Cama Charlet-Sales – Education Facilitator

Interview with Cama Charlet-Sayles

An education facilitator, with a non-profit education organization, and the University of Nebraska

CamaprofileTell Us About Your Educational Background

I graduated with a BS degree in Elementary Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in 2003. I received a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, from Doane College, in 2011

Your Current Educational Career Choice: nature and location.

After 11 years in the general ed classroom, I am beginning a new phase of my career, in education. I will be an education facilitator, with a non-profit education organization, and the University of Nebraska. I will serve as an instructional coach and professional development facilitator, for elementary schools in Omaha, Nebraska.

How many hours do you work each week?

There are no “set” hours in education. Some weeks, I work 9 hours a day. Others, I put in 10-11 hours, at school. That doesn’t include time spent at home, working on school “stuff” (grading, researching instructional ideas or projects), or meetings that happen before and/or after school (district leadership responsibilities, conferences, IEP meetings). During parent/teacher conference weeks, which happen twice a year, we put in an average of 100 hours, over 2 weeks.

How much time are you able to spend with your family, friends?

After having a child, my priorities changed, and I placed her above my career. I am a single mom, and when I have my daughter (which is 50% of the time), being present for her is my first priority. That said, I am also at an advantage in that she attends the school where I teach. I get to see her throughout the day. I never miss a school play or performance, and if she gets sick, I am right there to comfort her. I do not feel like my career has gotten in the way of time with the people I love. I work hard while I am at work, using my time wisely, so I have time in the evenings to be with my family and friends. That came with time. The same could not be said in my first few years of teaching.

Do you have time for hobbies/recreational activities? If yes, how much time?

Between work, and my responsibilities to my daughter, the time I have for myself is limited. I enjoy reading, spending time with my friends, and going to the gym. My favorite “hobby” is spending time collaborating, communicating, and working with other educators, whom I met as a member of a national teacher voice fellowship, called America Achieves.

For the Featured Portion of the Article we like to start off by giving our users a breakdown of what a busy day in the life of someone in your profession is like.

Can you take us through what a 9-5 (or 6 am—10 pm) day actually entails for someone in your field?

My day (as of the last school year…not in my current position)…

I usually wake up at 5:30am. I get myself ready, pack lunch for myself and my daughter, then wake her up and help her get ready. We leave the house no later than 7:30, for the 25 minute commute to work (45 min in the winter). I drop her off at before school care, and am always in my classroom no later than 8:00am.

Some days, I have IEP meetings, or meetings with administrators from 8-8:30am. On those days, I have to find someone to cover my classroom for 10 minutes, as students begin coming into the classroom at 8:20.

When I am not called to a meeting, I spend the morning quietly preparing for the day. I look over my lesson plans, make sure morning work is ready, and am standing at the door to greet kids at 8:20. Students eat breakfast in the classroom, then get to work on morning work, as I take attendance and problem-solve with students.

I have a morning meeting with my class at 8:50 each day. We discuss the schedule, any special events, and students have a time to share anything they have going on that day, or the evening prior. My students go to specials from 9-930am. That half hour is mine for planning, most days.

During that half hour, I can be found getting materials ready for math, art, and science. I put copies in to be run, make phone calls, and answer emails. 30 minutes flies by! Occasionally, I have a meeting during this time, but I try to reserve my plan time for serious work.

My students return at 9:30, and we begin spelling and/or grammar. Students usually receive a short lesson, then complete an activity where they are moving around, or completing an activity (not a worksheet). I have several special education and ELL students I meet with individually, once students are working on an activity.

My math block lasts an hour and a half. During that time, I teach a small introductory lesson, connecting the previous day’s lesson with the day’s objective. I utilize technology here, and we spend time on difficult problem-solving tasks, connected to the objective, which usually take us days to solve. My students then rotate to 4, 15 minute stations, where they complete math tasks, and see me in a small group, for 15 minutes.

At the conclusion of math, students are dismissed to a 15 minute recess, and a 20 minute lunch. I do not have lunch duty, so I can usually be found in the teacher’s lounge, eating lunch for 20 minutes. I use my last 15 minutes to prepare materials for the afternoon, return emails, and make calls if need be.

My afternoon begins with a read aloud. I love reading to my students! I teach writing following that, and students have 30 minutes to write daily. Following that is an hour and a half reading block, which looks similar to my math block.

During transitions, students take a 2 minute brain break. We move, dance, or wiggle, to get blood flowing and settle their bodies. During those transitions, I often triage, or check in, with students who may be having difficulty managing behavior. I do this away from other kids, and we problem-solve together.

Our students take a 15 minute recess after reading. I am expected to go outside with students, to supervise.

