“Meet the Board - Rachel Bemis”

Rachel Bemis shares her impactful experience of finally deciding to become a teacher after a fulfilling career in other sectors. Sierra Tai-Brownlee, former Tell Us Something Board member, interviews Rachel for her podcast ”

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Transcript : Meet the Board - Rachel Bemis

Marc Moss: [00:00:00] Welcome to the tele hunting podcast. I’m Marc Moss. The next, tell us something live storytelling event is September 27th. At the Dennison theater. The theme is letting go eight storytellers. Take the stage to share their two personal stories from memory. Tickets are now on sale. For tell us something live at the Dennison theater, September 27th.

Marc Moss: Get your [email protected] We again, welcome our friends from the deaf C. By providing American sign language interpretation. See you September 27th for letting go stories at the Dennison theater, more information and tickets are [email protected] The next, tell us something podcast episodes are a little different than what you are used to.

Marc Moss: You will meet each member of the, tell something board, former board member Sierra Ty Brownley interviewed the Tellum board for her podcast. Impactful experiences. Sierra believes that listening to meaningful stories, changes your ideas and makes you think and feel beyond what you [00:01:00] may already accept.

Marc Moss: This week. Sierra sits down with tell us something board treasurer, Rachel Beas let’s

Sarah FitzGerald: listen.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Welcome back to impactful experiences with Sierra Ty Brownley, where I chat with a new guest each episode and ask them to share one of their impactful experiences. This is your host Sierra, and I want to thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy today. I am joined by Rachel Beas elementary teacher in Western Montana.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: And tell us something board member, Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast

Sarah FitzGerald: today. Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Me too. And of course, so let’s just hop right in and if you’d be willing, could you tell us a little bit about your impactful experience?

Sarah FitzGerald: Sure. Um, you know, when I was asked to do this podcast, I think like many people, I thought about [00:02:00] several different things that have impacted me the most, but I think really my journey, um, to be, and my detours, um, to becoming a teacher is probably the most, um, impactful experience for.

Sarah FitzGerald: Okay.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: I’d love to dive a little bit into that. And if you could share kind of what your journey has been to becoming

Sarah FitzGerald: a teacher. Sure. I was one of those little girls sitting in second grade with Mrs. Roach, knowing that I was meant to be a teacher. I knew it. from second grade. And so, you know, all through elementary, middle school, high school, you read my yearbook.

Sarah FitzGerald: Everything is about me being a teacher mm-hmm . And I decided before I started community college, that I would start working with kids. I was an aunt, I had three, uh, I had two nephews and a niece by the time I was 20 and had baby. Yeah. And had babysat, uh, a ton starting at age 11, 12 years old. And, and.

Sarah FitzGerald: Really comfortable around [00:03:00] kids, but I wanted to make sure that translated into education mm-hmm . Um, and so when I was in high school, I, um, did some volunteering in a first grade classroom and I loved it. And then it was time to graduate and time to go to college. Yeah. One of the jobs that I got was as a summer camp counselor, And I hated it.

Sarah FitzGerald: Oh, wow. And , and for whatever reason, I convinced myself that that was teaching mm-hmm and I was like, this is not a good fit. Like I, this is I like, yeah. I don’t know what the problem is this whole time. For years and years and years, I had a plan in place. This is what I was going to do and was like, absolutely not.

Sarah FitzGerald: I need to do something else. so fast forward, like 12 years mm-hmm and I was a real estate lender in town, um, [00:04:00] and really enjoyed it. And then I reached a point where I stopped enjoying it. Mm-hmm and I was about 31 years. I was 30, 30, 31 years old. Mm-hmm . and I just started feeling like I needed a change and I, I didn’t know what that was.

Sarah FitzGerald: I didn’t know if it was a career change. I didn’t know if it was just switching companies. Yeah. You know, I wasn’t sure. So those feelings were kind of stirring in my brain. And, and so, as I mentioned, I always knew, and everyone knew around me, my whole childhood, my high school years, that I was gonna be a teacher.

Sarah FitzGerald: There was no other option. I didn’t even think about anything else. Mm-hmm . And so when these, these uncertain feelings were starting to stir around. I randomly had a phone conversation with my first love from high school. Mm-hmm Roland. And I hadn’t seen him or talked to him since I was 17 years old. Yeah.

Sarah FitzGerald: And [00:05:00] I only knew him when I was 17 years old, so I only knew him for a year of my life. Okay. And we had this lovely conversation. Ironically I was at work. He was a real estate lender. And one of the first questions he asked me was, are you a teacher? And I was really taken aback because I kind of forgot that that was my path.

Sarah FitzGerald: And that’s the only thing that he had in mind. So when he had reflected on our time together, just me as a person, that’s what he focused on. Mm-hmm like, of course she’s a teacher, right? I’m talking to her 14 years later. Of course she’s a teacher. And I was like, no, actually I went, took a different path and you know, and I was very successful in my career.

Sarah FitzGerald: I had purchased my own home by myself and mm-hmm , you know, I legitimately had a career, but I had this nagging feeling that it was. Time for a change. Yeah. And so when he made that comment to me, it really affected me, um, to the point [00:06:00] that I got off the phone with him and sobbed in the bathroom at work.

