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What’s it Really Like to Teach in a Pandemic: A Conversation With Tracy Selock
Episode 1216th March 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
00:00:00 00:57:01

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In this episode of All Things Marketing and Education, we sat down with Tracy Selock, who teaches gifted and talented fifth- and sixth-graders in Kankakee, IL, and is an adjunct professor at Olivet Nazarene University, and a founder of the Nourished Teachers Facebook community. Elana Leoni, CEO at Leoni Consulting Group (LCG), chatted with Tracy about what it’s like to teach in the pandemic's third year, what teachers need most from the EdTech industry, and the critical importance of self-care.

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Access this episode's show notes, including links to the audio, a summary, and helpful resources.

Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I've devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I'm excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hi everyone. Welcome to this week's episode of All Things Marketing and Education. Today I have the pleasure of talking with Tracy Selock. Tracy is a classroom teacher of 26 years, oh my gosh, she currently teaches a fifth- and sixth-grade class of gifted and talented students. She's got lots of teaching degrees. Let me see, she's got a teaching degree from Illinois State University. She's also got two masters. She's making me feel like a slouch here [laughs]. The first is in teaching and learning from the University of St. Francis. The second is in instructional technology from Nova Southeastern University. She's an adjunct professor, holy moly. She's also been teaching at the Master's program at Olivet Nazarene University for 12 years. So she's highly educated, but why I have Tracy on the show is she's also highly passionate, and she's very articulate. And you all, I'm so excited that you're just going to get the real-real from what's going on –

Tracy:

[Laughs]

Elana:

– in schools right now from Tracy. I had the pleasure of working alongside Tracy in a community that we're helping build together. It's called Nourished Teachers. Every time I mention it, it gets a smile to my face [laughs] because it's all about supporting educators. And in all of this, I feel like educators gets lost. They tend to always get lost, which really makes me mad. It always ends up trickling down to how do we talk to students? How do we improve the learning experience for students? But we forget educators. They're the most important piece, and the educators are not nourishing their own mind, body and spirit. So anyways, that is what Nourished Teachers is about. I can go on forever about it. I'm sure Tracy will mention it as well, but I get to work alongside her in this community. It's a private community hosted on Facebook groups. And we'll put it in the Show Notes as well if you are an educator and would like to join – it's 100% free.

Tracy has also been married for 25 years, she has two sons. I am her Facebook friend, so I do see her posting and beaming with pride about her sons. I think it's really nice when I ask for people's bios and they talk about them as a human. Here's what I am. I am a proud mom. I am a proud wife. She also lives with her family on a family farm in Essex, Illinois, where she spends a ton of time working on the farm itself with her father, which I know we talked about a little bit when we last chatted.

So anyways, I am so excited to welcome Tracy, and I am thrilled to hear from someone on the ground what it's really like in schools right now, and how she is personally making it through it all, and she's dealing with a lot of stuff. So she has a lot of love to give her educators out there. She's going to get me some great tips for all you EdTech folks that are listening in right now. So welcome, Tracy, to All Things Marketing and Education.

Tracy:

Thank you, Elana. That was quite the welcome. Wow.

Elana:

ou didn't know [cross-talking:

Tracy:

I didn't know I was all those things [laughs].

Elana:

Yeah. Is there anything that I missed that you think might be helpful for the listeners or add some context to who you are?

Tracy:

No. I just think that I always think of myself as an opportunistic experiencer. So if something comes my way, I try to say "yes" and to see if I can jump in. So being an opportunistic experiencer has led me to places like working with DEN and SMART Exemplary Educators and all of that as an adjunct, and now working with you all in Meta on Nourished Teachers, which I'm really enjoying. I'm finding a new passion that has always existed – does that make sense? – a new passion that's always existed that I just didn't know was a passion. But I'm really enjoying that aspect of nourishing other teachers and helping them to be their best selves.

Elana:

Yes, and I do know what you mean. It's something that's innately in you, but you need a catalyst sometimes to go, "Oh, yes. I am really passionate about that. Oh, yes. I'm really good at that." You just need that opportunity, but also that catalyst to say "yes." Tracy, I know that you have such a powerful story in education, personally and professionally. I was just saying to our producer behind the scenes that you have somewhat of a parallel path to my story, but yours involves more education. But can you just walk us through maybe how did you wind up in education and how did you find this passion? I think so much of what we do with EdTech brands and educators sometimes as we bring them back to that "why." So maybe let's start with that "why."

