Tiny Big Moments Podcast (Episode 1): Who you are is how you teach



Listen time: 19 minutes

The following is a full episode transcript.


Ms. Andrea: Well I just have to say 2020 has been something else. And the biggest enemy of 2020 is wifi.

Ms. Wanda: We were singing, the other day we were singing, and we used to get cut off. So what you hear was like [vocalizing skipping sound]. And I was like “oh I don’t know what to sing.” So I’m clapping away and [vocalizing skipping sounds] I’m like “oh my god.” It’s bad cause we don’t have wifi in the classrooms. There’s only certain areas in this building - like for example, this room. Sometimes I think it’s me and I’m like what am I doing wrong? Oh, what am I doing wrong? But it’s not me. But since, you know. You know me and technology, so I always blame me. Well, we gotta do what we gotta do.


Ms. A: I’m telling you, wifi is the enemy of 2020. I’m telling you.


Jennifer Vargas: That was Ms. Andrea and Ms. Wanda sharing stories about the unique challenges they faced during the past tumultuous school year. They are both preschool teachers from the Bronx House community center.


Cindy Gray: Hi, I'm Cindy Gray. I use she/her pronouns, and I am a ParentCorps Educator. In a past life, I taught early childhood special education and worked with preschool age children with disabilities.


JV: And I'm Jennifer Vargas and use she/her pronouns. I am also a ParentCorps Educator and a former Pre-K teacher.


And this is the Tiny Big Moments Podcast from ParentCorps. Tiny Big Moments features true stories from teachers that highlight social-emotional learning moments from the pre-K classroom. Thank you so much to Ms. Andrea and Ms. Wanda for sharing their stories with us.


CG: Yes, thank you so, so much. And I think we have to take a moment just to say: This year was hard.


JV: This school year was a roller coaster. The COVID pandemic and the ongoing movements for racial justice impacted us all in one way or another.


CG: Yeah. I mean, personally, the isolation during this time was incredibly difficult. And for me as a biracial East Asian person, during this time in the rise of anti-Asian violence, when I needed a friend, it was tough to reach out. I didn’t know what to do sometimes.


JV: For me, I just, I’ve been sitting in a lot of gratitude and privilege for having my health and then also feeling guilty that I wasn’t supporting teachers in the ways that we usually do in another school year. So just navigating those feelings for me was tough this year.


And on top of everything that may have been happening in their personal lives, teachers also had to be so flexible at school. Adapting to teaching virtually, then in person or blended, back to virtual again. It could be so confusing, frustrating, and exhausting.


CG: So exhausting, I’m sure. And every single day though, teachers still showed up. They had their virtual parent-teacher conferences, they sent home activity bags, they made videos of them read alouds, and so much more. I mean, I had the privilege of staying in touch with several teachers this past year, and they shared so many of their stories with me. So today, we are looking back and reflecting on this whirlwind of a year because, at ParentCorps, we have a huge value for self-reflection.


JV: And when we say “values,” we mean that everyone has a set of ideals, principles, and beliefs that matter to them and ultimately guide their actions. These values are essentially who we are and what is most important to us, and our values and beliefs guide how we show up personally and professionally.


Self-reflection can be difficult, especially in a year when everything was changing and it felt like we could never stop. But what would it be like to press the pause button - just for a few moments - to reflect on this year?


Today, we’re sharing some tips to practice reflecting on our values in action and you’ll hear more from Ms. Wanda and Ms. Andrea along the way.

CG: So as educators, we often already reflect on our teaching practices - the activities that went well, the lessons that went well, and the activities and lessons that didn’t go so hot. But today we’re encouraging you to take a moment to reflect a little bit more deeply - a little more personally. And that’s our first tip: know thy self - take time to reflect on what values you hold, and how they show up in the classroom.


Tip #1: Know thy self. Take time to reflect on what values you hold, and how they show up in the classroom.

