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  • Writer's pictureGeorgia O'Keefe

It Takes a Village: a Conversation with 1st Grade Teacher Meghan

Updated: Apr 28

On this next episode of Making the Grade podcast, Georgia & Christine are back in the classroom talking to 1st-grade teacher of 10 years (& Georgia’s cousin!), Meghan. This episode really gets into it - as passionate as Meg is about what she does, she also gives her hot takes on the struggles she & other educators are facing as an educator, mom & individual.This one is full of authentic moments: from balancing motherhood & teaching, standardized testing, & the little moments that keep Meghan in the classroom doing what she loves.This episode brings up topics ranging from finding support with coworkers, how the pandemic changed society’s perspectives on teachers (for better THEN worse), & finding your Disney moments as a teacher. If you are in the field & looking for a refreshing & real account from a fellow teacher, you don’t want to miss this one!

Christine 0:03

Welcome to Making the Grade. An education podcast for current and former teachers to share notes define success, and assess their own happiness in the classroom and beyond. We're your hosts, Christine and Georgia.

Georgia 0:16

The problems in education may seem endless, but so are the possibilities. Listen laugh and leave our episodes empowered to define your own success as an educator as an individual.

Georgia 0:32

Hello fellow educators, and welcome to Making the Grade podcast we are your host, Christina, Georgia, and we're so excited you're tuning in to share your teacher voice. Today we'll be talking with our guests Megan about how to have a happier classroom, warm moments that keep teachers going and possible reasons why some teachers are pivoting careers.

Christine 0:53

Teachers, have you ever felt like there's a disconnect between what's been asked of you and what your students actually need? You're not alone, you know that you're supposed to be focusing on all the curriculum and standardized testing. Some days you feel like what your students really need is just to connect more with themselves and each other. Our guests, Meghan is passionate about fostering happiness in her classroom, which sometimes means putting her students and her own needs before her lesson objectives.

Christine 1:25

Thank you so much for being here today. Megan.

Meghan 1:28

I'm so excited. I'm big podcast person. So this feels like a dream come true.

Georgia 1:33

Oh, good. I'm glad I know you love crime podcast. And we recently chatted about the Laguna Beach podcast, which I also love. So this one's a little bit different. But hopefully just as fun.

Meghan 1:46

We need you need educator podcasts. We're big group of people, right? So,

Georgia 1:49

so true. So true. So fun fact, Megan is my cousin. And she's a first grade teacher. She's a mom. And like we just mentioned, we all kind of share a love of true crime podcast. Megan's taught at a variety of school settings, settings and states. And she once had a camera crew surprised her with an award in her classroom. We can't wait to hear about that one later. So first, we have to start our episode way that we always do with our Would You Rather yours? So are you up for a little game?

Meghan 2:27

Ready? I love it. Which

Georgia 2:28

other? Okay, good. All right. So this one, I'm gonna go first if that's okay, Christine. And this one is going to be a teacher related one. So would you rather have to eat lunch every single day with your kids never get you never get a lunch break without them. Or have to have them be there every day during your prep period. But like your assist, you have an assistant, they're watching them, but they're they're there. While you're preparing for your next lesson.

Meghan 3:05

I would rather ate lunch with them. Which is interesting. Because I feel like at that point, we don't even have a lot of time for lunch anyway, the prep is a little bit longer by like 10 minutes. So I feel like that'd be my sacred time and lunch at that point. By the time you use the bathroom, drop them off. Warm up your lunch, you really only eat for like 10 minutes. So

Christine 3:30

no, that makes sense. It's funny. What? Georgia? Yeah.

Georgia 3:35

I was gonna say eat lunch without them, like by myself, because I actually in one of our episodes, we've seen an AI talk about that and how like, I loved eating lunch alone, or like having that time. Um, but when you phrase it that way I get it. And I'm like, what could just eat a snack while I'm having my crap too? Yes. Yeah.