Tracy:

I think I was always like a natural born teacher. I think I was, and for a while there I had convinced myself that I wasn’t. I had tried in the '80s, early '90s to convince myself that I wasn't, because that's not where the money was, right? Isn't that what we were supposed to do in the late '80s, early '90s, make the money? But I grew up in a really rural community where college really wasn't a thing. My mom and my dad were sort of limited in their abilities with education. So probably around fifth or sixth grade, I really didn't have anybody any more to support me in my schoolwork. I didn't know that I was smart. I had no idea, but I had a teacher who believed in me, and a teacher who taught me about books and how my voice could be heard and writing. She showed me that things were possible, and that she never questioned whether or not I would college. That's not what it was for her. It was which college would you want to go to?

So when it came time, I tried to resist teaching, but it was in my blood, and I kind of fell in love right away with education. Got through college in four years, working 40 hours a week to pay my way to school, because my parents couldn't afford to send me. To be honest with you, my parents didn't know how to do college, they just didn't know. So I ended up figuring it out myself. I think I told you when we were talking one time personally that there were more people in my college dorm than in my entire town. [Laughs] So just navigating that. Went to undergrad, went to Illinois State, which is a very powerful education school. Lots of teachers come out of Illinois State University, with a really good solid foundation of elementary education.

I took a job – though I didn't get a job first year out, because that was when there was a huge surplus of teachers. So I worked in daycare for a year. God bless all of our little biddies, like on all their teachers. I am not designed to teach little biddies. I'm far too sarcastic. That's why I'm with middle schoolers. Then I took a job on a maternity leave, and I worked in a pretty predominantly white middle income farm school for about six years. But the problem was I couldn't afford to feed my family, and I had no medical insurance working in that school. So I had to leave a job that I loved to work in a more urban school district. I was very arrogant and thought my talents and skills at my old school would follow me into my new school, and I found out very quickly about different types of learners and different types of teaching. So, luckily, they took a chance on me and hired me back for the second year in my new district, and I pivoted. Twenty-one years later here I am still in that same school district, and have taught mostly fifth and sixth grade for the last 21 years. That's my tribe right there. That's my sweet spot. I think every teacher has a sweet spot.

We are certified in Illinois to teach K-8 or K-9, but I taught kindergarten for one year one time and realized that was a very bad idea [laughs]. I'm not good at it, I'm just not. Kindergarten teachers, God bless you out there. They're wonderful human beings.

Elana:

Yes and –

Tracy:

Well, that's my path, and that's where I'm at. A few years ago, I shifted. I was teaching a math magnet class, and a few years ago the opportunity to train and get certified to teach gifted and talented learners came up, and here I am five years later. I love it so much. I love my children. I love my gig. It's pretty sweet.

Elana:

Yes, and it comes across in everything you do –

Tracy:

Thank you.

Elana:

– when you're supporting educators, when you're talking about it, that passion. I know we're going to get into it and talk about what keeps you going and how to support educators. But before we do, I want to pause and just recognize that that's an amazing story.

Tracy:

Thank you.

Elana:

In most worlds, you have everything stacked against you a lot. You go to a dorm, and it's bigger than your population of where you came from. People don't realize that how hard it is to truly navigate school, to have some positive reinforcement, and to understand what are the options in education.

I know I shared with you previously, I have a parallel path where, I don't know, I never thought I was smart. I liked school because it was an escape from life, but no one ever told me I was smart. It wasn't until I had a teacher that really changed the trajectory of my life. That's where I dive in from my passion. I know that's where you dive in, too, is you think about, "Gosh, I'm changing lives. I'm changing – " and sometimes you're that pivotal moment in a child's life where they can go one way or another. I attribute that to that one educator. It was fourth grade for me. For me, first-generation student – also scholarships – worked my way in loans [laughs] in school. That was the drill. It's just you get so many people – what I got is "you can't do that." I got a lot of the naysayers, they didn't – because, "No, you can't do that. You can't go to college. It's too much money." I went, "Well, you know, I'll just check out, you know, that one teacher believed in me. So maybe there's something there. Maybe –”

Tracy:

– I entered high school in:

Elana:

Yes. I think the one thing reflecting on what drove me as a child after I felt like I had a little confidence because someone said, "You know, you can do this." When you have that confidence of someone believing in you, you can excel more than you've ever thought possible. I was able to take on more, do more, learn more. But the only reason why I went to business school, and you probably went to teaching, is I just had this responsibility that I felt like I needed to pay for my entire family. I looked at my second-grade homework, and my second-grade homework said "I wanted to be a lawyer," because – "or any other profession that makes lots of money to take care of my family." That's literally what I wrote [laughs]. So, I don't know, whatever it may be, I think we're all kind of on these – it's so hard to navigate past, but you and I were both completely altered in a positive way by a teacher.

Tracy:

Yes –

Elana:

And that's why we're here.