When I was teaching, I definitely had this mentality that home was home, and work was work. So it didn’t matter what was happening in my personal life. I just told myself, “Leave it at the door and just go into the classroom and do my job.” After a while, I realized if we all left everything at the classroom door, all of our classrooms would look and feel exactly the same.


When I started teaching in California, I was one of two classes and our classrooms couldn’t be any more different. So my colleague who taught in the other class, she really valued having a democratic classroom. So every month, she would hold a classroom meeting with her preschoolers and they would decide the theme of the month. Awesome. Really cool. I don’t play like that.


Democracy in the classroom was a value for her, and it showed up in her classroom. Organization and planning was a value for me. That showed up in my classroom. So our classrooms looked different because of who we were.


JV: So for me, it was actually the reverse experience in my classroom. Like, I really valued creativity, freedom, and seeing that come out in the students. But my coworker, she really also valued organization, and being prepared, and having a really thoughtful, planned out curriculum for the children. And that showed up. But luckily, we were able to work together for a few years and we were both able to bring in our values in a way that felt good to us, and also really created a cohesive classroom community.


CG: So, we develop our unique set of values based on our unique set of experiences. All those experiences can come from an education program that you just came from, you can develop that based on where you grew up, your race, your culture, your beliefs, etc. And this is why we also think it’s super important to get to know what values and experiences you are bringing into the classroom every day because we are.


Often, our values come from how we were raised or our families.


Ms. W: And my grandmother always, always told me right after your parents the person you have to respect the most - after your parents - are your teachers. Because they teach you everything you have to know in life. And it’s so true. She used to tell me when I was small and I was like “yeah, right.” But it’s true. It’s true.


CG: That was Ms. Wanda reflecting on her value of respect for teachers and her profession. Her grandmother passed down this value, and it’s clearly one of the reasons she has so much pride in her profession. Even with the challenges of remote learning and her own hesitations with technology that she shared at the beginning of the episode, she took her job seriously. That’s her value of respect showing up in the classroom. I’m just curious, Jennifer, what comes up for you when you reflect on a value that is important to you?


JV: One value that comes up for me is community. My value for community comes from my family. I am the daughter of Dominican parents. Both of my parents are from small towns in the Dominican Republic where the people in the towns really looked out for each other. My paternal grandmother, my dad’s mother who is now 96 years old -- her name is Lula -- she had 10 sons. And not only was she raising her own children, but her and my grandfather would often take in children from the community whose parents were struggling. So my grandparents, they were always taking in and inviting, not only other people’s children into their homes, but anybody who really needed a place to stay.


So, for me, I think that that value for community really showed up in my teaching. I valued collaborating with my teaching team. And in my classroom, I really valued creating a community of learners where everyone felt valued, seen, and respected. And the same for families because I really wanted families to feel safe.


CG: That history, that love, that kindness came to you in the value of community. You brought that into your classroom and even just reflecting on, like, why do I care about this so much? It helps you to understand, well, I care about this because my grandparents valued it, too.


This is why reflecting on values can be so powerful, right? Reflecting on values and where they come from helps us to understand why we are the teacher that we are.


JV: But with this pandemic, showing up for students in the ways they wanted to wasn’t easy for many teachers. At times, I’m sure it felt impossible.


Ms. A: Me, in general, I’m a very nurturing -- I love hugs, high fives, things like that. And this year, I find myself to be very cold. Given the situation and what’s going on, and the distancing, and keeping everybody at an arm’s length. I feel like they didn’t get as much of the nurturing experience, or we didn’t get that bond that I usually have with the kids. When they start to cry, and I went, I stopped myself. I spoke to them, but I kept them, you know, here. Like, I wouldn’t let them come that close to me. And that was kind of hard for me because that’s not the person that I am.


