Jamie Paul, a Kindergarten teacher in Flagstaff, Arizona, shares her stories from many years working in helping professions. From doing surgery on a frog, to joining Teach for America and realizing how much she didn’t know, to calling her boss a racist when she worked in a public library. This episode is a great mix of humor and insightful reflection.
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For the full transcript of this episode, read on below:
ANNOUNCER: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. You host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
SHARON: This season was brought to you by VolunteerPro. VolunteerPro provides online volunteer management training, coaching, and community to leaders and volunteers at all levels. Learn more at volpro.net and stay tuned for later in the show when I will tell you about a special discount for our listeners.
I am Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, welcome back to Do Good, Be Good. This is our seventh episode. I will have two more episodes for you and then we will take a break for the holidays before we start season two. On this show we talk to helpful people from a wide range of backgrounds. We hear all kinds of stories from people trying to do good. In episode 2, Gina shared what it was like to take in her brother’s four kids and become their foster parent. In episode 4 I spoke to Kristi. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner and she has traveled to other countries on medical missions and has all kinds of stories. If you haven’t heard those stories, please subscribe to the show and listen back to our past episodes.
On today’s episode, I speak to Jamie Paul. Jamie currently works as a kindergarten teacher in Flagstaff, Arizona. She has had many jobs in the helping professions, including working in a public library and working at a university career center. I asked Jamie if she was always a helpful person.
JAMIE: I am sure my mom would disagree that I was just helpful as a small child. But when I was little I used to get in trouble a lot, I don’t even know what for; probably for being mean or like stubborn. And when I was really little until I was in kindergarten I would throw fits when I would get in trouble and I would yell and scream, “Nobody loves me” and my older sister, she was 15 when I was born, so she was 17 or around there, and she’s really sweet. She’s much nicer than me and she would always feel bad for me and she would say, “She’s just trying to help, she’s just trying to help”. So Kris thought I was being helpful when I was very small, but I think she was wrong. I was just being a bastard, it’s true. I remember it and I was just like being horrible. But we were raised in a church actually, and we did a lot of service and volunteering in youth group and my mom is like a helper person, she does helpful things… I think it’s quite normal, yea. I think most people must do a lot of things to help people and maybe they just don’t notice, because it’s not their job or… yea, but most of my close friends work as teachers or nurses, or nonprofits… when I meet someone who works in a corporate world I am just very confused. I’m like, “and you wanted to do that, that’s your choice, ok? weird”.
SHARON: There is this trope that’s out there of the guy who goes out, first thing out of college and goes to work on wall street or something, makes a million dollars, works tons and tons of hours, and then suddenly realizes… oh my gosh, life is meaningless
JAMIE: His life is meaningless
SHARON: His life is meaningless, and there’s more to life than just money. You know, and he always says this on a podcast that I am listening to, “and then I realized that there was more to life than just money”
JAMIE: Don’t you ever think… who was your mother? How did you grow up like that?
SHARON: NO, I just think that I screwed up. Why didn’t I make a million dollars first, and then have the wonderful knowledge that I have had throughout my whole life that there is more to life than money.
JAMIE: I bet that really sucked making the million dollars. I bet it was really horrible. Probably had to work 25 hours a day, indoors, wearing a suit, sounds awful.
So when I was in college, I was first going to be a veterinarian, mainly because I didn’t know a lot of jobs existed, and I had heard of veterinarians and I liked animals, cause their awesome. But I make a horrible veterinarian because I hate animals that are crying or animals in cages, although I really love surgery. So if it was like a vet where you just bring your pet, and it is knocked out already, and I do surgery, and someone else watches over it when it recovers in a cage… That is all I do is the surgery, and then pet your dog and send it on its way, I would probably be an awesome vet.
SHARON: wait, how did you find out that you like surgery if you…
JAMIE: Oh! I don’t just cut open animals, I would like to clarify. I volunteered at a vet in high school and in college the first couple years and when you are there long enough they let you come into surgery and then they let you do things, like push someone’s bone into place or do a couple stitches..