Tracy:

– today we know that there are these aces, right? These things that exist in your life as a young person that are indicators of whether or not you'll be successful or not. The aces are all these negative things that have happened against you. I think you and I have had a discussion about all of these things that have impacted our personal lives that we should not have been successful. We should never have – there's no reason that we should have come into the place that we are. I credit my fifth grade teacher – Mrs. Engelbrecht, if you're out there and you're listening, you're the reason, one of the reasons, why I hung in there and figured out I was smart. So I think that's funny that your fourth-grade teacher and my fifth-grade – I wonder if it's sort of that formative part of your life where you identify with someone who thinks you're pretty great, you know?

Elana:

Yes. That is [laughs] really, like, what are the odds of that?

Tracy:

Right?

Elana:

All right. All I know, we can reminisce on our similarities of our lives. We can do that. It's the year or something –

Tracy:

[Laughs]

Elana:

– but I want to get into – tell me, really, what is it like being an educator right now amidst a pandemic? This year, like you were just saying before the show, is that some people are like, "Oh, it's just back to normal. Like, let's pretend it's back to normal." It's not back to normal. In fact, I would think it's worse. I've never heard educators cry out for help so much as I had this year. So I don't know where to start or where you'd like to start [laughs]. Maybe you can tell me what your experience is like right now.

Tracy:

I think I'd like to start with the children, of course, and then we can ripple out. For the kids, you have to remember that a lot of them are socially-emotionally delayed almost two years, because depending on their home life and their situation and what was going on for them, some of them – Let's just say, for example, a fifth grader right now, has really not had appropriate and consistent social-emotional interaction with peers since they were in third grade. There's a huge difference developmentally in a third grader and a fifth grader. Even if you were lower between kindergarten and second, there's a huge difference.

So what we're facing in the classroom is a lot of social-emotional need right now, a lot. It doesn't just go from not having that social interaction. It also goes to the fact that some kids who become – by no fault of anybody other than families had to work or whatever the case may be – they also kind of just did whatever they wanted for the last almost two years. They didn't have rules and procedures and boundaries with time. So time has been a real big thing in the classroom, because children are used to doing their work when they want and the way that they want to. Because in the pandemic, the phrase that got tossed around a lot, at least in my end of the world, was "Make sure that you're providing children and families with grace and flexibility as we navigate these unchartered waters." So the problem, not that you shouldn't have grace and flexibility in a difficult situation, but the problem with it, extending grace and flexibility, is that when it's time for that grace and flexibility to be reined in, there's a lot of pushback. So we're facing a lot of behaviors. We're facing a lot of exhaustion.

We also, like most of the planet right now, we're facing employee shortages. So not enough teachers, not enough para-professionals or custodians or lunch ladies, bus drivers – it's huge. The bus driver situation is just enormous. So we're facing a lot of problems. Then we also have this issue of people think we should've just rolled back in and now we're back in school and everything's OK. Kids aren't there. Kids aren't coming to school. Attendance is awful right now. So during the pandemic, there was a lot – depending on where you worked and what you did – there was a lot of push on teachers to just make sure you're making connections.

In my district, we did great things. If we hadn't heard from a student in two days, our first thing was that we, teachers, were required to make a contact to make sure just that the children were OK. Then if we couldn't make contact within two days, then we were to turn it over to a home team. The home teams did phone-calling from the school phone numbers, home visits. They made sure they were delivering food and supplies to children who couldn't get out during the pandemic. So the hard part about that was we developed this sort of expectation that teachers would continue to find children who weren't in school. So some of that is still kind of happening, that kids aren't coming to school. Well, the first response is, "Well, did you make a home contact?" OK. I have 28 other kids in front of me. I can't really make that home contact right now. So there's just a big push from the powers that be that this is a normal year, and it isn’t.

Elana:

So you have struggling absences with students on a recurring basis, and you now have the responsibility of checking in with them routinely. You don't have the support for just basic taking time off to professionally develop, to collaborate. Bus drivers, custodians, all of these things, I'm seeing and hearing what you were saying. How do you as an educator navigate this? Maybe just talk a little bit more about, before we get into how you cope and do this, but, well, what's it like for you? What have you gone through this year, maybe even a little bit of last year?

Tracy:

Well, last year was devastating for me. I have very close relationships with my students and my families, and I keep my students for two years. So I have 14 fifth graders and 14 sixth graders. Then every year I get half of a new class. So it was devastating because that personal connection is real hard to have over Zoom. It's really, really hard. I can't even tell you, I spent so much money on sending students presents through Amazon [laughs] last year, it wasn't even funny. We'd just be talking on Zoom and one of the kids would mention something, and I would send them whatever it is they needed through Amazon, or I would put it in my car and drop it off on their porch last year. So not being able to connect with my kiddos – and it sounds wrong, but don't take it that way – put my hands on them. I couldn't hug them and love them and be the teacher that I love to be. So it was really, really hard.

