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Woman travels the US telling teachers' stories

Words by Tess Becker

The inside of a classroom is one of the most influential places for young people. They spend a massive portion of their young life in and around schools, and most importantly, teachers. 

Teachers serve an incredible role in offering kids learning and guidance while sometimes serving as an ear, especially for kids with less-than-perfect home lives. 

Educators can leave lasting impacts on kids that follow them for the rest of their lives, shaping their future goals, or how they see the world, and yet, the importance of what they do is often underrepresented and their importance played down. 

Just how important teachers are and all the work they do can fall by the wayside. Over 50% of teachers plan on leaving the profession earlier than they wanted to, and classroom issues that already existed were only exacerbated by the pandemic. Take into account all the other problems facing teachers like low pay, backlash against teaching subjects like race and LGBTQ+, and the potential for school shootings the teaching profession is in a crisis. 

Kat Clark wanted to bring light to these stories. She wanted to highlight teachers putting in hard work and also humanize them beyond the existing framing. But before she started helping spread teacher’s stories, she was one herself.

“Coming out of undergrad, I initially wanted to be a teacher and it was pretty clear to me that it's the hardest job in the world,” Kat tells Smiley News. “I definitely think it's one of the toughest jobs there is.

“I ended up working in administration at a number of different schools. I loved collaborating with the teachers and helping to tell their stories. That was always something that I loved to do when I worked at schools.”

Soon after, she broke away from the inside of schools and instead started focusing on how to help teachers outside the school. First, she did this with a start-up that helped educators afford homes in expensive cities and then later with the tech-giant Apple where she worked on their worldwide education team focusing on K-12th grade. 

“Throughout that time, I noticed that the narrative about teaching became more and more bleak, and depressing on social media and in the news,” she says.

Eventually that reached a boiling point and Kat pursued a new venture. Telling the stories of teachers that she believed should be told. 

“I was interacting with teachers all around the world, and especially in the US, learning about things like low teacher pay, and, systemic issues schools were facing and struggles with teacher retention, in particular, and teacher recruitment,” she says. "All of that just seems to be getting sadder and sadder and worse and worse during COVID. So basically, I quit my job at Apple in the summer, and

"I decided to try to push past that hopeless narrative and encourage people to try to problem solve and engage more.” 

“I wanted to start this project teachers in their power to highlight teachers' voices, and the steps that teachers think might be taken to help keep powerful teachers in schools.”

To get everything running she started by calling for nominations on LinkedIn, looking for teachers with an important story to tell. That quickly filled up, and she started traveling around the US photographing and interviewing some of the nominated teachers shining a light to their stories.

The stories that she finds are then uploaded to the Teachers in Their Power website as well to social media. She wants to get teachers from every background covering as many types of educational circumstances as possible. 

“I want to highlight teachers in as many different states and as many different types of places across the US as I can,” Kat says. “So a good mix of urban and rural and suburban schools, for sure because the different types of schools and different types of communities have different reasons why they're struggling to recruit and retain teachers, but almost all of these places are struggling to recruit and retain teachers.”

As the project expands, she wants to center teachers in the conversation as the humans they are and share their experiences in a way may offer perspective on how to address the teaching crisis at hand. 

“I think a key goal is to help shift the narrative, to not reinforce the existing framing around, ‘hey, all teachers are leaving education’ and so my hope is that through the storytelling through elevating, really impactful teachers voices, that ideally, not only is there a more positive public perception of teaching as a career, but that if that momentum starts moving of ‘wow, these are people who I would want to work with, this is somebody who I would want to be’ that it actually can have some type of gradual impact on what it is really like to be a teacher in the US”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Quality Education.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs