This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. Nashville Teachers Carrie Ott and Leticia Skae, and SCORE’s Elizabeth Vincent join us to talk about Teach Today. Change Tomorrow, a campaign to inspire the next generation of Tennessee teachers. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Elizabeth Vincent: Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. started from a brainstorm to think of a statewide teacher empowerment campaign. The overarching goals of the campaign are to encourage more students, specifically the very best and brightest, to consider the teaching profession to make sure that all future generations of Tennessee kids have access to highly effective teachers. Aside from recruiting more students into the teaching profession, we’re also really interested in empowering Tennessee teachers through social media channels to highlight some of the outstanding work of Tennessee educators.
Leticia and Carrie, you’re both a part of this campaign as teacher ambassadors. Why did you decide to join Teach Today. Change Tomorrow.?
Leticia Skae: I wanted people to know there’s some fantastic stuff happening in teaching and let people know that there is a sustainable life in teaching. It feels like our newest generation is leaving the profession or not even coming in. I wanted to change those things and find some people who know work goes into caring for our kids.
Carrie Ott: I decided to join the campaign because my whole program that I teach is preparing students in high school to become teachers. We are on this movement to prepare quality teachers and get respect back for the teaching profession.
What was the moment that you decided you wanted to be a teacher?
CO: I was asked to come speak at a housing class at a high school and talking with the class – I just loved it. And the teacher said, “You know you can do this, right? You can come and teach.” She explained how I could get the certification and actually the professor at MTSU called her up and had an hour long conversation with her. And I decided I was enrolling, I was in.
LS: I was originally a sociology-anthropology major and wanted to be a professor. A friend of mine said, “Hey, I have an English teacher opening at our school.” I went for my interview. And I wanted to get that experience teaching so when I eventually get to be a professor, I’ll have that experience. It happened right on the spot that day and I started teaching three days later. They needed somebody right away.
So you went into it thinking you were headed on this professor track for sociology – what made you stick with it?
LS: I had these wonderful connections with these students. They’ve graduated college and they send me emails. One of my students was on Facebook and tagged me in a video. He was presenting his poetry in college and he said – “This is for my teacher, Ms. Skae, who taught me how to write.” Stuff like that, where you realized, I made a difference.
When you started as teachers how did experienced teachers help you?
LS: One thing a veteran teacher told me – I was in the copy room, it was the second week of teaching, I was fighting the copy machine and my kids were mad at me.
EV: There’s always a copy machine.
LS: Exactly! I was on the verge of crying and I think my face said it. He says, “I swear to you if you make it through the first year, it only gets easier, I promise.”
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
CO: We just had graduation, so that was huge. Especially since I’ll have them for three years and you feel like they’re part of our family. And seeing them use knowledge when you didn’t even realize they were listening. I love seeing that.
What advice would you give a current high school or college student who is interested in the profession?
CO: Get as much experience before you get into the field. The more exposure better.
LS: If you come to something you don’t know – ask, always ask.
What’s your afternoon pick-me-up?
EV: Black coffee.
LS: I guess I have to say – as an ELA teacher – I love to read.
CO: This is going to sound corny, but I have three daughters. That’s how I unwind when I get home. We unwind, and we have fun.
Carrie Ott is a teacher at Whites Creek High School in Nashville, where she has been building the Education and Training Pathway for the past three years. Originally from Iowa, the importance of education was instilled in her from an early age, and she always had a passion for helping children. Teaching students every day about the teaching profession and helping them on the pathway to becoming educators is what continues to drive her passion.
Leticia Skae is an English language arts teacher in Nashville. She has been a teacher for 11 years. She specializes in in diverse and urban education and earned her master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University. She is currently in MTSU’s Literacy PhD program. She was a finalist in her district for Middle School Teacher of the Year and a Blue Ribbon Teacher. Leticia has served on MNPS’ Transition Team, Mayor Barry’s Teacher Cabinet, TN EDVoice fellowship, and SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship. She is an advocate for improving sociocultural perspectives in education and for teacher retention and empowerment.
Elizabeth Vincent, a consultant working with SCORE, just received her Master’s in Public Policy from Vanderbilt University. Before graduate school, Elizabeth taught for three years in Tennessee and obtained her degree in English Literature and Secondary Education from Murray State University. Elizabeth strives to channel her passion for student success and her love for education to ensure that Tennessee students receive the highest quality education. When she is not engaged in school or work, Elizabeth enjoys jogging, reading, watching movies, and cooking (but mostly eating). Follow her on Twitter at @evincent22.