Now this year, I'm very blessed and lucky because half of my class who went through the pandemic with me last year is back with me this year. They were so excited to be in school with me and not on a screen. They were so excited. So that has been a huge blessing to have half of my class come with me that we've been on this crazy ride together.

The hard part is I can see needs, and I can't fill them. So I know we need more social workers. We don't have them. I know we need more interventions to help cover the learning loss. We just don't have them. The resources that were there during the pandemic with companies just shoving out free Wi-Fi and free access to educators, like everybody – the best parts of what came out of the pandemic in supporting education, they're not there now. A lot of the problems that we had during the pandemic still exist. Families still don't have Wi-Fi. Teachers don't have the money in their budgets to get the products that we grew to love during the pandemic. So a lot of that is really hard.

Elana:

Yes. It's –

Tracy:

Just not being able to support kiddos the way we want to.

Elana:

Yes. Jeez, I think you bring a lot of good points. I think during the pandemic, I was talking to tons of EdTech companies, and they're like, "How do we do this? How do we help educators?" and a lot of them were trying to, like you said, give free trials, give an extended free trial for what they thought the pandemic would be. No one expected –

Tracy:

Sure.

Elana:

– the pandemic to be this long. But on the EdTech side, what you may not know is they're running out of money [laughs] and they might –

Tracy:

Sure.

Elana:

– and they have a lot of guests, they have a lot of expenses. But at the same time, there's never been a more pivotal time to support educators, and I don't think they know that to this level –

Tracy:

Well, I think –

Elana:

– and I'm excited for you to talk about that.

Tracy:

I think what people who don't teach don't realize is that although the global pandemic of last year is over – I don't know what word you want to use there – my class itself has already been out three times. We have been out of school and back on remote learning three times this year. So it's not normal. It's not we're back in school and everybody's sitting up straight with their hands folded turning in worksheets. That's not what we do. If anything, the bonus, the plus of the pandemic, it propelled so many educators forward in their use of technology. Just overnight you had no choice but to figure it out.

So none of that PD, of course, was paid, and none of that PD counts towards – In Illinois, we've got continuing professional development units. We have to have these professional development hours, we have 120 we have to get to keep our certification. So a lot of what we learned during that time isn't necessarily credited to us, but it has improved our teaching. Even though some classrooms are back in-person more than they were last year, a lot of the pieces of technology that we learned during the pandemic we continue to use, because we learned that they're best practices for our learners.

Elana:

Yes. For our listeners, Tracy's talking about her experience, but she also has a national perspective of working with educators across the country with all of the ambassador programs you're in, but also Nourished Teachers. But I can tell you from what I hear as well on the ground – and all I do is think about national trends and think about EdTech and education – what you're reporting is consistent. A lot of schools have been out. A lot of it, like, in and out and what do we do? Now they're more agile so they can say, "OK. We at least got the tech in place to support us." But there's this level of burnout that I think you're insinuating on is like we just need a break. We need some support. This is two-plus years in it, then people are telling us everything's OK.

Tracy:

Right. No, you're fine. Continue to fill out your forms and your surveys and make sure that you've done this program and that program. Why are only 50% of your kids finished with this? Well, I've only seen 50% of my kids. So it's different when you have your whole class in front of you. Five of you haven't completed a test, and I can say, "You, you, you, and you come back here to the table with me and let's get that done. Let's figure out why you can't – why you're not got the –" But when you're on Zoom and you refuse to turn on your camera, (A) I don't know if you're there [laughs]; (B) I can't make you click anything. So I think that holding educators to the same standard of completion for – I don't want to call them erroneous tasks – but tasks that somebody somewhere thinks are important to make happen is part of that we're still – it's normal. We're back in school. Everything's normal. No, we're not and, no, it isn’t.

In some ways, I hope some of the options we have continue to be options, but some parts of that new normal for us, I hope they remain. You and I were talking briefly before about, for example, my school district, in very forward-thinking, decided that even last year when we thought the pandemic was over, that we would continue to offer remote and hybrid options to students, all the way from kindergarten through high school. Because some students, especially kiddos who have sensory problems or severe behavior issues or massive anxiety problems, they just did better remotely. Which is where I kind of feel like we're behind the eight ball when it comes to the corporate world, because the corporate world figured out a long time ago that people could work remotely. We're kind of behind in education in that. So I was glad to see that my district was forward-thinking and offering family options for remote and hybrid and in-person learning still, and not in response to COVID, but in response to what was best for kids.

Elana:

When you think about everything you've gone through and bring yourself back to those really challenging days, how do you navigate this all? How do you keep going? What do you tell yourself? I also know that you have a supportive role in that community and Nourished Teachers, where you have to – part of what you do is you don't give advice, but you support them wholeheartedly. So how do you help others and help yourself navigate through this tumultuous time that's – it's truly insurmountable. Sometimes all you can do is say "I see you."

