Back to School with Natalie

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For teachers and students, back to school is a time of both great excitement, high expectations, and anxious nerves. August always arrives for me with a mix of emotions that seem unusual to occur simultaneously.  I lament the end of summer and having a schedule that allows me to relax, see friends and family, work out, cook extravagant meals and have me-time on a more consistent basis. At the same time, I search through Pinterest every night for new classroom decoration ideas, fun beginning of the year team building activities, and new ways to organize my classroom and make the year easier for myself and enjoyable for my students. I think about what my new students will be like as I write their names down on name tags, clothespins and bins. I create a space for each of them hoping that they will look forward to crossing the threshold into our room every day with a feeling of being welcomed and valued. 

I can remember this time of year after I had gone on my Ingage trip. The feelings were similar, but my excitement to bring what I had learned into my classroom overshadowed my anxiety about the summer ending. I recently had the pleasure of talking with an Ingage team member that is feeling the same way after coming back from her trip this summer.

Natalie was a business major in college and worked in the business world for 16 years. Then she stayed at home with her children for a while and contemplated whether she wanted to return to the business world or follow a passion she had always had deep down to become a teacher. She had thought about becoming a teacher in college, but family members had talked her out of this career path. Now, at this point in her life, she wanted to know that she had at least tried to make her passion a reality.

After making a career change from working in the business world to follow her dreams of being an educator, Natalie started working as an assistant in Barrington School District. She had volunteered with several different organizations to help out the community when she was a stay at home mom and when working at Barrington. She had always felt that if she won the lottery one day that she would volunteer to help others more frequently. She met Brigette in Barrington as she began teaching 4th grade. Brigette convinced her to join an Ingage team this past summer even though she was a little apprehensive. Only in her third year as a 4th grade teacher, she wasn’t sure what she had to offer in the trainings that Ingage teams provide. 

Despite her worries, Natalie joined the Costa Rica team and recently spent one week there, providing workshops to about 50 teachers in areas of need. With other team members, she led workshops on social emotional learning, growth mindset, and the power of yet. They emphasized the idea that learning is lifelong and that there is no end to it. Additional topics in their trainings were identifying different types of learners and meeting SPED students’ needs, which was a significant and stated need for Costa Rican teachers. The team taught educators and staff how to use sustainable materials to carry out their ideas so that they could be applied for a longer period of time and be realistic for the school’s resources and environment.

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Natalie found Costa Rica to be a beautiful country with friendly and welcoming people. All of the teachers she worked with were willing to share ideas. She has found that this is often a characteristic of teachers, but it was interesting to her that this characteristic persisted between teachers that were separated by borders and language differences. Teachers will share and do what is best for their students, no matter what.

When asked how she felt empowered through her journey, she didn’t hesitate for a second. She shared with me that she felt humbled by seeing what they do with so little. All teachers, no matter where they are, hold their students as the most important thing. The partner teachers shared ideas and were open to learning new techniques because they know that education is one of the only things that can help their students out of poverty and improve their quality of life. Natalie recognized that as teachers, we often get hung up on a lot of what goes on in our schools, but that it is so important to be present in the moment for our students. She felt empowered through this process because she was able to help others that have less than us. Yet, it was a give and take. She learned so much from the teachers there as well. She was able to see that even though she was apprehensive at first and didn’t know if she had much to offer in Costa Rica, she did. She both shared her knowledge and was able to see the amazing determination, pride and passion that teachers across the world have for their students. She was a part of that and now feels even more empowered to bring that passion back to her classroom for her own students. 

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Going into the new school year, Natalie will incorporate her experiences from Costa Rica into her classroom theme this year. Her theme will be “planting a seed”, watering it with hard work, perseverance and kindness. Then, with the power of yet, student’s “seeds” will grow into big trees, showing their learning and growth throughout the school year. This theme will be integrated through all that they do. If a student received a B on an assignment, she will help them see that not as an end but as part of the growing process. What will their next goal be? What are the next steps in the learning process? She is coming into this school year with renewed energy and excitement, and she can’t wait for her next opportunity to take a trip with Ingage. One of the things that she mentioned to me that really resonated with my own journey was “you don’t know what person you will touch that will touch so many more”. I feel that this is true when going on trips through Ingage and also when teaching. I know that Natalie will bring this quote with her into this school year and after talking with her, now I will too! 

One of the best things about Ingage Unlimited is that no matter what profession you’re in or how many years of experience you have, you always have something great that can be shared with others. By joining an Ingage team, anyone can experience the kind of empowerment Natalie felt this summer.

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Emily