Personal Stories

Start of School 2022: How'd it Go?

October 7, 2022
Teacher Preparation
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Melissa Galvez
Relay staff

Back-to-school is always a mixture of excitement and nerves - from new teachers to experienced leaders, kindergarteners to high school seniors. But these past three years have been especially challenging as educators, students, and families adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic and its ongoing effects.

That’s just one more reason why we’re constantly awed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the teachers and leaders we support at Relay. So we checked in with a few educators in the Relay family in Tennessee  to see how things have gone in the first two months of school.

Julio Arana

Teaches U.S. history at Knoxville Central High School in Knox County Schools, TN

Relay Master of Arts in Teaching - Residency 2024

One word to describe this year: Thrilling

“Every day there is a different challenge, a different perspective. Children aren’t the same from one day to the next, so you go in to work and have no idea what to expect. You just try to be prepared.”

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

“I served in the military for 23 years, and then as the budget director at the South Carolina Department of Transportation. I also spent several years as a stay at home dad, so I became very attuned to what was going on at my kids’ school. I wasn’t 100% happy with what I saw, and rather than complain about it, I wanted to do something about it. I really enjoyed getting to teach a course or two in my previous roles. So as my kids got into their late teenage years, I realized, this is time to pursue my desire to teach and make a contribution.”

What is one of the teaching skills you’re working on thus far this year?

“Multiple approaches to engaging students. They're all in a certain developmental stage, but you have to try different ways to engage their interest and make it relevant to their own experiences and cultural backgrounds. For example, when you’re teaching history, you don’t want to just pay lip service to the contributions of African Americans, you want to pay full tribute to their value and worth. There aren’t as many teaching materials on the contributions of Hispanic people to U.S. history, so I’m going to be looking for those resources.

You need to recruit their interest. U.S. history is important, and they’re a part of it.”

Molly Gillis

Teaches kindergarten at Warner Elementary, Metro Nashville Public Schools, TN

Relay Master of Arts in Teaching 2018 (9 years total in teaching)

One word to describe this year: Settled

“I think we’re starting to feel settled because I have a really strong foundation in creating strong routines and procedures that help kids feel safe, throwing in a ton of social emotional connections and relationship building. Kids are starting to bring out the best in each other. They are learning to take care of our class and each other.”

What are you still using from your Relay education?

“Routines and procedures - absolutely. Digging deep into data and data analysis, parent communication, and lot of training on bias and social emotional learning.”

What do you love about your position now?

“I love coming to work because I feel like I’m trusted to be creative, and I have autonomy, but within parameters. I think that’s what teachers really need - you want someone to have your back. My principal conveys that trust to us.”

Nisha Springfield

Teaches Algebra 1 and 2 at Knoxville Central High School in Knox County Schools, TN

Relay Master of Arts in Teaching - Residency 2024

One word to describe this year:  Overwhelmed - but really exciting

“Right now, it’s constant change, which can feel overwhelming. Many of us are nontraditional new teachers, so being a parent, student, and teacher can be a lot. But the impact we’re having is incredibly exciting.”

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

“My undergrad degree was in child and adolescent mental health, and I was a counselor for many years. But I was always intrigued by Special Education teachers. And I wanted to understand, from the inside: Why is it often hard for teachers to connect with students? How can we make it easier? I don’t want to have a power dynamic; I want to have mutual respect. They teach me some things, and I teach them some things. There are hundreds of ways to solve a given problem. If you find a way that works for you, come show us. If you need a fidget spinner or to listen to music to learn, then do it. I believe that learning should be fun.

In addition - I’m the first woman on my mom’s side to go college, and on my dad’s side, my granny and her sister were teachers. So I feel very grateful and blessed to be doing this. I am both carrying on a legacy and breaking new ground.”

What have you been learning in your Relay masters program so far?

“One theme in all of the Relay classes is culturally responsive teaching. I’ve learned about teaching so that everyone can understand, not teaching above or below, but to where everyone can get it and understand it. People think it’s just about gender or race, but it’s not. It’s about connecting to everything from the child's community. The students ask - why do I have to do math, what am I going to use this for? And I’ve been thinking about activities that help them understand that, to see the world through a math lens.”

Melissa Galvez

Melissa is an experienced storyteller with a passion for writing about the people and organizations that are changing lives. She taught 8th grade English, worked as a radio reporter for Houston Public Media, received her masters in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and has worked in communications for several impactful education nonprofits. She is currently the Director of Communications at Relay Graduate School of Education.


Sign up for our monthly newsletter for more expert insights from school and system leaders.

Thank you! You are now subscribed to the Relay Blog.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.