Tracy:

very, very beginning back in:

Then as we came back this year, how are teachers surviving? More and more, myself included, and this goes against every fiber of every being every teacher has ever been taught, we are always taught that our job is more than a job. We do what we do for the children. Conversely, then, if you don't do what needs to be done, you must not care about the children, right? If you're thinking about it in the other way. So that guilt of not doing extra comes, in my opinion, from that belief that if you're not doing the extra, you're not giving up your hours, you're not giving up your money, you're not sacrificing, then it must be because you don't care.

ran myself into the ground in:

So when school started this year, I knew that in order to be the best teacher and to be a nourished human being, to be a fully-functioning adult, I had to sometimes leave school at school. I had to not take my papers to be graded on a field trip home [laughs] every night. So I felt like prioritizing my wellness is how I was going to make it through this school year. Now that doesn't mean I still don't have the guilt of – I have a student who's emailing me right now actually. It's, at my time, it's 6:30 in the evening. So I do have some guilt about that, but I have to set boundaries for myself that didn't exist previously, because if I don't, I will burn out. I don't want to do that. My students deserve better than a burned out teacher.

Elana:

Yes, and especially in K-12 education. I think some of you that might be listening in the corporate place say, "Yes, I get that, too. I'm online all the time. I need boundaries." But educators, it's not only ingrained in you personally when you go through it, but there's all these colloquialisms, like, "I'm in it for the outcome and not the income." You know, all of those things that have been surfaced up, and it's almost like just the same thing over and over again to tell you that all your heart and soul should be about the kids and do whatever it takes, and all these things. But that is not a recipe for success for longevity, [laughs] like you were talking about. We're really just talking about how do we get through this entirety, not just one year or a half a year, and do it? I think we all, especially in education, when I see a lot of our Nourished Teachers talk about things, it's that inner perfectionism critic, too. Just like I wish I could do it way more better. I wish I could do more. Educators have the biggest hearts in the world. That's why I love you all so dearly.

Tracy:

Aw.

Elana:

But that guilt is real [laughs]. So every time I hear that teacher guilt, I'm like, "No." [Laughs]

Tracy:

Really, without getting too political and going too deep, but there's some really fascinating reading out there about how that's been ingrained into the profession, because it's a predominantly female profession. It's really interesting reading if you ever get a chance to read that. That "do more with less" and "you don't need to be paid for that" and "sacrifice yourself for the good of the children." It's historically because it's a historically female profession, which I think it's pretty fascinating if you read it.

Elana:

Yes, that makes sense in a sad way.

Tracy:

I wanted to just connect back with something you said really quickly about the corporate world, and I don't want to downplay what anybody does. But one thing that I think if you're not in teaching, what you don't realize is that I don't walk out the door and stop thinking about my kids. Teaching, although it's not always – and sometimes I guess when you have littles it's physically draining, right? It's so emotionally draining to teach children, because I'm blessed and lucky with the children that I have, and I have – I love them so much. But I have 28 humans right now that I know all of their backstories. I know all of their worries. I know all of their needs. I know who has food and who doesn't have food, and who has uniforms for school and who doesn't. I know who's scared that their mom's not going to come home. I know all of those things. When I can't see them and they're not in front of me, there's no button that I push to stop worrying about my people. I love those children with my whole heart, and I worry about them when they're not with me. So teaching is emotionally draining, not just for the hours that I'm at school, but the hours that I'm at home as well. I worry about them.

Elana:

Yes, I would, too. It would literally break my heart, because you're in a position where you just – you cannot do enough and you never will be. That's the hardest, for me, it is one of the hardest parts –

Tracy:

Yes.

Elana:

– that it just it stays with you. I think I'd like to loop back to you said you finally prioritized your own wellbeing. You did things like try to shut off, put boundaries around communication with students. So are there any other tactical things that you did or you saw other colleagues that – if an educator is listening – they're really just struggling? They're trying to maybe create these boundaries, but they don't know what that looks like. Can you give a little more color to some tactics?

Tracy:

One big thing that I had to learn, because as a people pleaser, I'm the person who's on all the committees and on all the meetings and doing everything I can, say "no." It's OK to say no, and you don't have to give a reason. You don't have to explain away your no. No is no. I don't want to be on that committee. I don't want to be in that meeting. The answer is no. So obviously I'm not telling you to shirk your contractual obligations. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying we need a volunteer to be, "No, the answer is no, because my time is my time and I have done my job. I've done more than my job, and right now I'm prioritizing my health and my wellness," so say no.