SHARON: And by someone, you mean an animal’s …
JAMIE: Yes. Yea, I don’t think it works the same if you are like a candy striper in the hospital. I don’t think they let you walk into heart surgeries and just do stuff. But with animals people are less picky. So, once I found a frog. I was already in college and I found a frog at this stable I was working at over the summer, because I wanted to work with horses because they seemed really cool… and they kind of are, but they’re not as smart as you think they are. They are kind of dumb, which is really sad, because they look like they would be like “high ho silver” awesome, you come, I jump … but anyways…. I was at the stables and this frog got kicked or something by a horse and the frog was hopping around and his intestines were like falling out but he was hopping around. And then me and this little girl that was there, this is probably a more age appropriate thing for her to have done, but whatever, we caught the frog and took it to the vet. I was like, “this frog needs your help” and my vet was like, “I do not work on frogs”, but this other vet that was there was like, yea, let’s do it. So she let me sew up the frog and we washed him out with saline and we read about frogs and I let him go in my backyard. I am assuming he’s probably like a magical frog who is still alive someplace in Sierra Vista Arizona.
SHARON: How old would he be today?
JAMIE: He would be … that was like 1997, so he would be 20 years old. Probably he is just fine. His name should be Kermit, because Kermit is pretty old too. Yea. So I do like surgery. I like science and blood doesn’t bother me, but pain does. So as long as I can tell the animal doesn’t feel pain, I am cool, but there were reasons to change majors when I realized all the other things vets do.
SHARON: I asked Jamie how she got into teaching.
JAMIE: I was an education major because every job I took was working with kids and I was like, “FINE, I will be a teacher then”. Then I really, I really hate education classes with a passion, because you can pass them with a 4.0 while taking 24 credit hours and working 40 hours a week and I didn’t want to pay for that. So then I changed majors again, back to biology and I heard about Teach for America. I was like, oh you don’t even have to take those lovely classes and you can go be a teacher. So then I did Teach for America. At first it was just a way to get certified, because I was like, I want to be a teacher, but then I read Jonathan Coosville’s… oh my gosh…
SHARON: The book she’s trying to remember, it’s called, “On Being a Teacher”.
JAMIE: So I read this book and I was terrified, by like, the world is going to end. I will go anywhere they send me. I got hired.
SHARON: Because you would go anywhere they would send you.
JAMIE: Because I would go anywhere they would send me and I got sent to Houston, which was odd because I had never ever thought of the city of Houston for more than 5 seconds in my life and when I did I probably thought it had lots of tall yellow dead grass and cowboys because it is in Texas, but actually it is in a swamp. It is a swamp. It’s like an hour from New Orleans or something, it’s really close to New Orleans. It’s almost under water. It’s really huge. It’s the fourth biggest city in America. Which my mom fell over laughing when we looked it up in the atlas, “It’s the fourth biggest city in the country, oh my god”, cause I hated big cities. So I went to Houston and I was a really horrible, horrible, horrible teacher for the first year and I cried every day and there was a kid dancing on his desk the first day of school and I just looked at him. I was like 21 years old and I had no idea what was going on. He had been put in my class because Ms. Eley who had had him for two years just didn’t want to take him again. She took him the next day, but it turns out there is a vacuum in a classroom with no classroom management and if you get rid of the bad kid you just get five more. It was a disaster of monumental proportions.
Then I taught Kindergarten, which I was really scared of because I hadn’t really seen a child that young in a long time and I had never worked with them. I had worked with lots of other kids doing camps and stuff like that, but I was like, oh my god, do they wet the pants? Do they know how to wipe their nose? What am I supposed to do? But then, they were awesome. And the coolest thing about kindergarteners is you can do really hard stuff with them, because they don’t know it’s hard. You can practically teach them calculus and they will think, “This is awesome”, because they love learning things still. So kindergarteners are the bomb.
SHARON: Jamie and I both served in National Service programs so we discuss what it would be like if everyone did a year of service.
To our earlier point of… we don’t know a lot of people who work in the private sector; we don’t know if they actually try to help people…
SHARON: care about the children and are thinking about these issues
JAMIE: I assume they do…
SHARON: But I think it would actually be great if people did a service year and then went into every industry. Wouldn’t it be cool if everybody that you interacted with had had a similar experience of serving?
SHARON: for a year.
JAMIE: No, I think that, that would be my dream. If I was like independently wealthy and could do anything I wanted with my time, wouldn’t it be awesome if you had to do a year of service. If you did two years of service, that would be even better, because I am a social engineer… the groups that you worked with… like NCCC … Liz, who is one of my best friends since second grade, she did NCCC.
