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  • Writer's pictureGeorgia O'Keefe

Empowering Educators: Defining Success In & Out of the Classroom

Updated: Apr 28

In the debut episode of the Making the Grade Podcast, educators Christine and Georgia share their insights on classroom success and the challenges and rewards of teaching. Christine’s personal experience with an exchange program is discussed, providing a unique perspective on education and expanding one’s worldview. Listeners will gain valuable insights from the hosts’ personal experiences as educators and their passion for exploring the different aspects of teaching.

Throughout the episode, Christine and Georgia share their motivations for starting the podcast and explain their goal of creating a valuable resource for current and former educators. With engaging discussions on teaching and education, this episode sets the stage for future conversations that will provide valuable insights for educators and those considering either entering or exiting the field.

Christine: hello everyone, and welcome to the very first episode of Making The Grade Podcast, A Tale of two teachers. We are your hosts, Christine and Georgia. We're former classroom teachers and we are thrilled to be here today. Even more excited that you're tuning.

Georgia: Thank you all so much for listening. Since this is the first episode, we wanted to share a little bit about how this idea came to be, the purpose behind our show, and a little bit about Christine and I, and a little bit about what to expect in our upcoming episodes.

Christine: So for those who don't know, making the grade as a term means to define success or reach a desired standard. So our podcast will be a place to expose how much teachers are expected to do in the classroom, a little behind the scenes. And how are teachers consider. Themselves as successful in the classroom. What does that look like to them teachers and as [00:01:00] individuals?

Georgia: Our podcast is a place for current and former educators to share their stories. We'll be exploring the metrics of modern day classroom success and diving into it. We're gonna talk about the good, the bad, the wild. There is a lot of wild in classrooms, , and our hope is that we, on making the grade can be a resource for teachers, whether they're in the classroom.

Or out of the classroom and whether they might be on the fence, if staying in the classroom is a career that they can feel happy and successful at long-term. And we really wanna dive into some of the reasons that some of the best teachers we know. leave the classroom to pursue other passions and some stay in the classroom.

And we kind of wanna just explore that and figure out what's really going on and let teachers share their stories, why they decided one way or the other. I wish that coming up with this, idea was as concise as that. Um, it actually took us so long to come up with our name and our purpose, and I think that's our inner teacher really wanting to plan it out perfectly.

Christine: Yeah, no, the, we'll get into the behind the scenes, in our upcoming episodes. It's a story for another day, but a good one. So definitely stay tuned to what's to come. Mm-hmm. . Um, but yeah, let's get the show on the road today. So we're gonna talk about how Georgia inspired me to become a teacher.

and how I inspired her to leave the classroom. Which, funny backstory on that, until we started talking about the content that we wanted to share in this podcast and our stories, we didn't know that we were huge driving forces in these huge changes and decisions, um, that we kind of embarked on these journeys.

Parallel in in parallel. But, yeah, it. A funny discovery and make sure to stick around to hear a few Good. This or thats, uh, a k a would you rathers at the end? ?

Georgia: Yeah. We are talking about some pretty serious topics here, but we like to have a lot of fun, so it's gonna be a good combination of that. This really has been years in the making. Christine, why don't you get a little into your background in education first. Yes.

Christine: So a Quick Reader's Digest version. Uh, I feel like some people grew up knowing they wanna be a teacher, and I was not one of those people, which is fine. , it took finishing college with a business degree and working at an education nonprofit to kind of figure that out for me.

But ultimately I was working within a high school exchange program and placing students within all different places throughout the United States for a year of high school, , which was an incredible opportunity. I saw parts of the United States that I would never [00:04:00] otherwise see. , and it's definitely.

Helped to, I guess, kind of, uh, shift my worldview and, think about places besides the Northeast, , cuz newsflash, uh, most of the country does not function. like Boston. but anyway, , so I just remember coming back from one of those trips. , in the Midwest in particular, it was like Olly cold, middle of February, I think I was in Indiana, and I remember the only part of the trip that I kept thinking about was how fun it was being in the classroom and visiting the students in their, you know, school setting.