My teaching day ends with 45 minutes of science or social studies. Students spend the last 10 minutes of the day packing up, cleaning up, and organizing materials. I never have a moment to myself. I am always reminding students about materials and messiness, checking in with kids who need emotional support, or behavioral support, writing notes to family members, or helping students who have difficulty packing themselves up.

Students are dismissed at 3:45. I have a meeting from 4-5, two to three times a week. These are IEP meetings, leadership team meetings, district committee meetings, or parent meetings. I serve in many leadership roles, which keeps me engaged, but is also time consuming. On days when I have my daughter, I pick her up by 5pm, and we head home, or to dance practice. Once home, she does homework while I make dinner and look after the dog. She is in bed, reading with me by 8pm, and asleep by 8:30. Most nights, I am asleep by 9pm, unless I have work to do. If that is the case, I begin my work at 9, and get to bed when it is done.

Why did you enter the field of becoming a Teacher?

I had always been interested in teaching, but growing up, I was a musician, and assumed I would follow that path for myself. After 3 years as a music major, in college, I realized that my heart was with kids, and teaching. I changed my major and have never regretted it. Music education wasn’t for me. I never understood what it was like to struggle, musically. Music came naturally to me, and success did not take much effort. However, in the general education classroom, I struggled. I was not responsible, never did my homework, and hated math. All I wanted to do was read. I was not a popular kid. I kept to myself most of the time. I understood “those kids”, and knew that I could connect to them in a way that would increase their success in school, and their self-esteem.

What characteristics do you think allow someone to thrive in this career field? 

Patience, perseverance, time management, organization, flexibility, compassion, empathy, understanding, passion for learning and continuing education, thick skin, selflessness

What have been the characteristics that have allowed you to be successful?

I have a gift for fostering relationships with my kids. They trust me. They feel loved and respected, even when I am frustrated. I have always placed the needs of my kids above my own. Everything I do in the classroom has to be what is best for kids, not what is most convenient for me. I am very flexible and comfortable with change. If something isn’t working, I change it up. I try to instill that in my students, as well. I make mistakes in front of my students, and we discuss those mistakes. We laugh. A lot. I am constantly growing myself, reading, or taking classes to improve my craft. And, I let my students lead. Even in the young grades, my students create their own learning journeys. I facilitate success, and help when necessary, but I also allow my students to struggle, and understand the importance of productive struggle.

What gets you excited about your job and why?

Every day brings heartache and joy. I work in a high-poverty school, where my day begins with taking care of kids’ social-emotional needs, before we can learn. Kids who come from home situations I can’t imagine, but come to school smiling, because school is his/her happy place. I love coming to work every day because when I show up, my students are happy, safe, and loved.

I love teaching. I love presenting information to kids in a way that has them excited to discover meaning for themselves. I love celebrating successes in the classroom. I love watching my kids take care of one another. Every day matters.

On a scale from 1-10 how hard was it to get where you are now?  Was it worth the journey?

To begin with, maybe a 5. I was lucky. When I was student teaching, I met the HR director for the local district, and was offered a job before I graduated. I never had to search for a job. I’ve spent most of my teaching years in great schools, with great leaders.

After graduate school, I’d say the journey to where I am now has been an 8. I love teaching, but I’ve always known that I was meant to improve learning opportunities in some way, for all students. However, until very recently, I didn’t think the job I was meant for existed. Doors weren’t opening, and I felt very stuck, where I was. I have had wonderful mentors, who have taught me (1) I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and not knowing, and (2) while I am waiting for the right fit, I have to be the best at the job I have right now. So, I continued to push to make every year my best year of teaching. Eventually, a door opened. When it did, I knew it was where I was meant to begin my next journey.

If anything along my path had been different, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Everything I’ve done has been worth it. I wouldn’t take any of it back. I have learned and grown in every experience, and it has only made me better.

In your opinion, what have been the 4 most exciting breakthroughs in your career field within the last 5 years?

*Common Core

*Wrap-Around Services for kids (dental, health, and mental health services on site at schools)

*Universal Pre-K (still working toward it, but it will change students’ school experiences if done correctly)

What one thing would you like to see changed in your field? 

I would like to see an emphasis on continuous growth in students, versus the high-stakes test as a bottom line measurement of student growth and teacher effectiveness. I would also like to see a return to purposeful play, and self-discovery in the classroom. Reduce the test-taking mentality, and make learning fun again. If done correctly, I believe it will elevate success, not diminish it.

What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your career?

I would like to have made an impact that is sustainable. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Always trust your gut. Be a voice for your students and your colleagues. Do not do something just because someone tells you to do it. Question…always question. In everything you do, in the classroom, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Does this matter? Is it meaningful?” Place your students before your paperwork. Always remember that every child in your classroom is someone’s whole world.

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