Christine 3:59

Yeah, I think I ate with my students a lot. And I had to prep them a lot, too. So

Meghan 4:05

that's what's tough is you don't get a ton of breaks. But with the lunch with the kids, I'd probably be opening up juice boxes and yogurt pouches the whole time. I probably won't get to eat but

Christine 4:16

yeah, what grade are you with right now?

Meghan 4:19

I'm with first graders. So a little bit near what's like certain ended tasks, but you know, that's okay. They need to eat. Yeah,

Christine 4:29

definitely. Good one.

Georgia 4:31

I love doing the wedge rather, because kind of like we just said, it makes me think differently. I think I know what I choose. And then you hear someone else's explanation. Oh, I totally get that. But the point being for anyone listening is not a teacher is that teachers get hardly any time to themselves throughout the day. Very often you are eating lunch with them because something happened or missed your prep because there's an assembly or who knows though. wasn't

Christine 5:00

that that's always stinky when you miss your prep for an assembly

Christine 5:07

All right, how about not teacher related? Pizza or tacos? Pizza?

Meghan 5:15

Yeah, that was a tough one.

Christine 5:18

But I am too. Yeah.

Meghan 5:20

Pizza cuz I feel like I don't know pizza. I guess you can have tacos many different ways too, but I feel like you can have pizza in a variety of ways.

Christine 5:30

Yeah, and there's so many different styles and yeah, big car girl pizza. What about you, Georgia.

Georgia 5:37

I would choose tacos in a heartbeat. And my dad is probably just gonna say

Christine 5:44

my dad is we're sorry, Michael. Jordan. My dad,

Meghan 5:51

your dad's pizza for you.

Georgia 5:54

I love that. Maybe that's why I was spoiled. I like had so much that we had tacos a lot too. But I don't know

Meghan 6:04

that your parents pizzas like, so good.

Meghan 6:07

You ever feel guilty when you have tacos? Not on a Tuesday so that you shouldn't be eating it because it's not Taco Tuesday.

Georgia 6:15

I used to feel that way. However, right now. I'm starving, and I are traveling. And we're in. We're in Texas right now. And we've been making our way through the south. And tacos are everywhere.

Christine 6:26

I was just gonna ask. So you know, part of the reason why I asked this question was because I'm curious too about the best taco that you've had in the south right now. Because you're in Texas right now. Right? Yep. Texas right

Georgia 6:37

now. That's a really hard question. Because we have had tacos so much. Like Sergey and I talked about this recently, and I would say that my favorite tacos are from a place called white duck taco shop. It's there. It's a chain so you can get them. various states we've had them in. That was my favorite. They actually had a buffalo chicken taco and a steak and cheese talk though. That sounds so good. Yeah. And then Sergey said his favorite is a place called velvet taco, which we went to or I think it's called velvet taco. Yeah, we went to it in Houston, but they're all around also. And just really good. So I

Meghan 7:19

guess when you frame it like that, maybe I would pick a taco.

Christine 7:26

variety there too. Yeah. All right. What about, um, beach or mountains? Beach? I don't even need to know the thought there.

Meghan 7:38

Would be nice, but if someone told me I could only have one, it would be beach.

Christine 7:41

Okay. Makes sense. George, are you too?

Georgia 7:44

Yeah. You say mountains, right? Yeah. I knew it.

Christine 7:48

Well, I don't know. I don't know. I'm becoming a beach girl. Because Viola, My son loves the beach. And I feel like I'm getting into it. Now. I kind of got it. But yeah, just I grew up skiing and no sighs Yeah.

Christine 8:03

All right. Let's switch gears. Let's talk about education and why we're here. But all these things made us who we are today. So they're important. Yes. But why don't you tell us a little bit about your journey. Becoming a Teacher taking the M tells like your first job. A little summary of that.

Meghan 8:22

Yeah, I mean, I honestly I've worked with children. My whole life. I worked in daycares. I babysat I did all that stuff. And then I decided that I loved working with children, but I wanted went to school to be a journalist. And when I started Stonehill, my undergraduate year, I was not an education major. I had this like, dream of being a news anchor.

Christine 8:44

I never knew that. That was what I wanted to be.