And that was all. I wanted to do on that trip. I just wanted to stay there. I felt like it didn't even feel like work. I was like, oh, I could stay here all day. So I was really excited to come back, I remember and tell you about it. Um mm-hmm. and at that time you had just started your grad program, so I kind of felt like this fate, I guess.

So after telling you about that, you encouraged me to try out a class, like what's the worst that could happen? And so I did. The rest is history. well kind of, we were working a lot of jobs and going to school full-time. that was, do you remember that time? I feel like we just, yeah. Yeah. We oatmeal like three years straight.

Georgia: yes. So fun fact. Christine and I were college roommates. We lived together with a bunch of our best friends for two years, the last few years of college, and. Then after college, Christine and I moved out into our first apartment together, and so at this point in time when we were trying to figure out our careers and our lives, we also got our first apartment and we did eat a lot of oatmeal.

I feel like that was all we would eat. but we would have our breakfast together before going to school, and we would eat dinner at night and talk about our days. And it was just a super fun, exciting time in our lives. And unlike Christine, I sort of always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. Um mm-hmm.

I just feel like it kind of came naturally to me and I just sort of set my life up on that path to go to college and take some teaching classes, try out a teaching job after college, get my graduate degree, and I just felt like the stars were aligning. It was like a dream come true. I worked so hard to become a teacher and.

I finally did it. I had a job I was in grad school and I was encouraging my best friend to follow the same path. And I feel like it was just such a fun time in both of our lives. We were, yes, living the dream and I actually stayed at that job, that I was at when we were roommates. I stayed at that same job for nine years because I loved it so.

Christine: Yeah. You loved that job. It was great. That was a wonderful time. Look back on it fondly. Pearson Road. Mm-hmm. . Um, but that's a long time. I mean, that's, that's a decent amount of time to stay in a position and get the feel for it. we were both classroom teachers for many years and then, ultimately I became pregnant with my first baby. so coming into this. I had planned to take a year long leave of absence. and I know, that's a huge privilege that I had the ability to do that within my job, you know, and be guaranteed my position back. So first and foremost, big privilege. but I also, I, I planned very much to be able to do that.

I guess I knew that that was important to me. It was also, Kind of not a crossroads, but, good timing to kind of pause. so this is 2019. I had, time to step back, be with my baby, enjoy that time. And then, 2020 happened March, 2020. Mm-hmm. , the world shuts down. So we have even, even more time to kind of really dive deep and think about going back to this position? If not, mm-hmm. , what does that look like? And yeah, do you wanna talk a little bit about you during this time? Yeah.

Georgia: This was like another discovery that we came upon when we started doing this podcast. We realized how many parallels there were in both of our teaching journeys. So not only did we kind of start our teaching careers at the same time, but we sort of both took this pause at the same time. Christine's reason was her baby mine. I just kept getting these feelings that there was other curiosities and passions that I wanted to pursue, and. Similar to Christine, mentioning how she was gonna take a year off for her baby.

I was super lucky to be able to take a year off for career exploration. So essentially districts, I think most of them anyways, allow you as a teacher to take a year off to kind of explore other passions or interests. , and they guarantee that your job will be waiting for you when you come back. Mm-hmm.

so it. Scary to make this decision because again, I loved what I was doing and, you also don't get paid on your gear of exploration, so, mm-hmm. , I was a little bit nervous, you know, is following my gut worth potentially, you know, switching up my life and not liking it. and I decided it was, I'm a very follow your gut kind of person.

That'll probably come out a lot in this show. But yeah, I was at the same sort of crossroads as Christine taking this pause. All of a sudden the world is having a pandemic. and it was, it was a weird time and I just knew that teaching brought me a lot of joy for a very long time. But I was feeling a little bit stuck and it was time to just reassess the situ.

