I was full-on ready to be a full-time artist. And then I was invited to be a teacher at a summer institute in Denver, through the Native American Youth Outreach Program. I think it was seeing those kids connect to our traditional arts — part of our cultural inheritance that they had little exposure to before. It was seeing kids connect to our indigenous ways that changed me.
I was the kid who was under the table with a fireman's helmet on, covering his ears because he didn't understand what people were saying. I would get frustrated all the time because I didn't understand multiple syllable words. So in elementary school, I was diagnosed with dyslexia.
I have one student who really sticks out in my mind. I had him in my class when I taught seventh grade, and then he was in my class again when I switched to eighth grade. So I got to have him in my math class two years in a row. And he would do a lot of odd jobs around the room — hanging posters, things like that.
My mom taught for 30 years. And after I went to grad school she said, ‘Why don't you get some experience in the city schools?’ I did it, and I haven't left. You get really attached to the work and the students, especially once you see them meet the standards that you help them set for themselves.