JV: Ms. Andrea clearly has a value for nurturing, and it was difficult to hold true to that value. Ms. Wanda had a different struggle being fully remote:


Ms. W: We have to mute everybody in order for us to talk. And then, whoever’s gonna talk, we unmute. But I want to unmute everybody for example when we’re singing a song I want to hear everybody. But we have to. When we read a story, we have to mute everybody so they can hear us because the background noise is horrible. Horrible. Well, if we had them in person, when we ask a question, everybody will raise their hand, or they would shout out the answer. And it’s okay. This is pre-K, so it’s okay. Virtual, we can’t do the same thing. It’s very, it’s strange.


JV: She has a value for hearing everyone’s voice, but the logistics of technology made it really hard. When our actions are not in line with our values, we can have strong feelings - it can feel uncomfortable or frustrating. This brings us to Tip number two: take time to check in with yourself. Take a moment to stop and reflect: Are my actions reflecting how I want to show up in my classroom? What can I do differently to act in accordance with my values?


Tip #2: Take time to check in with yourself.

CG: I have a story. Well, so. I really value fun in the classroom - fun for just fun’s sake. But I remember this one time. We were making slime in the classroom, which is probably my favorite activity ever. But the problem was that all of my students were very averse to anything that had that kind of squishy, slimy texture. Literally, when we passed around the slime, some of my students started to just burst into tears and cry. But at the time I really was like, “This is fun! Come on! This is fun! You have to have fun!!!” But clearly it was not fun for them. I was trying to force them to have fun with this slime that I loved. Anyway, I ended up giving up by the end of that activity. I just sat there with the slime by myself while the kids literally ran away to go play at centers instead.


JV: Yeah. I mean, that definitely could have gone better. But it sounds like you were really thinking “this is fun for me, so this must be fun for my students.” But it seems like in that moment, your actions didn’t match your values. And it made you feel upset, so there wasn’t alignment there. And you know, these are the exact moments we’re talking about as to why reflecting on your values might help. And as you look back, Cindy, what would you have done differently so that your actions did match your values?


CG: Well, it’s kind of embarrassing to be thinking back about it now.


JV: Listen, I have so many moments that I think back to in my teaching that I’m like, uhhh yeah.


CG: Yeah.


JV: We’ve all been there.


CG: I wish I did take a step back a little bit and just checked in with myself to say, “You know what, this isn’t going the way I planned. It’s not in line with my values of having fun in the classroom.” I feel like I still would have tried that slime activity, honestly. But if my students didn’t think that was fun, I could have been more flexible to shift gears. You know, some of my kids, they loved being helpers. So maybe they could stir the slime together with a spoon instead of just playing with the slime. Maybe they could’ve washed the dishes after. I think, you know, instead of literally all the kids running away to go to centers, maybe some of the kids would have actually stayed and tried it instead of doing that. So, looking back I wish I could have done that, but now I know better.


JV: I love what you said about checking in and thinking about how you could still remember your value even if it might look different when things don’t go as planned. As Ms. Andrea said, being a nurturing teacher had to look different this year because of the pandemic. And Ms. Wanda had to hear children’s voices in a different way too. And even on a typical school day, like the one you shared with us, we might need to take a second to step back, reflect, and check in by asking, “How are my values showing up right now?” Especially when our values are being tested.


CG: This year, a lot of our values have been tested. So, tip number three is to give yourself grace. Sometimes, you won't be able to show up in ways that genuinely align with your values. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, especially when times are challenging.


Tip #3: Give yourself grace. You will prioritize some values while other values take a back seat. And that's okay.

JV: Give yourself grace. In times of crisis, we must adjust. And, as we adjust, that means some values take priority. For Ms. Wanda, taking care of herself was a top priority:


Ms. W: Well you have to make it your business to take care of yourself. You have to put time aside and, you know, close your eyes and say well, you know, Saturday I’m going to do my hair, I’m gonna do my nails. I wanna feel good. So no, I make it my business. Do not call me at eight o’clock because I’m watching my show. So, no. From 8-9 it’s me. I like my show, so don’t bother me. You have to, you have to. Because it’s you. Nobody else is gonna do it for you.