Meghan 8:49

I wanted to be on Channel Five news. I that was it. Like, that's what I'm gonna do. And so after the first semester, I hated every single journalism class I had, and I'm sorry, don't help because I feel like they're gonna be like, I did. I did not like them. And I just felt like I made a huge mistake. And so I switched it. Like, I was like, I like kids. I feel like I could do this. And I'm so glad I did. Because that was really where my passion was. And you know, throughout stonewalls education process it really it just it felt like that fit. And then you know, graduated, and my husband got into a Ph. D. program in upstate New York, which was going to be six years, five to six years and I thought, oh, gosh, full that's a really long time to be a part. Let me try to get up there. And I did. I got up there and I got a job right away and started teaching in a small Catholic school and then had to fight to get a New York State teaching license. Oh my gosh, I feel like I should backtrack and like let people know that are trying to get their education degree that M tells and state tests are they are are tough, but if you can get through it, it doesn't matter because it will not affect your teaching in any form of sigh failed the MTEL, five times, five times the math MTEL. And they told me that I couldn't student teach unless I passed it, which means I wouldn't get my degree in the state of Massachusetts.

Christine 10:20

So they have gotten a lot more lenient with that. So that's I've been working with students in like in passing all of their mbtiles and like teacher training stuff. And they have emergency licenses. Now, they have alternative tests now, because I think people have recognized that, you know, those, those standards are not feasible for a lot of individuals, especially if you don't grow up and live in Massachusetts, like, for so many reasons, if you're not used to standardized testing, some students like go through private schools or parochial schools, they don't do it a lot. Like there's so many factors that go into those tests. So I struggle with those.

Georgia 11:00

They're not indicative of if you're going to be a good teacher, no correlation. Like,

Meghan 11:05

I wish the state would just let you write them a check, because that's really what it is. Right? They want some revenue, and I totally understand that part of it. But then don't make us don't put us through, if you have a an undergraduate program, and you graduated, that should be enough. Right. And New York State, I got to take them all over again for New York State. So the states are not reciprocal.

Christine 11:26

No, you're right. Massachusetts, New York, I think California to

Christine 11:31

super calm. It's funny, because they're all such strong education states. So in, you would think that they'd be like, oh appeal for your degree from that state, then you must be qualified to be in this state.

Meghan 11:43

Because you can teach in any other state with a New York or mass license, because but now, they're snobby, I guess. They always

Meghan 11:51

they aren't. They want to one up each other. But I was able to pass them. And so then I was able to get into a public school in upstate New York, which really kind of took off where I felt like I really took off in my teaching career. So and then move back here and still teaching ever since.

Christine 12:07

Yeah, no, I can't wait to get more into like your switch from parochial school to public and what you're doing now, but I'm really curious about. So you've been working with kids your whole life? And you're a newer mom? How, how do you balance those things? And like, how does one affect the other for you? I guess what, what's your advice on that?

Meghan 12:31

The transition was tough, I didn't expect it to be that hard. I feel like every mom and every teacher can probably relate. But there is no magic work life balance, it's impossible. And I beat myself up over it for since I started working. So my son is only 16 months old. I went back when he was like three and a half months, because we have terrible maternity leave in the public school system. I was so grateful that I even got that 12 weeks. Because I know not everybody can. But I completely lost sight of what I was doing. You know, I was so used to being able to give 110% to just the classroom. And learning how to not do that was really challenging. If I was being a great mom, I was being a bad teacher, if I was being a great teacher, I was being a bad mom, let alone out a wife and a friend. So it was it was really challenging. I feel like now I just I set intent. So whatever it was for that day, whatever it is for that day, that's what it's gonna be, and it has saved me. And I want to spread that more because I watched my colleagues, we have a moms group it. And it's so awesome. And there are just weeks where the group feed is going crazy, like so and so was sick. This is happening. I can't do this. I can't come in can somebody take my copies for me consent, but it's, it's so helpful to have that strong base and realize I'm not by myself. And this, this balance is just impossible. And I don't know how we fix it. I have some ideas. But no,

Georgia 14:13

that's a common theme. And a lot of the guests that we've talked to is don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask for help and like find your people because you're not alone. Like it can feel that way. But having co workers that are going through the same thing that can support you and vice versa. It's huge if you want to survive a teaching career.

