Teacher Tag Team!

Cohort 3 member Natalie Elliot recently ‘’sat down” virtually with two Edco teachers, Chris Martin and Kevin Hritz. Chris teaches 5th grade Literacy at Meigs Magnet and Kevin teaches 8th grade math and algebra at Valor Collegiate Academy. This dynamic duo reminds us of the passion and magic found in all members of the cooperative and that math teachers and literacy teachers really aren’t all that different. Read to find out more about what keeps these teachers going, especially in this new educational landscape.

How did you get into the teaching profession?

Chris – Like many professional educators, I had a number of influential teachers who inspired me to join the fold. Among the most notable were: my high school wrestling coach, Paul Bass, who taught me how to be creatively subversive (e.g. our go-to cheer was “Kick Bass!”); and two of my music teachers, Sheila Hotchkiss and Nola Jones. They were both incredibly driven, warm demanders who were exemplars of how to get the most out of students, and I have no doubt they’re the reason I’m still a passionate musician and music educator outside of my primary role in teaching literacy.

Kevin – I came into teaching through a combination of prayerful consideration and calling. My grandfather’s legacy as an educator and founder of a school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders coupled with countless confirming experiences in college through courses and student teaching combined to seal my fate as an educator. I found myself amped about successful lessons while curious and reflective about the ones that blew up in my face. Like Chris, I have a host of teachers who helped me love to learn; some standouts are my 8th Grade U.S. History Teacher Dr. Rice, Calculus Teacher Bijli Meyers, and AP Language Teacher Linda Janoff, who all demonstrated how to be tough with high expectations, while embodying joy for their content and student relationships and growth.

What’s the best part of being in education? What’s the most difficult part?

Chris – Children keep me young at heart and engaged in the profession. I love that every day brings a different experience and no matter how much I plan in advance, a clever (sneaky?) child can throw a wrench into things with a well-timed wisecrack, silly antic, or an astonishingly brilliant question or idea. Frankly, that’s part of the fun for me, because I see reflections of myself in those challenging moments. Learning to respond to them rather than react is part of my own continued growth as a person as I attempt to become a better model for the students I serve.

Kevin – The children, y’all!! That being the best part, of course. After 10 years in the classroom, I still get the biggest kick out of lightbulbs clicking for kids as they joyfully struggle through an explore section of the lesson, immense pride when a student has demonstrated mastery after clocking countless hours in tutorials and completing retakes, and more than a few tears when an alum reaches out for a recommendation and shares exciting news about their current life.

How do you unwind outside of school-when there isn’t a ‘safer at home’ order!

Chris – Beginning every morning with yoga to integrate mind, body, and spirit and rockin’ out on the drums every afternoon as a creative, physical pursuit.

Kevin – Running, making visual art, writing raps, reading, YouTube rabbit-holes about hip hop & animation, walking & working in the yard with my wife, daily prayer.

How did you meet each other? What have you learned from each other?

Chris – Kevin and I met in EdCo Cohort 4. He has a lot of passion and energy for teaching, and he likes to think outside the box rather than just doing what’s been done before. From him, I’ve learned that tag teaming with others isn’t limited to your own site-level bubble.

Kevin – Chris is correct, but I’d like to think that we’ve unknowingly been on the path to camaraderie given our mutual enthusiasm for education, music, and wrestling. I have greatly appreciated how thoughtful he is in his responses in general shop talk as well as breakout sessions during monthly coffee. Chris carefully considers what has been shared, mulls over all the information, and then delivers mic-drop level advice.

How did the Nashville tornado and COVID-19 crisis affect you and your students:

Kevin – Thankfully all of my students and their families were safe and sound after the tornado tore through North Nashville, East, and Mt. Juliet. What greatly encouraged me was running into students participating in clean-up in North, as well as hearing my teacher friends share their stories of seeing our kids out in the community doing good work. The COVID-19 has not affected the health of any of my students’ families, but I have a few parents in my mentor group who are concerned about impacts on their income in the upcoming weeks. Our school asked us to flag those families to follow up and link them to critical resources.

Chris – Sadly my school, Meigs Academic Magnet Middle, was one of those actually directly hit by the tornado. This necessitated us moving to a new building over the course of about 48 hours, boxing up essential classroom materials (e.g. my sizable classroom library) and cleaning and setting up our new classrooms in preparation for students’ return. Then, after a mere three days in our new learning environment, as we tried to de-escalate tensions from the effects of the tornado, MNPS began its hiatus due to COVID-19. While I haven’t received word of anyone directly affected by the virus yet, one of my students had the roof ripped off of his house, and it will likely be at least a year before he and his family can return to their home.

How are you adjusting to this new educational arena and what have you learned:

Kevin– Surprisingly, I am looking forward to this challenge of teaching remotely. I am fortunate that my schools have issued each student a laptop and worked hard to develop strong mentor relationships with students and families. So the check-in calls this week with parents about how we can support our scholars felt really natural and were full of gratitude on both sides. I have learned that the internet is a limitless library of free resources available to kids, how to set up Google Classroom with said resources, and that recording a 10-minute video takes a lot longer than expected.

Chris – I’m really looking for ways to support my community by providing enriching online activities that, while educational in nature, are more social-emotionally responsive in spirit. My first step has been emailing and calling parents to establish contact and provide reassurance, while setting up a Flipgrid classroom space to provide students with the means of connecting with one another online. Seeing their video contacts has been a blessing, and I’m looking into setting up a Zoom book club/literature circle experience in the very near future. My biggest concern is trying to find ways to bridge the gap with my students whose families may not have ready access to digital connection.

What does EdCo mean to you?

Chris– EdCo is such a phenomenal resource to me. Just being around other educators who are truly passionate about this important work inspires me to keep working and growing as a professional educator myself. As an organization that brings multiple stakeholders from all walks of the field – from administrators to coaches to classroom teachers working with all age groups spanning public, private, and charter schools – I find the diversity of perspectives to be the greatest asset to EdCo. Despite our varying perspectives, at the end of the day we’re all here to try and enrich the experiences of children as learners and young people who will shape the future together, much as we work together to shape their educational experiences.

Kevin– A lot. I came from a collaborative community of teachers all working at one campus from my eight years in Houston. Moving to Nashville, I had trouble finding that same innovative spirit until both my wife and friend Lindsay Roe strongly recommended that I apply to the Educators’ Cooperative. And I am so grateful that I did. I love coming to monthly and sitting at the footstool of my expert peers, learning new ways to teach vocabulary, methods to integrate equity work into mathematics curriculum, and strategies for setting up meaningful community partnership projects. Being able to leverage our experience and contexts to learn from each other has been the best professional development I have received in a long time.

Favorite quote:
Chris
– This is a tough one, but it’s probably a tie between: “ABOUT THE TAG TEAM!! WWE STYLE!!,“or “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

Kevin– Hmmm. Also a tie between “And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so!” -Steve Austin or “I’m lyrically calculus in this arithmetic hip hop metropolis.” -Black Thought of The Roots

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