Then one thing that I've come across for our teachers that it's kind of a strange thing and it goes back to that reading I was telling you about, the difference between male and female teachers. A lot of times when female teachers need something, they don't ask for it. They just assume it's not going to be given to them, so they just don't even ask. So if the answer is no, then it's no. Then I have to figure out another way to obtain what it is that I need. But I've also learned to ask for the things that I need. If I don't get it, I don't get it. I'm not out anything if I asked and I didn't get it, but I ask. So I say no, I also ask. I've learned that if I don't get that set of papers graded, it's OK. It'll be alright [laughs]. We get so anxious about meeting like, "Oh, I have to have the turnaround within so many days for my students' papers." It's OK if they have to wait a minute. It's really OK.

Elana:

Yes.

Tracy:

So all of those things are a way. Then also find time to do the things that you love to do. It's OK to take care of yourself.

Elana:

Yes. One of the things I just got done with another podcast and my friend, Todd, talked about gamification, but his point was more about when you're teaching, find something that gives you joy inside the teaching, that gives you pleasure. Maybe it doesn't even actually [laughs] give the students pleasure. You're not torturing the students, of course, but you're having fun with them. So if learning can't be fun – I understand we've lots of obligations, lots of things you have to do, no time, no support, all these things – find a little moment, just one little moment. So sometimes he was talking about just do a quick brain break, or energizer, or you could always just do something silly together and have fun, because that translates into the learning. I would suggest taking a – nourishing yourself during class period. It's just have a little fun for students.

Tracy:

Again, I teach middle school, so all the snarkiness, right, all the sarcasm –

Elana:

[Laughs]

Tracy:

– that's why I teach middle school. But I think you can't teach that grade level and not have a sense of humor, and you've got to have – So I play with my kids, and we laugh and we joke and we tease each other, and we have a really, really good time. Every once in a while I'll do something stupid with them and give them, I don't know, I give them primary elementary writing paper and say, "You have to write your answers on elementary paper with big fat letters," just stupid things to make them laugh and have a really good time with what we do. Because then it makes the things that are not fun, like, "OK, guys, I don't really want to do this either, but we have to." So I know that's an advantage to being with the age level that I have, but yes, I agree 100%. Try to find some joy.

My classroom doesn't look like a classroom. My classroom looks like an apartment, because I also don't find joy in working in a sterile environment that doesn't bring me relaxation and joy. So I invested in my space in my classroom. It's not just good for my kids to work in an apartment-type atmosphere; it's good for me, too, that I enjoy my space in my classroom. Now, that took years of shopping at garage sales and flea markets and [laughs] auctions to be able to fund that, but it's a pretty good space.

Elana:

That sounds amazing. Maybe you can take a picture and we can include it in the Show Notes or something.

Tracy:

Sure.

Elana:

Let's switch gears slightly. We talked a lot to the educators, but for the EdTech folk listening, what's some advice you'd give to them right now? You already talked a little bit about the lack of support, because during the peak of the pandemic there was all sorts of free stuff. Now it's kind of dwindling away. But if you had the ability to talk to a bunch of EdTech – imagine a room of a bunch of EdTech people –

Tracy:

Oh gosh.

Elana:

– and they want to hear from you, an educator. What would you say that how they can be the most supportive, or what are they getting wrong right now? Help them along here, because I think sometimes if you are in education technology, you may or may not be an educator. There's a varying degree of background in education. They all come with a passion, but help them along. What would you give them advice around?

Tracy:

I feel like, of course, when you're in the private sector, you essentially you have to make money, right? I understand [laughs] that. Although the things that were free during the pandemic, like you said, can't always continue to be free. But some of the things that I have found is that there's a little bit of pressure sometimes from companies to, "Hey, ask your administrator to purchase this. Ask –" there's a little bit of push. That's stressful, because, of course, they want the resource, but I don't have any sway as far as that stuff goes. The bombardment with the emails about, "Hey, did you forget to purchase –" that is stressful [laughs]. That is stressful for teachers, because, trust me, if we've used it and we love it, we will tell somebody, and if we can make it happen, we will.

Elana:

Is there a sense of guilt? When you say it's stressful, I just want to dig into that a little bit. If you like a product and maybe you're getting it free so you feel like you might owe them something – I don't know, walk me through that generation.

Tracy:

Especially because they gave it to us for free during the pandemic, and now they're like, "Oh, if you want to continue to use this, make sure your administrator or your person who does the purchasing, make sure they call us." Trust me, like I said to you before, if I'm using a product or used the product and I loved it, I've already told the person who's in charge of purchasing. Teachers, other than maybe committees, we don't have a lot of sway on what technology gets purchased. I have a $100-per-year budget for 28 children. I get $100 [laughs] to spend, that's it, for the entire year. So can you imagine having 28 employees and your budget is $100 for the year – not per person [laughs]. So you're spending less than $4 per person on your supplies for an entire year. And we don't –

Elana:

Yes. I think what you said, even just prior to that is, like, trust me. If your product is good, I've already told people. You telling me to tell people kind of reminds me potentially that I don't have the power to even do anything, right?