SHARON: National Civilian and Community Corps
JAMIE: Yes, and it’s a residential program, so you live with your team and you travel with your team and you get free housing and food and you get paid… poorly… and you go do amazing work all around a certain region of the country. So she was in Colorado, Denver based. And wouldn’t it be great if everyone did that for two years? And you could social engineer the teams so that you would on purpose desegregate America on those teams. That would be a great thing to do, I think, right after high school. You do that for two years and then you get probably, 12-16 different experiences. Like Liz, she learned to do sheetrock because they built an orphanage. She recruited people into Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs for kids. She did trail work in a National Park. And lots of our really good friends that she met in AmeriCorps are our really good friends. She married a guy she met in AmeriCorps. And lots of those people went off… her husband worked for ICE and now he works in Federal Law Enforcement, one of the other girls from there, she is a lawyer, crazy big time lawyer. A lot of them are nurses; some of them became teachers. They go into lots of different professions. I would describe most of them as being service based in some way. I think that would be awesome. And then you get free college. Two years of service to the country, think about all the awesome projects that could be completed. Talk about infrastructure, we could fix all of that and that way it is like a pipeline.
SHARON: You are sounding a lot like General Stanley Mcchrystal. He is trying to make this happen.
JAMIE: It would be amazing. Apparently I am just a really bossy person. I would be like, “It’s required. You all do it.” But it would be better obviously if it became just the thing you do. If it’s not actually required, but it’s like, what do you do after high school? Everyone does this.
SHARON: Chelsea Clinton was trying to start a campaign around…
JAMIE: Ah! She has money!
SHARON: people would say, “Where did you serve?”
JAMIE: oh! She’s so cool.
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Jamie shares a story about her experience working in a public library in a diverse urban area.
JAMIE: The librarian was from Eastern Oregon; she’s a white lady from Eastern Oregon. She thought she was really good with diverse populations, but we were wondering if she had ever met anybody who wasn’t white and from Eastern Oregon, cause she said some crazy offensive things all the time. What was the most interesting thing about this library was because it had this big population of immigrants and refugees, and then it was being run by a woman who maybe had not had that much experience with that population, and her take on it was that culturally, this is how children should behave. But they are not from America, so we can’t tell them to behave, because that would be … uh… rude? It would be rude to tell the children not to run and jump on things and tear books off the shelves and throw them on the floor so they should just be allowed to do that because that is what is culturally appropriate for them. AAHHH… it was this crazy wacked out racism. I got in really big trouble for calling my boss a racist. So that was an interesting story, but I think the take home for me was…
SHARON: Wait, wait, wait, we are not at the take home yet, how did this go?
JAMIE: Well, it went badly. We had lots of people who wouldn’t bring their kids to the library anymore because it was so rambunctious and crazy and we had lots of older people who didn’t come because it was so rambunctious and crazy. Or people would only come before three and then they would vacate and it would become just all kids. And it was a diverse staff, so having staff conversations where we are like, “African-American people do not expect their kids to one, ask strangers for money, or run around like a crazy hooligan throwing shit at each other”. That’s not actually culturally appropriate. So there were lots of discussions about why one would think that that’s culturally appropriate and what would the children look like if you didn’t think that was culturally appropriate. It was mostly like lots of awkward, horrible staff conversations where lots of people were scared to say anything because we all needed jobs. There was lots of gasping and chin dropping constantly. This is horrible, but this is stuff that was said.
Like, Spring Break and someone would say something like, “its spring break and lots of our kids have gone other places for spring break, and when they come back, they may not remember how to speak English, because they have been gone for a week. So let’s be very patient with them.” Where six or seven chins around the table would drop and people would be like, “….” And then that was like the person in charge. But I really feel like there was a take home though. There’s people who have good intentions who are probably white, who go into a community that isn’t their own, … isn’t our own, cause I am white too, and make assumptions about the behavior they should expect, which I think is based on horrible stereotypes and basically horrible racism. But even though that’s what their expectations are based on, I don’t think they see that their expectations are horribly racist. I don’t think they see that. They think they are being culturally sensitive by expecting far less of someone who is not white than someone who is white. And it’s really offensive and I think it happens constantly.
It just made a lot sense to me, that that’s what was happening, because I had taught mainly in schools of color for my whole teaching career, sometimes with lots of white teachers, and sometimes not, and I don’t hate white people, some of us are quite nice, I am sure many people of all races are quite nice. But I think it’s a problem. I think it’s a problem that nobody talks about very much and I think it’s a problem that really affects lots of children’s lives in America because of the percentage of children going to public school who are of color, which is really high, and the percentage of teachers who are white women. I am not saying that men don’t do this, they may as well, but I feel like there is an empathy part, where in order to be a nice person, I should see what is culturally sensitive… this kid has a really hard life so I should do this about it… and I think it is handicapping generations of children and it’s really awful and it makes me want to say really horrible things to people, which is probably not productive. I mean, that doesn’t help.
