.m. but tend to stay until about 3:30 p.m. That doesn’t mean I’m “done” with the work I have to do, but I would much rather be home to do all my planning and prepping from there.

The downside of this though is that I have to travel with a bunch of stuff and bring it to and from school and home.

One perk of teaching kindergarten is that we do not have to grade as much as the older grades. Because of this, we get less prep time than other grades. Prep is when teachers have time away from the classroom during the school day that is still factored into our pay hours. I only get 30 minutes a week for prep, though, as a kindergarten teacher. Even though I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time grading, there is a lot I need to prepare for in order to teach my kindie kids, especially at the beginning of the school year. Since we only get 30 minutes of prep a week, I need to do the work at home.

During the Holiday Season, each year Estefani brings a special visitor to her classroom, one of Santa's "Elves" of the Elf on a Shelf variety! Just another example of ways she goes above and beyond to make the classroom more than just a place to learn your ABC's, but also create joy, lifelong memories, and lots of laughs.

I try to be good about having one day of the weekend where I relax and do things I want to do. The other day I set aside for planning and school work.

I am also working on BTSA, which stands for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment, and is required of all teachers to clear their credential in the state of California. BTSA in my district is a two-year program. I have a meeting every week for two hours after school and a meeting once a month with the BTSA coordinators as well. Thank god I’m almost done! As I mentioned earlier, I am also in the middle of my Master’s Program, which is an online program, so I have a lot of homework I have to deal with every week too for that.

How does being a woman influence your approach to your practice and your career? Have you felt any adversity, discrimination, harassment or other challenges that you feel were due to your gender at any point in your working years or in your current profession? If not, what do you find unique about your work environment that helps prevent this? 

Women make up a majority of the teaching profession, so I have never really felt out of place at work or felt discriminated in that sense at all! I think that because all of us are female (we have NO male teachers!), we have that bond with each other and help each other out in any way possible, which is very special. A lot of the teachers are moms as well, and if they need help with pick-ups or they need to leave early for something, someone is always there to lend a hand and help. Women tend to be pretty compassionate and I think being a teacher and compassion goes hand in hand. I feel that in that sense it has helped me in my field.

What are your goals for yourself professionally?  

Honestly, I love helping people and that extends beyond teaching. If I happen to go back and get another Masters Degree, I would like to get it in counseling. That is where I see myself ending my career, as a school counselor. I haven’t decided yet if it’s worth it for me to go that route or if I’ll really want to down the road, but it’s nice to know that I have options in the future if teaching doesn’t feel right for me anymore. There are so many other careers you can have in education beyond teaching, and counseling sounds like it could be a great fit for me too. 

 Estefani's classs on a field trip. 

Estefani's classs on a field trip. 

I am in the process of completing my Master’s in K-12 Education with an emphasis in Math and Science right now. It was a lot to juggle while teaching and clearing my credential, but I didn’t want to put off getting my Master’s. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop working to go to school full-time, and all of the counseling degrees require practicum hours and attending classes full-time. I am not in a place in my life where I can do that yet and take a break from work, so that had to be pushed to the side for now, which is okay with me!

Looking back at the way you have approached your professional development, education, and decisions, what would you say is your philosophy about work?  

I think that the main thing is that people need to have an end goal in mind. If you have a goal in mind that is what will motivate you to keep going when things get hard. I knew what I wanted to do for a long time and knew I just had to take all the necessary steps to make it happen. 

What advantages made getting to where you are possible? 

I was super fortunate enough to have a lot of advantages that played into me becoming a teacher. While I was in school, my mom and dad took care of my living expenses and gave me an allowance for groceries and gas. Even though I still worked for some of my college career, I never truly had to work to survive while I was in school.

My mom is a teacher and has been for many years, which gave me a HUGE advantage. I went into my classes knowing so much already and having first-hand experience of the things we were taught. It is still a huge advantage for me now that I am a teacher. We are able to bounce ideas off each other and create things for each other's classrooms since we both teach the same grade now!

My mom has been my mentor and my advantage throughout the years. Every teacher in California has to do student teaching and BTSA. This is where we get real classroom experience and this is where we can start making our connections in life.

Since my mom is a teacher, I knew that I always had connections where I grew up, but I wanted to do this on my own. When I was struggling to find a job out here, I debated so many times if I should just suck it up and start working back in my hometown to get experience, but then I was offered the long-term fifth grade position and the rest is history! 

What are some misconceptions you have heard about teachers?

1)  Teachers only work from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

I am teaching from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but teaching is only part of what teachers do.  As I stated before, I take all of my work home to plan and prep, and that means I’m working most days after school, on top of the 8 - 3 schedule. I usually work at least one weekend day as well. 

2)  Teachers have summers off

Although we technically have some of the summer off, I spend the majority of the summer planning for the next school year, decorating my classroom and organizing it, shopping for materials I need, and attending a bunch of professional development meetings as well. I don’t think people realize how much stuff teachers actually have to create and make from scratch. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take time for myself to rest over the summer, but we definitely earn our “extra” time off, and it is definitely NOT a whole summer.            

 On squashing the misconception that all teachers do is "teach", Estefani says, "We take care of at least 24 kids who all have academic, emotional, and social needs. We have to be teachers, parents, mentors and friends to all of them..."

On squashing the misconception that all teachers do is "teach", Estefani says, "We take care of at least 24 kids who all have academic, emotional, and social needs. We have to be teachers, parents, mentors and friends to all of them..."

3)  A teacher’s only job is to teach

This is so far from the truth. We take care of at least 24 kids who all have academic, emotional, and social needs. We have to be teachers, parents, mentors, and friends to all of them, and with all of this, we have to create fun curriculum and do tons of paperwork on top of everything else.

I read this in an article on Business Insider and found it interesting: "Only 40% of what we do actually happens in the classroom. Lesson planning and preparation, grading papers, school paperwork, student reports, parent phone calls and emails, extra help for students, and participating in community events are all things that teachers are required and expected to do." This is so true.

Before we let you go, can you share something that is worthwhile for the public to know -- maybe advice for parents of young children from a kindergarten teacher’s perspective?

Resist doing things for your kids that they can do for themselves. Even though it might be difficult to see your child struggle and it may be easier for you to do it yourself, having them conquer things on their own will make your child more self-sufficient, boost their confidence, and will allow them to become more independent in their schooling.

ABOUT ESTEFANI

Estefani was born in Palm Springs, but has lived in San Diego County for the last 10 years. She graduated from California State University, San Marcos with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies as well as a multiple subject teaching credential. She is currently completing her Master’s at Capella University. Estefani has had experience teaching multiple grade levels to include Special Ed, 3rd, 4th, 5th grades. She is currently teaching Kindergarten and is finishing up her 3rd year as a teacher.