Christine: Yes. And we'll get into, I think definitely more of the, the whys, in future episodes. cause there's a lot more to unpack there of like, oh yes, why we [00:10:00] felt stuck, , you know, why did we feel stuck and why did we wanna do this? But yeah, I, as you were talking, I was thinking about, the piece of how much we had to hustle in the meantime.

Like that could be a whole other episode. I think I was like, oh yeah, I was working three jobs to make sure that I could do that time that year off, but it was worth it to me, and I know it was for you too. Mm-hmm. and yeah, definitely dive into that more later. But, yeah, no, as I was listening, I was just thinking and being reminded of.

Brave, I think you are. I feel like aw, , you, you're one of my most brave friends. I remember saying that in a speech at my wedding, talking about my bridesmaids. But, you've always inspired me to take risks and do things that feel scary in the moment because you're being pushed to ultimately. Go on a different path and when you start hearing those urges and listening to them, you really can't ignore them.

You can't turn it off. at least we can. They just get louder.

Georgia: Exactly. If you ignore it. Yep. .

Christine: Exactly. So, yeah, no, I'm excited to dive into all this stuff, but, another thing that we keep coming back to is just this idea that, and ultimately why we wanted to do this podcast. We used to think that we were not necessarily unique in this, but that we were kind of, outside the norm in thinking of this whole process of, you know, training to be a teacher for years, going into the classroom for a decade, and then leaving the, the classroom setting.

it's not super common to, to do that in a career necessarily. People pivot all the time. But, within education, it was like, if we don't teach, what are we gonna do? and there are so many other opportunities to find, but we're, what we're finding in the creation of this podcast and in connecting with people in the field out of the field is that we're in really good company.

Uh, the. people that we're talking to, I feel like the less that they know about what's going on in and outta the classrooms and it's not as black and [00:12:00] white as you stay, you leave, there's so much space in between and things to consider about that, you know?

Georgia: Absolutely. You know, the more people we talk to, Everyone has their own unique story and reasons for making decisions, and everyone we've talked to is just so brave in their own way, and I think as humans we sort of play down our decisions and our bravery and it takes. Others to kind of point it out and be like, you are so brave for all of your decisions, and you inspired me.

And it's been amazing that Christine and I have been able to talk about that while we create this podcast. And also, give space for others to talk about it and highlight their bravery. And you know, neither Christina or I are in our classroom jobs anymore, but the world of education is so important to us.

Teachers are so important to us, the ones that are in the classroom currently, and the ones that have pursued other things. And we can't wait to interview all varieties of teachers on this.

Christine: Yes. Yeah. Teachers are our people. our favorite. Oh yeah. Yeah. Um, so yeah, let's keep moving. So, We are now at the Rapid Fire segment, George's worst Nightmare, uh, We have some questions.

Georgia: under pressure is really hard for me. I just like forget my name. I could never go on Jeopardy or any of those shows. No way. I'd be too nervous.

Christine: Yeah. So we have a few questions that she hasn't seen, so we're gonna get started with that. How about, do you wanna go first or, which.

You go first in front of speak to both. Okay. Okay. Yeah, yeah. All right. I'll start with an easy one. Hotter iced coffee.

Georgia: Iced coffee. Even in the winter. I prefer ice corree

Christine: I was just gonna say, yeah, I really do. I feel that even on the five degree days. Yeah, I think I know.

Georgia: I don't know what it is. I just enjoy it more.

I mean, there's something to be said for a nice hot cup of coffee. True in the morning, but if I had to. iced all the way.

Christine: Yeah. I, I start with hot and then my number two is iced and maybe number three iced as well. . Um,

Georgia: but Okay. Depends on the day. .

Christine: Yes. No, definitely. okay. How about fall or spring? What do you think?

Georgia: Ooh, I'm gonna go with fall. Okay. It's, I, I like them both for sure. and. . Yeah. But I think fall, uh, I think in New England. Christine and I are based in Boston. , I think in New England, fall has evolved to be some of the most beautiful weather. the leaves are changing, but it's still warm. And sweater weather.