Tracy:

Right.

Elana:

You know, maybe it reminds me of that, but I think for the EdTech people listening is that focus on making your product as useful as possible.

Tracy:

Well, you mentioned –

Elana:

As useful as possible, as easy as possible, and – go ahead.

Tracy:

You mentioned that stress. The stress comes from, oh, I really loved that and I created these really cool things, and now I can't because I can't afford it.

Elana:

So it goes away, and that's what they've seen in Ed Tech as teachers getting excited about a product and they do all the stuff, and they put all – invest all this time and energy into it, and then – and inevitably sometimes it goes away. You might get bought by a competitor. They might raise their prices and your district no longer supports it. Your district might tighten up on tech policies and not allow you to use it. All these things, there's just – I don't know. I talk to a lot of educators and there's that fear of I don't want to switch because it'll go away [laughs].

Tracy:

Yes. We also have legislation in Illinois that now if companies are gathering any student data at all, that if they won't sign that agreement that says they will not distribute, sell, or use student data, we're not allowed to use the product at all. So we can't even pilot or beta test anything for an EdTech company without having it run through our tech department first and having those agreements signed. Because, for example, if you're using a Google login, we're not allowed to use any product that has a Google login if they haven't signed the agreement that they won't share or distribute our student information. So that also creates a situation of like, "Oh, I really love your product, but now the legislation has changed and I can't even use you until it runs through my approval committee and they have the forms that they need."

Elana:

Yes. It's not that that – that is actually very important, and I know you're not saying that. There's so many nuances within all of this, so –

Tracy:

Yes.

Elana:

– so I think sometimes it's kind of insinuated in some of what you're saying, but there's no one size fits all, and there's not this email sequence of, "Hey, did you forget? Hey, just me again."

Tracy:

Right.

Elana:

That's annoying [laughs].

Tracy:

It's a little bit like "Can I talk to you about your car's extended warranty? Can I talk to you about your car's –" No. No, you cannot [laughs].

Elana:

[Laughs] Those are the worst, by the way. I get the number one people that call me. Stop!

Tracy, as we wrap up, is there anything, like parting thoughts or things that you thought you want to really make sure that the educators listening know of? I loved your points about really putting yourself first, and that journey to get there is hard, but starting a step at a time. So you talked a little bit about that. You also talked to the EdTech folk about what they should really consider now, and what it's like to be in school right now. Is there anything else that you want to add before we wrap up?

Tracy:

I think for my teacher friends out there, you're not alone. We're all here, no matter what state, no matter what size district or school you're in, what grade level, you're not alone. We're here. Lean on each other. I read something once about not leaning on but leaning in, and I guess that's better than leaning on, right? Lean into one another, because you are the best line of defense – support one another. Have each other's back. Reach out, be honest with yourself, say no. It's OK to say no. Just keep at it, you're doing a great job. No matter how you feel about the job you're doing right now, you're doing the best job you can, and that's OK.

Elana:

That is OK, and that power and freedom that comes with saying no without that guilt will take time, but holy moly, it is, like, freeing. I know in our community of Nourished Teachers, when people say no, they celebrate it. They're like, "I said no. It broke my heart a little, but I'm going to celebrate it here." Then they get those words of encouragement and help other people get on that path, too. Because we're really in it for the longevity. Right? We mentioned that crap about we're in it for the outcome and not the income. No, if you are a professional, you want to stay an education professional. You want to stay in your career. You don't want to just do it for a couple years and burn out.

Tracy:

You have to be able to eat [laughs]. So although I am in it for for the outcome, I kind of need to be able to eat, too. [Laughs] So there's that.

Elana:

Basics, jeez.

Tracy:

Like electricity. It's good.

Elana:

[Laughs] So wrapping up here, Tracy, the last thing that we ask all of our guests is really fundamentally in line with a lot of the Nourished Teachers work you do, but what keeps you inspired? When you have those down days, what keeps you going, especially now? Sometimes it's just hard to get up and get into school. For me, sometimes I have days where I just like I love my work, but I need some inspiration to get me going at times. Is it something you're reading? Is it something – maybe an exercise routine, affirmations you do, watching? What gets you inspired lately?