Meghan 14:38

There's no other way. It's that saying it takes a village drags me crazy.

Christine 14:45

I was just gonna say it feels like you kind of have a little teacher village that one that's really

Meghan 14:50

village in my district. So shout out to my teacher village. Thank you.

Georgia 14:55

I feel like sometimes those I know what you mean. They're like those overused phrases that drive you Yes, but then you think about it. You're like, is this actually true?

Meghan 15:04

It really is. You're like, oh, oh, well. I don't know there are saying that it takes a village. I don't know.

Georgia 15:12

Yeah. Well, we'll come up with one. Yeah. Make the making the grade tagline related to that? Um, what would you say? Are there like, anything that helps day to day, but aside from all the people that are helping you, like, moments that get you through on like, really hard days in the classroom?

Meghan 15:35

Yeah, so that's, I love this one. I like I was already kind of like mulling over some thoughts. I feel like for me, it's so general. And I feel like I'm gonna, like disappoint people, when they're like, Well, what are these moments and like, there's nothing, there's no Disney moment. I feel like I live in a hallmark world. That's my mother says I like there's always I'm always like waiting for this magical moment to come. And I've now found that, for me has to be these little moments. And that's really what brings me joy. So I have first graders, they love to hug. And they'll hug me at the most rare I'll be doing something so simple as sharpening a pencil. And I'll feel like a little hug. They come in, and they can't wait to tell me about what their dog did overnight. They they want or at recess, they'll be playing teacher and one of them is Mrs. Shot. And that it's like, they just think the world of you. And so in and that goes for other grades I taught second and third. And I had third graders that wouldn't play at recess, they just wanted to talk to me. And that's the stuff we're like, that's what you need to focus on. They want to be with you. And so you need to remember that. And when you're feeling sad about not being with your child or not having the flexibility that you know, other people have these little, little kids want to be with you. And so you should give them that too. And that's what I try to do when I get to work. That's

Georgia 16:57

well said. And I think that that's what got me through my last year of teaching i i taught preschool. And so yeah, they're they're little and they see you as another mom, honestly. And you know, I almost think that they can sense to if you're having a bit of frustration or like a hard moment, and they can like feel that. And I remember many times them coming up and hugging me or I love you miss O'Keefe and it's always in like just the right moment. Last year, I was about to quit, walk out. That's why I'm here.

Meghan 17:34

Yes, it's so true. So that's why I like I feel like that's everybody always wants, like that big moment where like their student, like, it's not even about the academics really, because they learn things over time. And they'll you'll see it and like their worksheets and like what they produce, but it's their little, it's the body language, it's their mannerisms. It's what they say to you. But I think that is what teachers should focus more on.

Christine 17:59

No, I love that. And there's, I mean, I, I worked with older kids, for the most part, I only had like, kindergarten and student teaching. But I feel like there's something to be said for having the same group of kids for 180 days and seeing them day in and day out. And like building that community. And just like walking into to the room and like reading their face and be like, I know what kind of a morning you had, like, just, there's something about that closeness, that like, is so unique to the classroom that you don't get in any other setting. And you're right, it is like all that little stuff is the big stuff, you know, exactly. That. All right, let's see. So, in the same idea, I guess, are on the same idea of these little more moments that are, you know, so amazing in and of themselves. In the same way, we're still talking about, like all the challenging pieces of teaching in this and like the like, oh, like I was ready to walk out and quit and then you give me a little hug and now it feels okay for this moment in time. But what do you think is happening in education since, like the pandemic hit and there have been these crazy shortages, people leaving the classroom? Why do you think like being a current classroom teacher? Why do you think that's happening? And