Yes. I love the fall. Yeah

Christine: you really can't be beat where we are. No, there's, yeah, nothing like it. okay. And now what about a teacher, this or that? So how about[00:15:00] lunch in the teacher's lounge or lunch in your room

Georgia: I'm gonna go with lunch in my room. Mm-hmm. . there, there's, this could be a whole episode,

but teachers hardly get a lunch break, so you're trying to cram in your food, your bathroom break, anything. You have to catch up on that. Got forgotten in the morning, you're trying to figure out that afternoon. and so for me, I like to utilize my time as well as possible. So eating in the classroom was a way to do that.

And I actually worked with some great, great teachers and I would try to make a point to go to the lunchroom at least once in a while or to eat lunch with them outside if it was a nice day. I kind of wish that I spent more time. With my fellow teachers having lunch, but I definitely tried to use that time on my own.

The other thing is teachers lounges can get a little dramatic because everyone's complaining about their days and you know,

Christine: depends on the crowd, for sure

Georgia: sure. Yeah. Yeah. And not to like knock on any teachers, that's just, you need a place to express the frustration you're having with your day. , you don't necessarily wanna take in that energy on your one and only break.

Christine: yeah, I'm talking about work. Yep. That makes sense.

Georgia: Yeah, no, definitely. Great long, long answer, but I feel the need to explain my stance.

Christine: no, and especially I know for when I'm thinking back to like my lunch break times didn't always align. You know, people I would wanna have lunch with too sometimes, depending on like your lunch duty and recess time and

Georgia: true things like that. so many factors.

Christine: I was more of a classroom lunch in the classroom person too. Mm-hmm. . Um, but yeah. Okay.

Georgia: Great job and. Also for anyone who's not a teacher, just so you know, going out to lunch as a teacher is not an option. You do not have time for that. So yeah,

Christine: 25 minutes. No thanks

Georgia: for, for anyone with a job where you have the luxury to go out to lunch.

Just appreciate that. Yes. Not everyone's go that was fun. Ok. I feel better about this now. That was actually fun. Are you ready for yours? Ready? All right. Let's see. I'm gonna go, I'm gonna bring it back. Brittany or Christina?

Christine: Oh, definitely Brittany. . . I don't know. I just, I I saw her in concert in third grade. Um mm-hmm. . Yeah. At the hat shell. It was, she was a, she's a performer. Through and through. Yeah. It's, mm-hmm. , it's Brittany for me. All, all day, every day. fair.

Georgia: I, I think I would have to agree.

Christine: all right. Yeah. Nothing against Christina

Georgia: Yeah. No, no, but I mean, this is this or that. You're under pressure.

You have to just pick one. Mm-hmm. and Great pick. Great pick. alright. This is a good one for you. I know you love reading. Mm-hmm. , do you prefer a book or a kindle?

Christine: Uh oh, good question. . So book snobs will hate, but I, the stage of life that I'm in, I need to read on a Kindle. I would not be able to read if I didn't on my Kindle because I'm crazy about my bedtime routine.

And when you become a parent, you really start to think about these areas of your life that you would and otherwise, which, , you know, a good thing ultimately, but so I read every night before I go to bed. , but I do not like having any sort of light. cause I , I swear it messes with my circadian rhythms.

I like to have, blue, like no blue light. So I do the, the brown light option on my Kindle and it puts me to sleep like a baby every night. So, in this stage of life, Kindle. But I love having a hard book. I, I know you prefer hard book too, or hard copy I guess. Yeah. Um, it's, there's something about going through the pages.

I love getting books from the library, like same, the smell of them. It's a weird thing to say. I know, I know. I don't know. [00:19:00] There's something, so I look forward to the day where I can read more buy books and that's not gonna bother my sleep

Georgia: Yeah, no, I get it. I, fun fact about me is I currently live in a van.

I travel in a van with my dog and my fiance. And a Kindle is really the only option when you're living in such a small, small space, true space. You know it's you gotta do it. But I am excited for the day when I have a whole room dedicated to lots of books like that.

