May Graider of the Month: Rachel Zgabay and Shelby Iselt

We are pleased to announce our May Graiders of the Month, Rachel Zgabay and Shelby Iselt. As the 2017-18 school year winds down, we thought we’d end the year on a high note and mix things up a bit! For the first time ever, we’re excited to honor TWO amazing Graiders who also happen to be best friends and aspiring teachers.

Rachel and Shelby are a dynamic duo in every sense of the phrase. Both rising sophomores at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, Rachel is studying to become a high school history teacher and Shelby is studying to become a high school English teacher. Graide Network teachers have been raving about both young ladies for their detailed, personalized student feedback, amazing class reports with actionable data and class-wide insights, and their strong communication and professional skills.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing R+S about their passion for education, professional goals and dreams, and life-long friendship. Their story reads like the plot of a sitcom I’d definitely watch - two ambitious, talented, goofy and instantly-likeably college students on a mission to change the world  through teaching. But first, let’s hear from some of the teachers they’ve worked with this spring...
 

Praise for Shelby:

“Great feedback. The accuracy in the analysis of each PBA strand really helps in the re-teach planning for me as an instructor.” - Ms. Archie-McMillan, 7th grade ELA

“Shelby's feedback was nuanced and professional. Thank you!” - Ms. Leinss, 7th grade ELA

Praise for Rachel:

“Gave great feedback according to the AP rubric for students to be able to grow based on individualized areas for growth.” - Mr. Johnson, AP US History

“Incredible content driven feedback. Your work is really going to push my students to think about the content in a deeper and more meaningful way. You were clear how students could have earned points and honed in on this misconceptions.” - Mr. Seagle, AP US History

 

Ladies, how did you meet? And how did you become such good friend-what was the spark?

S: Actually, we met in daycare when we were 2 years old! We bonded because our moms knew each other. The lady that ran the daycare was friends with our moms, too, so at first we were forced to be around each other a lot. Now we choose to be around each other a lot! I don’t even remember a time before Rachel in my life.

 Rachel and Shelby together in their kindergarten classroom <3

Rachel and Shelby together in their kindergarten classroom <3

Wow, that is incredible. So have you have stayed so close over the years?

R: I’d say the biggest thing is honesty- we’re so blunt with each other and we’ve created a sisterly bond. If one person is making a decision the other person has a strong opinion on, we’ll always share it, always be really open with each other.

How did you both end up at Tarleton State? Were you always planning to go to college together?

R: No! My first choice was a school in Washington State, but I wasn't accepted. I had gotten into a few schools in Texas and couldn’t decide. None of them felt like the right fit. Shelby and I do movie night about 3 times a week, and during one of those nights she turned to me and said, “Just go to Tarleton. Just do it!” We had toured the school together with a club we had in HS (that same club is how we found out about The Graide Network!). We had both liked it on our visit. It was the day before applications were due, so I filled it out right there on the couch, on my iPhone. And 3 days later I was accepted!

S: My favorite thing about Tarleton is the small town feel. It reminded me of home and was the setting I was used to. I remember from our visit, the whole town was really nice. You never opened a door for yourself- someone was always there to help.
 

Ok, so let’s talk fun facts! What is something that people wouldn’t know about you from your resume?

R: I am obsessed with my dogs! It’s not really a secret but I have three dogs and they’re my life. I’m also obsessed with the show Parks and Recreation. I am Leslie Knope. [Note from the interviewee: Leslie is my spirit animal, too!]

S: This is maybe the opposite of what people wouldn’t know about me… but I’ve never known a stranger. I am all up in everyone’s business all the time. I’ll be your friend no matter. I’ll talk to anyone. If I am sitting next to someone on a bus, they’ll know my life story by the time they have to get where they are going.

R: They’ll know her life story and mine, too!

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Here’s the question I’ve been dying to ask. What inspired your passion for education? When did you first realize that you wanted to teach?

S: Actually almost my entire life, I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist. I loved the blood and bones and everything there is to love. During my senior year of high school, I volunteered as a teacher’s aide as a filler class and fell in love with the kids. That semester, I realized I wanted to be a teacher. Telling my parents I wanted to go from a $300k a year job to maybe earning $30k if I’m in a nice district was really difficult, but they were super supportive of my choice.  I knew I wanted to teach high school English specifically because of the relationships I had built with my own high school teachers. I knew I could connect better with students when they were older.

R: There was not necessarily a specific moment I know I wanted to teach. Shelby and I were both in a high school club, the Texas Association of Future Educators (Educators Rising). I spent time going to conferences, learning about education policy, attending events. Finally, I realized I would have so much fun teaching. In Texas, a lot of our high school teachers are coaches as coaches are required to teach. Of course, teaching is meant to be primary and coaching secondary, but that is not always the case. I saw firsthand that many students were not getting a quality education. I know I’ll only be one person in one classroom, but I know I can make a difference. I want to teach history and teach it well because I love it- I want my classroom to be more than reading a textbook, filling out worksheets, and watching movies.

What’s been your biggest learning moment with The Graide Network? How have you developed your teaching skills this spring?

R: There hasn’t been one specific moment. There have been a bunch of moments, usually within each assignment. One of the things I’ve learned is to read a few before I begin grading to get a feel for class, see if you have questions about the assignment, etc. Then as you get into the papers, it’s really cool to start seeing the trends that develop- what the class understands really well along with the gaps and areas they need more support. The biggest takeaway for me has been asking myself at the end of each assignment: what would I say to my students to address this gap?

I actually lost my passion for teaching briefly junior year of high school and started considering other professions. When I started with The Graide Network this year, I became more passionate about teaching than ever. Being able to see all of these students and read what they are writing and see the gaps and what they comprehend well and what they find interesting from their papers got me so excited thinking about what I could do in my classroom one day.

Thanks to The Graide Network, I’ve come back to wanting to be a teacher.
— Rachel
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In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing the teaching profession today? If you could change any one thing about how classrooms or schools today work, what would it be?

S: To me, the biggest challenge is a huge lack of support for teachers from basically everyone. So many people talk down on teachers, blaming them for the lack of student success. Teachers are forced to focus on test scores, rather than fun, authentic learning. I really wish schools would be more like what I thought schools were as a child- an exciting place to be where you are going to learn. As a future teacher, I want to set this feeling in my classroom. I want students to walk in an feel that they are in their home away from home where everyone is welcome and everyone is safe. The most important thing we need is more teacher support. Teachers place all their love and affection and knowledge in their students, they’re not paid very well, and often that don’t get a thank you. They’re just not given the acknowledgement they deserve.

R: I agree with everything Shelby said. It’s definitely a big problem and we’ve talked about it countless times. But, it’s really encouraging [to go to school and] see our peers, future teachers, in class with us. It’s wonderful to see so many of them surrounding us, willing to push through these problems because they care about students and want to make a difference as teachers. Despite all the bleakness in the profession, there are still really great people who are willing to fight through it.

Thanks Rachel and Shelby for all of your thoughtful answers and your amazing work this year! Our students, teachers, and the entire Graide Network team are so grateful for you and excited to follow your journey to the classroom.

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