1. What drew you to teaching lower school children?
When I was a kid, my teachers were such an important part of my life.
In several ways, my home life lacked stability. My teachers, in direct contrast, were always in the same place at the same time, interacting with me in the same, consistent manner. You can’t imagine the power of this kind of consistency until you have lived without it.
I will never forget, for example, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Deming. She met me at the door each morning and always greeting me with the same smile on her face. I knew in that moment that I was shifting environments in a way that gave me the mental and emotional space to learn and thrive.
I want to create this same experience for children. For this reason, for example, I meet my own students each morning and shake each child's hand, give some hugs, and say good morning to start the day.
2. You worked for nearly a year teaching and developing curricula in Namibia. Tell us more about that experience.
I actually did not move to Namibia intending to work with kids. In fact, after teaching for five years, I was not sure if I wanted to continue in the career. With the help of a pen pal, I decided to travel a year in southern Africa, exploring other possible life opportunities.
After about two weeks in Namibia, I met a Namibian man named Ricky who had been helping to collect supplies to provide to local shelters, or “places of safety,” where women had opened their small homes to children who had lost their mothers to HIV/AIDS. He invited me to go along one day to help deliver these supplies. I soon found myself working with these kids, teaching basic literacy and math skills. I would walk through the community, from one house to another, meeting with groups of children who were eager to experience any form of schooling. When I was blocks away the kids would already spot me approaching, and I would hear them chanting, “Andrew! School time!” as they hurriedly collected the few supplies we had to work with and sat themselves down expectantly. During that year of working with those kids - the year that I had set aside to explore other options - one thing became crystal clear. I was meant to be a teacher.
3. What contradiction in life have you had to learn to accept?
Things do not always happen for reason. They often just happen. But if we try, we can usually make sense of them in retrospect.
4. What is something about you that most people don’t know?
One life option that I seriously considered was going to seminary, which is a school that educates people to become priests or ministers. I applied and was accepted to a seminary in New York City in my mid-twenties. I think it appealed to many of the same parts of me that make me love teaching: educating people, being in front of groups, and counseling those in need or experiencing difficult moments.
5. You have taught children in orphanages, children with special needs, children in charter schools, and gifted children. What one factor from all of these experiences do you use every day at Graded?
Kids, like all of us, just want to be seen and heard. When interacting with any individual student, I try to make sure they have my undivided attention. I also try to interact with each of my students individually at least once in the day so they know someone is looking out for them.
6. What do you think needs to happen to make the world a better place?
All people need equitable access to education, regardless of any aspect of their identity or their access to wealth. Furthermore, this education needs to be a process that intentionally builds empathy for others and creates a drive in students to be central players in creating social, economic, and environmental change.
7. What is your idea of a good time?
Favorite Day: Wake up, drink coffee, read, walk my dog, go to the market with my husband, cook lunch, and watch movies.
8. What is your motto?
Leave people better than you found them.
9. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
I sometimes wish we could put a GoPro on the head of one of our students and see their perspective through a single day. I think you would see a kid who is involved in a wide variety of learning experiences, a kid who spends their time in beautiful spaces, and a kid who interacts with many adults who care deeply for them as individuals. That is my favorite thing about Graded: the loving and enriching experience we strive to create for our students.