Christine: Sounds wonderful. . Yeah. Ultimate dream library.

Yes. Room in your house? Yes.

Georgia: Yes. All right. This last one is gonna be kind of hard. Mm-hmm. , it's a teacher related, this or that. Okay. Would you rather go on a field trip once a week, every week of the year

Christine: Nope. No, I'm just kidding.

Georgia: OR every single week you have to have a parent teacher conference night.

Ooh. Once, one night a week.

Christine: Parent teacher because field trips drain you in a way that you can't put into words. true. Being responsible for other people's children in public is a zoo. especially regardless of how many kids there are that you have to think about cuz you're like not only thinking about. Are these children safe?

You're just like, who's that person? What's going on over there? Mm-hmm. , do I have all the kids on the bus with me? What if they go into the bathroom and something insane happens?

Georgia: that pressure is unlike anything

Christine: else. Yeah. You field trip days, you just mm-hmm. , you know what's funny is Chris actually proposed me on a field trip day , which is, he did, what was he thinking?

Chris story for another time, . Um, I was pretty drained and yeah, he had a plan to take me out to eat and I was like, oh, I don't know. but yeah, story for another day. , that's hilarious. But unpopular opinion, I actually. Love and loved parent-teacher conferences. I loved connecting with my parents and maybe it's just because.

I was in special education. So, you know, taking into account students with diverse needs and how that overlap might look a little different for traditional teachers versus, you know, special ed teachers. You, you do have more of a relationship with parents, I think, like, you know mm-hmm. , just in a different way.

Yeah. So I loved my parent-teacher conferences. I loved hearing what , their kids are doing at home or, you know, Positive feedback or that they're seeing so many good changes in behaviors or things that are easier for them. And so feel like I wouldn't other, that's nice to, yeah.

Georgia: That speaks to you being a good teacher too. You were such a Yeah, of course. Because, you know, clearly the parents were happy with what was going on and they were so excited for that opportunity to share with you how happy they were and how, what else they could be doing at home. And, you know, if they weren't happy, I.

The conferences would've gone differently and no. True. You might have a different, so yeah, give yourself some credit

Christine: No thanks. Yeah, I, yeah, no, it's funny. I like you, you always get a parent that you just don't see eye to eye with or, you know, is like a little more or less difficult sometimes, but for sure a share whole, yeah.

Like I, I was very lucky that I had really wonderful families that I work with, but yeah, no, so I would say parent teacher conferences. .

Georgia: I think that's a great answer. I'd probably choose the same . Um, and I also think that that brings us to a really great point where we kind of wanna wrap up our shows, talking with our guests about what success means to them.

and kind of how it's changed. So what success meant when you first started teaching. which, the reason I was reminded about this was cuz it sounds like parent-teacher conferences were really successful. Joyful feeling for you. Mm-hmm. . so yeah, how, how did you measure or feel successful when you first became an educator compared to, what does success mean to you right now?

Whether it's education [00:23:00] related or just life related? So

Christine: it's funny because in the beginning of my teaching career, I only thought about success from. A student standpoint, and like a teacher performance standpoint, I guess I did not take myself into consideration or I didn't think of myself as part of that equation, I guess.

mm-hmm. , and now I do. So I guess success, when I first started teaching, always started with a students like student first approach. how can I build relationships with these children? Make sure that they feel safe. Getting them acclimated to like classroom structures and routines. building trust, like everything was about the classroom environment.

And I feel like relationship piece first. Cause ultimately if kids don't like you, they're not gonna, they're not gonna listen to you. , so true. Yeah. I think I always focused on that first. and again, it might just be the. Like the special ed background, and that's a [00:24:00] really, really important piece for learning for diverse learners.