SHARON: You said you called your boss a racist?
JAMIE: I did, well I said … we were like in the middle of a performance review and then they were like, “Do you have anything else to say?” and I was like, “well, basically I think that the way we are running this library is really a bit of institutionalized racism because we are expecting different behavior from the kids and the people in this neighborhood than we are from the say, kids from University Heights. And why is that? Because the kids in this neighborhood are not white. So we are expecting much less of their behavior and we are calling it cultural sensitivity. And then they were really mad. Everyone was really mad. It was a horrible, horrible, thing to say. She probably doesn’t like me very much. Hopefully she will never hear this podcast, because it is kind of horrible. But still, I am not making anything up; it was true.
SHARON: I asked Jamie if she would recommend Teach for America even though she had a bad experience her first year.
JAMIE: It wasn’t Teach for America that made me miserable. It was racial and economic inequality in America; the whole overarching system of education in America. It was a lot of things that I just didn’t know were problems that are really big problems in the world. If you are 21 and you have had a pretty awesome life up till then and your biggest problem has been, you know, that boy didn’t like you or something, or your hair was too frizzy, then those things hit really hard. You are like, oh my god, there is going to be a revolution. I can’t believe people aren’t in the streets. Of course, people aren’t and there are lots of reasons why we have designed our country in order to keep this going.
SHARON: And it’s been that way for a while.
JAMIE: Exactly, yea. That is the way capitalism works, that’s the only way it works. You have to have winners and you have to have losers and you have to convince the losers they may one-time be the winners and that’s the way it works. That’s the only way it works. And you can’t actually improve the lot of the losers and keep a capitalistic system, so, I am kind of against capitalism now. When I went into Teach for America, I didn’t know a lot about a lot. I was a very young 21, think 12. So it was a very miserable experience, because growing up within six weeks is much harder than it would be if maybe you grew up over a lifetime.
But there are strengths I think to the program. The strengths are that a lot of people go into teaching through teach for America that wouldn’t have considered it otherwise. Sometimes that’s because, in my opinion, from taking Ed classes, the expectations in lots of education programs are so low, that people who like a challenge, or seem themselves as academic, often won’t see an Education program through because it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the money and because the stereotype around, especially elementary education, is that it is like an easy major and that maybe it’s for people who can’t do anything else. Those who can’t, teach… that sort of thing. SO there’s lots of social views about the profession and about people who go into the profession that prevent people I think who are academically minded who would like to teach from being teachers and that’s horrible. So then Teach for America goes out and says we are going to recruit you, and it’s really competitive. Only one out of ten people get in and that makes it sound more attractive to people who are competitive and academic. SO I think it gets lots of people into the classroom who would normally not go and I also think it gets lots of people into situations, just like I was, to see inequalities in America that they didn’t know existed. They may never have found out. If I had never done Teach for America; if I had taken the job at Mesa Verde as a National Parks Interpreter, which would have been awesome, would I ever have found any of that out? Or would I be like a Republican right now? Who knows! You know, probably, because if you never see these things up close, you probably still think … I mean I might think we are post-racial, there’s no racism, classism doesn’t exist and if you don’t have enough money, you should work harder. I could still think those things, because that’s what I was raised to think.
Even though I have groaned and moaned about lots of problems in the world, I really do think people are good. I would say people are born good and most people think what they are doing is good. I think 99% of the people are trying to do good things for other people 99% of the time. Those are the true stats I am sure. So I think to be good is probably just to be yourself, because I just don’t think someone who is being true to themselves would be a shithead. I just don’t. I think if everyone was brought up, in school and at home, being told that they are good and they are amazing and they are awesome, and being shown how to help people, I just think people automatically like that. You will never meet a kid that doesn’t like helping people, ever. Even a horrible child who has had no upbringing and has rolled in the dirt their whole life and then they come to school and they are maybe 10 years old the first time they have talked to someone, they are still going to want to help people, they do. I think we are hard wired to that. I would say doing good is being true to that part of yourself that is to serve other people.
SHARON: Well, that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good and thanks to everyone who has subscribed to this podcast. Please subscribe in iTunes to get the next episode when it is released next Wednesday.
For show notes on this episode, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. That is also where you can find the discount code for Volunteer Pro and more information about Do Good, Be Good.
Thanks as always to our host Sun Sounds of Arizona for the recording space. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, Released under a Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.