CG: Words of wisdom from Ms. Wanda. She is so right. No one else is going to do it for you. But sometimes, it’s not that easy. If some values take priority that also means some values take a back seat.


Ms. A: I wish I did more self care. You know, you’re always on the go and even at home, you’re on the go. You don’t really take time for yourself. You don’t.


Ms. W: That is so true.


Ms. A: And something that I need to work on is to start taking more time for myself. Even if it’s for a pedicure or, you know, getting your nails done or your hair done, even going for a massage, something, or sitting and watching your favorite show. You know, by the time - I don’t even watch television - by the time a certain time comes, I’m exhausted and I fall asleep. And then I come and do this all over again. You know it’s to that point that this year was very hard to think of things. What am I going to do online with these kids? How am I going to hold their attention? What activity can I do? What story am I going to read? Can I find a story that's going with my theme? That’s all the things that run through your head even when you're sleeping. I just told Wanda before I went to sleep I would think about what I'm doing for the next day and once I got the idea, then I would go to sleep. Cause if I didn't think of it and I came here blind-sighted. That, I can’t do that. It messes me up.


JV: Phew, that sounds like a lot. So I’m really hearing Ms. Andrea talking about having some conflicting values here. In looking back, she has a value for self care. And at the same time, she values being prepared and organized. But for her, self-care was a value that had to take a back seat for the time being because with the little time she had at the end of the day, she had to use it to plan for the next day and be prepared. And you know what, that’s okay. Sometimes grace is giving ourselves permission to choose which value to act on and be kind to ourselves about our decision.


And, Cindy, I think that you so beautifully earlier also modeled how to give yourself grace in reflecting on how you would have acted differently in your classroom. And you said something important - now that you know better, you can do better.

CG: I didn’t even think about that, but you’re right. Like, being able to reflect actually is a chance to be able to give ourselves some grace, right? So yeah, you’re right. Sometimes grace is giving ourselves permission to choose which value to act on and be kind to ourselves about our decision.


JV: Let’s recap our three tips for reflecting on our values and the 2020 school year. Tip number one is to Know Thy Self. Ultimately, our values guide our actions, and the way we show up in the classroom is tied deeply to what we believe and what is important to us.


CG: Tip number two is take time to check in with yourself. You can ask yourself, “Are my actions reflecting how I truly want to show up in my classroom?” Reflect and take a moment to adjust when you can.


JV: Tip number three is to give yourself grace. Sometimes, you will prioritize values, while other values have to take a back seat. And that's okay. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, especially when times are challenging.


That’s it for this episode of Tiny Big Moments Podcast, brought to you by ParentCorps! Thank you again to Ms. Andrea and Ms. Wanda for their stories and for taking the time to reflect on their guiding values and the 2020 school year.


CG: This episode was written and edited by me, my lovely co-host Jennifer Vargas, Lisa Ellrodt and Blake McKay. Thank you to all ParentCorps staff who made this episode possible, including Francesca Barreiro, Sair Goldenberg, Paula Longoria, Kevin Specter, Deb Stellabotte, Kai-ama Hamer & Kat Rosenblatt.


JV: And Tiny Big thank you to you, the listeners. We hope you enjoyed this episode! Do you have a tiny big moment you’d like to share with us? Let us know. You can contact us at parentcorps@nyulangone.org. That’s ParentCorps C-O-R-P-S at NYU L-A-N-G-O-N-E dot org. Make sure to include “Tiny Big Moments” in the subject line so we know it’s for us.


CG: The Tiny Big Moments podcast is brought to you by ParentCorps. For more information about ParentCorps and this episode, along with the transcript, visit our website weareparentcorps.org. I’m Cindy.


JV: And I’m Jennifer. Bye.


CG: See you next time.