But, focusing on that first and then that's still very important to me. a very important indicator of success are, you know, the relationships that I have with my current students, and what I'm doing currently, but equally as important when I started. Am I measuring up as a teacher? Am I getting good reviews from my admin?

am I doing all of the things that I should be doing to check off those boxes that makes me a successful teacher? so good feedback from my supervisors was like very high on the list. not to say it's not now, but , um, I guess the thing that separates. Success then versus now is I am putting myself more in that equation.

so I'm thinking a lot about, you know, now I'm just in a different season of life and my focus is, the, you know, my family, my, my two young children. Mm-hmm. , spending time with them and my husband and my dog. I guess flexibility is, an indicator of success to me now. can I do the parts of my job that I love in the time that I'm away from my family?

you know, time is a big, piece of what I define as successful now. Like, do I have time? Mm-hmm. , you can't put a price on the amount of time that I, that you know anyone has. Yeah. But, can I worth my time in a way that's meaningful for. In my family, you know, bringing my career into that in ways that make sense to me.

And then at the end of the day, I feel like that freedom and that those pieces of how I fit my life together now is how I define success. So, long winded answer,

Georgia: such a good answer. But yeah. , that's, no, I, that's amazing. And I resonate with so much of it.

Christine: Yeah. What about you?

Georgia: So yeah, so I guess starting out, and I kind of touched upon this before when I started my teaching job, you know, back when Cine and I were roommates and we had, you know, our whole lives ahead of us, as they say, it was a dream come true. So success to me at that moment felt like feeling. . Wow. I achieved this goal that I set for myself.

I have my first job, I have my first salary. I'm living with my best friend. I'm so independent. you know, so in a personal sense that that was what success felt like. And then in terms of being in the classroom, it was my first classroom ever. So having these little, I taught preschool, so having these little pre-K kids coming to school for the first time, and.

loving being there and making friends calling me Miss O'Keefe. you know, succeeding in the day, keeping them safe, having good parent-teacher conference nights, getting good feedback from admin and fellow teachers. that felt so good because again, it was my first time doing this and I felt like I was doing well.

And so how can you, You know, feel good about yourself when you've achieved this goal and it's going according to plan. now my life looks very different than it did then for a lot of reasons. but I think the one constant is that, to me, success correlates with happiness and alignment and staying true to your values.

And the thing about humans is that we evolve over time. So, The things that you're aligned with, the things that bring you happiness are gonna change as you evolve. And I wanted a life that was a little bit more flexible, a little bit more time to follow new interests, new passions to travel, and as a classroom teacher.

Those opportunities aren't there as much. At, at least I felt that they weren't for me. I felt that I gave so much to my job. as I know that all teachers do, you're responsible for all these little lives and their futures, and it's a huge undertaking and it leaves very little space for yourself to go try new things and spend time with family and.

Follow other curiosities, and I just wanted to make space for that. So right now, it's just shifted a bit for me. success just looks like. Having more time with my fiance and my dog and being able to travel whenever we'd like. We, we work remotely now. I still am very much focused on helping others and teaching others in my job, but it just looks a lot different than it did then, and I'm happy and I feel aligned, and that's what is the biggest definition of success.

Christine: amazing. Yeah, an amazing answer. As you were talking, I was just thinking about how much has changed for you, and I think, a big piece of what you were saying, a lot of teachers resonate with the flexibility piece. I feel like maybe mm-hmm. , we both kind of hit on that and we'll definitely talk more about that as the show evolves, but

Georgia: yeah, for sure. I think like all the guests we're gonna have on. , whether they're in the classroom or not, they're innately teachers. , mm-hmm. . And it's really cool to see how, how I've been able to use my teacher skills in other ways. Mm-hmm. and how people we know have done the same in their own unique way and how the educators we know that are still in the classroom.

You know, taking their unique passions and inserting that into the classroom. So it's pretty cool.

Christine: Yeah. So, no, definitely. Thanks for tuning in .

Georgia: Yeah, I think that wraps up our show for today. remember, always listen to your teacher voice and always measure success with your own ruler. Thank you all so much for taking the time to listen.

If you like what you're here today, share it with a teacher who needs this in their life and don't forget to like, comment and subscribe to our show. Thanks. Bye-bye.

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