Tracy:

Well, a lot of things, but number one [laughs] – I know this sounds so hokey, but it's my kids. It's my kids. On the days where I'm just like, "Ugh, do I have to be the teacher today?" [Laughs] I think about what happens when I'm not the teacher. So my kids keep me going. Then personally, it's the joy that I feel when kids have that moment of learning. It's so cool. I equate it to this for my friends out there that are parents. As a parent, you don't know if you're doing it right. You have no idea. You don't know if you're doing it right until they're fully-formed adults and they're away from you. You don't know. The same thing is true about teaching. You don't really know what you've done to help a child. You don't really know until years later and they come back and they tell you. Or you see it, they're these amazing people. You're like, "Oh, I had a little part of that." So just letting go of the things that didn't work and hanging on to the things that did, which I think that's good life advice, right, not just teaching advice. So I also find a lot of inspiration in my colleagues. They're a great source of inspiration.

Elana:

Then just to add, because I know your story a little bit more, is at times if you don't have colleagues that inspire you, and maybe it wasn't because of that, but I also know that you took the extra effort to reach out to people and join communities of educators nationally that inspire you as well.

Tracy:

Absolutely. I've often said that joining a professional organization, and now which would be the communities that we're forming online, has probably been one of the biggest career changers for me, and then a life changer for me in the end, because you end up connecting with this amazing group of human beings. You want to be better, because you're around so many amazing people. So, yes, so seek out that group. I've tried on a bunch of different ones. It's kind of funny because, as I've moved through time and joined different professional organizations that have fit where my life is at that moment, it's funny because there's a common thread. Some of the same people keep resurfacing which – from across the United States. It's not just people in my area, it's just the same people keep circling back around in my life, which is pretty amazing.

Elana:

my radar until [cross-talking:

Tracy:

Well, I think we had circles that just bumped each other and –

Elana:

We're in a Venn Diagram, for sure [laughs].

Tracy:

uld've been – would've been:

Elana:

started with Edutopia around:

Tracy:

So I went out of DEN about:

Elana:

Interesting. Funny.

Tracy:

Isn't it funny?

Elana:

Well, Tracy, I could talk forever. I really hope for those of you listening that you take what Tracy says to heart. She didn't just give you advice if you're an educator, but she gave you advice if you're a human being [laughs]. There's a lot to distill there. If you are an EdTech company, just think about it. Digest what did I learn that educators are going through that I didn't know? What am I assuming? Don't always go for that hard sell. Really think about the ramifications of what an educator is experiencing the way you approach them. I think sometimes as marketers, I'm always like, "Oh, I can automate this. I can this, and I can get these click-through rates" and all this stuff. But I have to pause and say, "OK. Click it back to the human beings. Let's figure out that impact." What you said about it being a stressful experience, I want people to pause around that, too.

So, Tracy, how can people get in touch with you? If you think back on this conversation and you want to share some additional resources, send them to us, we'll put them in the Show Notes. But if there's any resources that come to mind, you can talk about them now and we'll put them up on the Show Notes. But how do people get in touch with you?

Tracy:

Well, definitely Nourished Teachers are on Facebook. Please check us out there if you are an educator. Sorry, my EdTech friends, it's for educators. But if you wanted to talk to me, my personal email, which I'm totally comfortable with, because I'm from the Chicagoland area. You know this Saturday Night Live skit, Da Bears, Da Bulls, right? My email is Teachdakids –

Elana:

[Laughs]

Tracy:

– at Yahoo, because I'm from the Chicago area. You got to teach da kids, you know?

Elana:

[Laughs] That's kind of like Sarah Thomas', Sarah da teacher [laughs].

Tracy:

Yes, yes.

Elana:

Awesome.

Tracy:

Teachdakids@yahoo. You can send me an email. I'm happy to connect with you, and we could set something up if you want to have a conversation.

Elana:

Yes. I will also add the link to the private Facebook group for educators. You just need to be a U.S. K-12 educator and not in an admin role. Thank you again, Tracy.

Tracy:

Thank you.

Elana:

I was so excited. I looked on my calendar today and said, "Yes. I got Tracy time," so thank you. I think it's going up especially late your time and sharing really the real-real, what it's like getting into the head of, gosh, I didn't think that this was going to be this way, but it is and we need help. So I appreciate your candor.

For all of our listeners, I thank you for joining us. You can access this episode's show notes at LeoniConsultingGroup.com, so it's LeoniConsultingGroup, with two G's, backslash the number 13. So backslash 13, and that'll give you detailed Show Notes. We do a great job of summarizing some points. You can do some quick reading. We give you some sharable images, and you can listen to the podcast embedded along with some resources. All right. Well, thank you all for joining us. We will see you next time on All Things Marketing and Education.

Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. If you liked what you heard and want to dive deeper, you can visit LeoniConsultingGroup.com/podcasts for all Show Notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. We always love friends, so please connect with us on Twitter @LeoniGroup. If you enjoyed today's show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We'll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.

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