I was pretty close with my brother. He ended up going to jail when I was in fourth grade. We were having morning meeting at school, and the question that day was, ‘How are you feeling?’
Early on in my career, I was more afraid of talking to parents. But I had a principal who said, ‘If you're not calling them first with a positive, then when you call them with a negative, it's going to be harder.’ So I tried to do that. And I have had great success with parents trusting me and knowing that I have their kids’ best interests at heart.
Teaching runs in my family. The bell was my grandma’s. She was the last teacher at a one room schoolhouse in Cold Spring, Wisconsin. Because she was the last teacher, they gave that bell to her. She wrote on that card that both her mother and her aunt also taught in that school.
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 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.