Meghan 19:23

I feel like right now, I mean, that's crossed my mind so many times is like, can I even can I even do this career anymore? And I, from what I've seen within my district and surrounding districts, there's a huge emphasis on touching kids up. Academic wise, everybody's very concerned about the learning loss since the pandemic, and I feel like during the pandemic it was so that was the Disney moment was families and the state and admin all of a sudden looked at us like heroes. And we had our Disney moment we were back that was it like oh my god They're finally going to realize how hard we work. And that it's more than just the academics and like, there's that connection. And then the second we got back into the classroom and the mask came off and the distance was done. It was like, Well, no, you're not doing enough. They're, they're not getting back to where they were, they've all this loss. My district has spent a lot of time focusing on this time on learning. So there's this big push that we're not, they're not in school enough that the actual hours that they're there, they're now nitpicking how long recesses, how long transitions are how long snack is, and that that's all not going to add up to enough time on learning. It's like a ripple down effect. And so they're very concerned with that. And our big push has been, you know, we can't do it all we're tired, you know, we're exhausted the pandemic for other districts of other professions, all of a sudden, they have this work life balance, and they're being treated with all this respect, and like, giving them time, Oh, you want to work from home this day, or you want to be in this meeting? We don't have that. And so I feel like we sort of lost our, our moment in the sun. And now we're sort of being told that it's on us to fix it, we have to fix it. And that's why teachers are works Ofsted. We can't fix it. I don't know, I think for me, the answer is less of a focus on that and more of realizing that we're tired and burnt out and the kids are too and that we need to kind of find a happy medium until we can get back on to some sort of normal level again. Yeah.

Georgia 21:43

I never thought about it that way, what you just said how the pandemic has kind of helped other careers in a certain way, you know, oh, let's give them self care, Fridays, once a month. Let's, you know, like you said, you need to work from home. That's fine. And, and a lot of these careers already had stuff like that in place before. COVID. Two, but yeah, that's an interesting way to think of it. And it's 100% true that in no way. Has teaching changed for the better after the pandemic.

Meghan 22:19

So close. Like I used to be like, right in the cabinet. It was like, oh, it's like gonna happen. Yeah, equals are the three things. And that's coming from what I see what I experienced. But I've heard it's, it's lack of flexibility in your in your day to day work. You and it's too much pressure to fix something that doesn't that shouldn't be all put on the school district and teachers. Those are the two big things. Yeah. Great points.

Georgia 22:53

And that's a huge, huge undertaking to think about. How, how do we fix that? How do you know? That's a big thing that needs to be fixed? Where do you even start? I know. Do you have any suggestions on what could maybe make a small dent in making this huge problem a little bit better?

Meghan 23:28

Yes, and now, I mean, our district is also doing a good job of trying to focus on the social emotional learning. So although there's a lot of this nitpicking, with time on learning, they're realizing that the students social emotional skills are are lacking. And so that's a small piece of it. And I feel like that will really help. Unfortunately, I think as educators like we are technically like, I shouldn't say that. We're like, I'm downplaying all of our hard work. But we are, in some sense, a glorified daycare. And so we will never have that flexibility that that will never be fixed. Unfortunately, in we we are the place that kids go from eight to three, and so their parents can work. But I feel like less of an emphasis on the academics and more put back on the social emotional learning will certainly help. And then I've been hearing about some really cool things that some teachers I know have been looking into instead of being a general education teacher, which have kind of piqued my interest and sort of keeping it in my back pocket as something maybe down the road to get that work life balance that I find that a general education or a special education classroom teacher just can't have. So I feel like that's how you'll fix that piece.

Christine 24:48

No, it's a good point I heard about recently. There were districts not in Massachusetts, but in I don't, I don't even want to guess which state it was. I don't remember But there are teachers who split the classroom basically like a special educator, and then a general education teacher. Kind of like tag team the days of the week, essentially. And like Monday was a Friday, Tuesday, Thursday, or whatever the mix might be. I was like, that's something that might get me back in the classroom. Like, I would love that, you know, because you're still seeing, Yeah, whoa, you, you know, I'm

