Name: Shivonne Lewis-Young
How long have you been working in the education field? What school district are you in?
13 years with Peel District School Board - Ontario, Canada
What subject/ grade do you teach?
I’ve taught a variety of grades personally I really like to switch it up because I feel like you learn so much from different age groups. I’ve taught K, pre and post FDK, grade 1, 2, 3, 4. I LOVE grade 3 the age is so much fun. I’ve also worked with English Language Learners where I supported in the classroom and small groups. I have a grade 6 position this year at a middle school.
Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? What made them stand out from the rest?
My high school English teacher Mr. Pente – he actually taught me for my entire high school English career grade 9-OAC. He had super high expectations of his students but had a great sense of humor and treated students with respect. He was the kind of teacher that if you got a B/A on an assignment you know you earned it. He’s actually the reason I decided to become a teacher.
What was learning like growing up for you? Easy, challenging?
I struggled in school. I did really poorly academically especially in mathematics. I found it frustrating because the things I was most interested in learning and displayed a passion for where not honoured. I remember thinking who cares if I study dinosaurs over penguins. I used to make these elaborate projects at home with my mom. Butterfly models which showed the life cycle, working volcanoes with dinosaurs, poetry books, baskets things like that. I earned almost every badge in Girl Guides including my All Around Cord which was one of the highest Guide honours. I would read 2-4 novels a week. I LOVED learning just not in school. I feel like I was outside the box and the traditional education system didn’t know what to do with me. So over time I began to feel defeated, and not smart and I stopped trying at school.
Who or what inspired you to become an educator?
As mentioned before my English teacher Mr. Pente but also my time volunteering with kids at the Thunder Bay Boys and Girls Club. I learned so much from those kids and how good it felt to make a difference.
Describe what your dream classroom would look like.
I was very lucky at my previous school to put mine and my colleagues vision of the ideal classroom into place. We had an administrator who believed in us and even the Director of Education. It was a Self-Regulation classroom and it really taught students to meet their physical, emotional needs. We had cool alternative seating like bean bag chairs and Hokki stools, stand up tables, tables painted with white board for collaboration and brainstorming, light filters, and an exercise bike, a yoga corner, fidget items and some traditional desks for those who needed. Every morning we started with a community circle “how are you feeling today?” and that was my favourite part as it built a community of empathetic, caring children. I loved it!
Tell us about a challenging moment you’ve faced in the classroom. How did you deal with it?
Fairness is always a challenging one. Kids will say "why does she get a laptop?" or "why does he get to sit beside you?" I sometimes find it difficult to really get kids to understand that fairness and sameness are not the same thing and that people need different things in order to be successful.
What gets you pumped up before entering the classroom? (ex. music, car dance party, coffee?)
Coffee, always coffee – but also the quite that starts the day it’s almost like the potential of what is to come is laid out there for you.
What makes you a great educator? (Come on, toot your horn!)
I’m not afraid to take risks and try new things. What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work and you make a new plan. I’m also very honest with students and I put a lot of effort into relationship building. They need to see that you care about them and they can trust you. If you want a strong academic program these little people need to know that first you care.
If your students could describe you, what would they say?
I think they would say I wear great shoes (lol) – but they would also say that I genuinely care about them. That’s what I want my legacy to be. That when they are grown they think back to me as their teacher and know that I cared.
What was your best teaching moment?
I’ve had some really great moments and worked with some amazing kids so I can’t pick my best but I’ll share a proud moment. The student wasn’t in my class. He was an older boy – grade 5 and was part of mine and my colleagues coding club. He was a rock star in coding club could do things in 10 minutes that took me hours. But in the classroom he struggled academic and behaviourally. We brought him to a Peel 21st North Network meeting to demo to other educators how to use a Makey Makey as we knew would not explain it as well as he could. He absolutely shone talking to adults, explaining how it worked, answering question after question. The educators were blown away and many assumed he was in a gifted program. The best was his mother came and watched quietly and you could see the pride in her face!
What do you do to enhance your personal learning?
Twitter! I’m telling you I’ve done so much professional learning just on Twitter and I’ve connected with many amazing educators.
How do you balance your personal life from your teaching life?
Not as well as I should to be honest and I like many of my colleagues I suffer from burn out. But running helps it’s a great outlet for me. I’m actually hoping to run Around the Bay (30K) this spring.
Do you do enough to maintain your personal well-being?
Do I do enough – Not at all and I find this is a common problem for educators.
Have you ever experienced burn out? What/who helped you cope?
Yes I totally have and I don’t have a great answer. Talking to colleagues helps. Realizing that the job doesn’t actually end and taking time for fun and family helps. Living an active lifestyle.
What do you love most about teaching?
For me it’s all about the students. My time with them, watching them push through obstacles, learn new things, take risks. It’s so inspiring.
If you could talk to your younger self (ex. elementary student, high school student, post-secondary) what would you say?
You are such a strong and smart girl. And just because you don’t have A’s and B’s on your report card, and just because you don’t’ understand the math concepts the way you are being taught them is not an indication that you aren’t. Don’t give up work hard anyway don’t let your report card marks get you down.
There may be teachers reading this who are in need of a reminder why they’re great educators. What would you say to help lift their spirits?
This is not any easy job and EVERYONE has an opinion about what you are doing because they’ve all sat in a classroom so they think they know. But the truth is they don’t get it. Also don’t be afraid to shake things up, take a big risk try something new. So what if it doesn’t’ work. What do they say about FAIL? First Attempt in Learning!
A BIG thanks to Shivonne for being the first person to share her journey into education! I've had the pleasure of working with Shivonne and believe me when I say, she is a gem to the profession. I value the relationships she builds with her students and her colleagues because she really does make you feel like you matter. Be sure to connect with Shivonne if you want to learn more about what she does!
Jam Gamble - Connector of People, Ideas and Energy