Why Me?

Chrissy Chandler
I am happy to introduce Chrissy Chandler as a guest blogger this week, and hopefully in the future! Chrissy works at Center Alternative School (CAS), which serves students who are going through some challenging obstacles and helps them to persevere anyways. Not enough stories are told about the teachers and students at CAS, so I'm very happy to have Chrissy sharing her story here this week!

This is the really fun part of keeping a blog - the chance to interact with other teachers and educators. Often I will get an email or a Twitter message that will spark a conversation, and those are certainly fun and definitely worthwhile. But I really enjoy when a conversation turns into a guest post on this blog. There is something special about taking the time and having the courage to put yourself and your classroom out on the web for all to see.


Lately I have spent a lot of time asking, why me?  That’s the first thing I thought when Alec invited me to write on his blog. Why me? Now you’re probably thinking who is this teacher with this lack of confidence writing this post? I should probably start off by telling you my story.
This year I began my second year of teaching. I have spent most of my working career in the Information Technology industry doing IT support and web design for various companies in the Kansas City area. When I had a child and realized that an industry dominated by men was not always the friendliest towards working mothers, I took a leap of faith and decided to stay home with my son. I wanted to help out other working mothers so I ran a small in-home daycare.  Those was some of the best years of my life. I got to watch my son grow, take his first steps, say his first words and help other children do the same.

That’s when I was bit by the teaching bug. When my son was four, I closed my daycare and went to work in the Center School District in one of the offices of the elementary schools. I loved my job and loved working with and getting to know all of the kids in the building. However, I missed the challenges that working with and on computers gave me.

Eventually a job opened up in the IT department in Center and I took it. I spent five years in the IT department falling in love with the Center School District and technology and how it integrated into the classroom and the idea of teaching millennials how to apply this technology in authentic, effective ways that would impact their futures.  
The next logical step was teaching. I chose Graceland University and eventually received a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Reading and a Certification to teach Kindergarten through 6th grade. I was going to be a great elementary teacher!

Well, as always, the universe had different plans for me. I was approached by Sharon Nibbelink, who at the time was the the principal of Center Alternative School, about teaching a career pathway in technology to alternative school students. The students at the alternative school had a reputation of being particularly challenging. I had heard rumors of them having all sorts of mental and emotional problems and sometimes even being violent so  I’m listening and looking at this lady thinking…

Why me?

She is crazy.

I can’t do this.

Those kids will eat me alive!  

I’m done before I even start!  

Dr. Nibbelink, as many at Center know, can be very convincing. As I said before I love Center and I will do what’s best for its students. I will be where Center needs me to be and it seemed that it needed someone to give these students an alternative pathway to the future that they hadn’t had before. So I took the job.

The cool thing about it was I got to build the program and the curriculum from scratch as there was no previous program or precedent. I figured I would create this, stay for a year and pass it on to someone else. Again, I was going to be an EXCELLENT elementary school teacher.

I figured out pretty quickly that these students weren’t going to do well writing long papers, being inundated with worksheets or reading textbooks. They had to be up out of their seats, moving around and engaged in projects and tasks that they could apply to the real world. It turns out I accidently landed myself in a place that made the kind of instruction I offered in my classroom an example of the kind of teaching we needed to be doing in Center.

Again, why in the world are they looking at me? Trust me, it was a total accident and I can’t take all of the credit. I had some excellent guidance. Graceland did a wonderful job of emphasizing the importance of project based learning. I also had the opportunity to speak with and learn from other experienced teachers in the area.  Some taught the same thing I taught, some had just seemed to master this teaching game! Like Lisa Oyler who teaches Technology classes at Summit Technology in Lee’s Summit. Lisa seemed all about implementing those authentic tasks into her curriculum. We didn’t have the same tools in Center that Lisa has, but she gave me good ideas on how to use what I had to make sure our students were getting the hands on learning experience that they needed. Then there’s Devin Strahm and Derrick Prewitt who taught me everything there was to know about classroom management and building relationships.They are elementary school teachers but kids are kids, and as it turns out their strategies apply across the board. Tyler Shannon, the principal at Red Bridge Elementary (where I did my student teaching) taught me the importance of constant engagement. Now, I have to admit that initially I thought this idea was a little wacky I mean who can be constantly engages, but once I got into the classroom, I realized that if I am always engaged with my students, it gives them little to no room for bad behaviors and my engagement means they are engaged!

Another thing I think helped was not being a traditional teacher. I spent all those years doing the job and was fortunate enough to land a job teaching what I spent so many years doing as a career. That made it really easy for me to think about the skills the kids needed to get a job and implement authentic tasks to teach them those skills they needed to function in the real world. I have watched these students learn skills and apply them and I am amazed everyday by what they are capable of.  

I started to think, let’s take this a step further and really, really prepare them for the real world, let’s get them to college and get them career ready!  

Needless to say, there was a little push back as some looked at the purpose of the alternative school as being just to get the kids graduated from high school.  A lot of our students were behind on credits, had discipline problem and not always the best attitudes.  Career readiness - maybe. College readiness - NEVER! Then I started reading It’s Being Done by Karin Chenoweth and I learned about all these school that were facing impossible odds and they did it! That made me think,we can do it too!  We just had to change our attitude, be ready to try new things, fail miserably, try again and teach our students to do the same.

I now have a Career and Technical Education certification and teach 4 different college and career readiness business and technology classes at Center Alternative School. I am pursuing my graduate degree in Career and Technical Education and hoping to teach Project Lead the Way at the alternative school next year. In other words, I don’t think I’m going anywhere.  

Don’t get me wrong. The alternative school is not always easy.  However, it is not as difficult as the impression I was originally given.  Yes, our students have some unique sets of challenges, but don’t all student?   I took the advice of the very wise Anthony Hall who was the Dean of students at the Alternative school at the time, and spent a lot of time building relationships with my students. Once those relationships are built, even if I lose them for a moment to anger or frustration, they always come back.  

I’m forever grateful to Dr. NIbbelink who had faith in me and my abilities when I didn’t have faith in myself and to the teachers and professors who have put me on the path to being a great teacher. I still have those doubts about myself.  When someone asks me to sit on a committee or teach a class to other teachers I still ask myself, Why me? 

I mean, I was going to be an excellent elementary school teacher, but I think I’ll settle for being a pretty good Alternative High School Technology and Career readiness teacher! I’ll probably always have those doubts and ask why me?, but I wonder if it is those doubts that will make me always want to learn from those who came before me and find new and exciting ways to engage my students.

Why me?

Here’s hoping that I never truly figure out an answer to that question!

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think!