Meghan 25:29

used to it was called job sharing. So essentially, yeah. And I, I wish they would bring that back, I'm sure just wasn't. Yeah, cost. I mean, I don't know you're paying two teachers for one classroom. But like you said, How amazing would that be, from a parent's standpoint, to be able to be home a little bit more, but also still be in the classroom that we love so much? Yeah, definitely. I've heard a little bit. It's like, basically consulting work. I, my husband's cousin. Her husband works for a company called BrainPOP, Georgia to

Christine 26:09

BrainPOP. Oh, do

Meghan 26:10

you really get seen said that? And he was, oh my gosh, we can we pay teachers to consult with us all the time. And I think that is so interesting. You know, they make a program they've tested to make a video, they want to know your opinion. You set your own hours, you'd be a consultant for not only BrainPOP, but million other companies that have educational purposes are also heard. You know, companies like Bright Horizons that does the daycare need teachers to create the curriculum that they use, even though it's like, I always made me laugh when I was a teacher in like an infant room. Like we had curriculum with the infants. And it was like, you know, I don't even remember now. But I'm thinking, Oh, my gosh, like, I could write curriculum, and then that's where you would get your flexibility. Because I think my biggest fear is, this is gonna sound silly, but like not that month and a half of the summer time is like gold. And I would never want to lose that. And I think that's why that in retirement, or why teachers don't leave. And that can't be our reason, that can't be our reason. It's not a good enough one for our mental health and our families. But it's something to think about, which is why the consulting work would be kind of nice, you can sort of pick and choose when you work.

Georgia 27:30

I think you're right, that that is like one of the huge driving factors of teachers feeling like they can't leave. And to piggyback on that also feeling like, what else can I do? Because we're kind of just becoming aware of these jobs that you're mentioning, you know, for teachers who do want to stay in education and make a difference in education. There are so many other jobs that we're so qualified for and can add so much value to. And I think it's starting to become more widespread. People are talking about it more, maybe it has to do with social media, or podcasts or whatever. But we're catching on, oh, my gosh, there's this job. There's back job. There's, oh, I could do a job outside of education if I wanted to. Also, I'm qualified for that. So yeah, I think you're, you're right. Those are Reasons teachers are saying they're starting to open their eyes of if education is not for me anymore. There are other ways to figure out retirement, and to figure out summer to figure out flexibility. There's yeah, there's other for sure.

Christine 28:34

Yeah. Yeah, like you said, it's those are the reasons that a lot of people do stay. And but like you said to they're not good enough. I agree. All right. So what about since you started in the classroom, so you talked about, you've taught in different states, you've taught in different school settings? What were I guess, when you started? What was your definition of success? As a beginning teacher as a new teacher in the classroom, versus now your, how many years in

Meghan 29:12

now? This is my 10th year, 10 years? And

Christine 29:15

that's a good chunk of time. Which is cool. Yeah. So how, how is your idea of success? Different? How are you making a grade now versus when you started?

Meghan 29:29

I really needed external validation. When I first started, I needed my evaluators to say positive things constantly. I needed parents to tell me how happy their child was. I needed my colleagues to be like, Wow, she worked so hard. I feel like success to me was anyone noticing that I was putting the work in? Because sometimes I felt like you know, when you're when you're young, and you're just starting you like you take it you want everyone to know how serious you're taking this. And so For me, that was the external validation was success. And still to this day, I admit there is something about, you know, an evaluator saying to you, Wow, your class did a good job, or that was a great lesson. I like how you made that. However, I now have decided that Success to me is literally just one day at a time, I've completely had to transform the way that I think about teaching being a parent, and I have, I've stopped beating myself up over that I don't need the external validation it is, if I get up and I go, and every child is smiling in my room at some point during the day, and then I come home and my son is smiling. That's, that's success to me. Because it was it was too much, it was too overwhelming. And even now, you know, we kind of get drawn back into like, oh, well look at the data, are you being a successful teacher, like, Oh, my evaluator didn't give me a compliment. During this walkthrough. They gave me a suggestion. And every time I tried to get sucked back in there, I, you know, I've done like, remind myself that this is not going to make or break my career. I will say having professional status helps me feel that pressure that you could just be lepto at any minute, but I think, yeah, I don't need the external validation anymore. Or as much.

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