Sarah FitzGerald: Oh, I know. And I was like, okay, well, I don’t know what that means, but you know, it, it almost felt like I was a failure. Like I hadn’t done what I set out to do, even though I was living a great life. Yeah. So fast forward a little bit, again, still stirring feelings. And I had a realtor friend that invited me to a networking event.

Sarah FitzGerald: It was this monthly, like women’s group that met and talked about business ideas and tried to do business together. Mm-hmm and we were sitting around the table. and, um, it was like a hundred people in a conference room, 10 people to have tabled one of which I knew and had become friends with, but everyone else was pretty much strangers.

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. And we’re sitting at this table of 10 people and the keynote speaker comes on the microphone and she said, before we, you know, have lunch and [00:07:00] before we chat, I want you to talk to your table about what would you do as an icebreaker question? What would you do if you couldn’t fail? And I, of course, maybe not.

Sarah FitzGerald: Of course my, maybe this is shocking. uh, I started crying immediately, um, at this table full of strangers mm-hmm and I said, I’ll go first. I’ll go first. Okay. And I said, I would quit my job and I would go back to school and I would become a teacher. Mm. and it just hit me that that’s what I was supposed to do and why I allowed my 18 year old self to convince myself that summer camp was teaching and let go of my dream.

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. You know, we, we learn. Right. Um, so now I was this career woman that owned a house and had responsibilities. But I knew I needed to leave. I knew it immediately. I, I [00:08:00] never looked back Sierra ever. The next day I took the day off of work. Mm-hmm I went to the local university of Montana, Missoula mm-hmm I enrolled, I reviewed my finances that weekend.

Sarah FitzGerald: and on Monday I gave my two week notice. Wow. Yeah. And I left that job 11 years ago. Mm-hmm I started taking classes that summer. I didn’t even wait till the fall. I started that may. And I got my teaching degree and a minor in reading in three years, mind you, I had a lot of responsibilities and had to figure out how am I going to do this?

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. And there was times where I had seven little part-time jobs, little. Oh my gosh. I know. Like, it might have been like one day a week. I worked at this daycare and uh, the other day of the week I passed out these pamphlets and it was all these little, [00:09:00] little jobs. Mm. Um, but I did it to make it work and I never, ever, ever looked back.

Sarah FitzGerald: And, um, I’m now going to be entering my ninth year of teaching.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Wow. Okay. Really? What a journey. And

Sarah FitzGerald: it was, yeah, quite a journey, some detours along the way. But once I made the decision, I knew that this was going to impact my life. Mm-hmm .

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Okay. And now that you have been teaching. Um, or like you said, nine years, do you see yourself staying in teaching or potentially moving in the future?

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: You

Sarah FitzGerald: know, I am really into embracing side hustles. Um, that’s my, that’s my new thing. So. You know, my passion is my day to day teaching mm-hmm . Um, I have looked into the past just based on my past experience and leadership qualities. Would I wanna be an administrator? Would I want to go in a different direction?

Sarah FitzGerald: Would I [00:10:00] wanna use education to work at a museum or whatever it might be? um, for me, I’m good. Like I am beyond satisfied. Mm-hmm I, um, I went back to school in 2019 and I earned my master’s. Last year. Okay. Yeah. So I have that. And so that was really a great professional development opportunity for a few years, um, to continue to learn more, um, I’ve focused on integrating arts in the classroom.

Sarah FitzGerald: So that has challenged me as an educator. As well. So for me, I think I’m good. I really would, you know, it took me a while to get here. Mm-hmm and I’m, I’m very, very grateful. And, um, beyond satisfied, I feel extremely fulfilled. Now I will, I will say I am the type of person. That’s always pursuing other things, but that doesn’t, that that has nothing to do with my career and my passion mm-hmm so that.[00:11:00]

Sarah FitzGerald: that would be like, for example, you know, I would love to teach, um, as an adjunct professor and maybe get my foot in the door at a university mm-hmm maybe that’s something that could transition into teaching a summer class, or maybe after retirement potentially being something, um, a mentor for educators.

Sarah FitzGerald: Things like that. So I’ve definitely looked into that. Um, I was a TA this summer mm-hmm , um, at the university for my old master’s program. So just kind of dipping my toe into different things, um, has been fun.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Okay. Very nice. And did you know kind of what grade or age of students you wanted to teach?

Sarah FitzGerald: Well, because of Mrs.

Sarah FitzGerald: Roach, my second grade teacher, I always felt like that was the right grade level for me. Yeah. Um, and then it was kind of a joke because I’m, I’m on the petite side. Um, so I was like, I don’t want them to be taller than me [00:12:00] and I just always really liked that age group. And so ironically, when I. Did my student teaching, um, I student taught in second grade mm-hmm and then I ended up getting hired from that same school in first grade.

Sarah FitzGerald: So I taught first grade for five years. Mm-hmm then I taught second grade for a year. Um, and then I was ready to make a move to a different school district for a variety of reasons. And the position that was available. Was at the district that I wanted, that I’m currently at was fourth grade remote, fully remote for the full year.

Sarah FitzGerald: And the remote thing of course, you know, is a little scary in general. Mm-hmm um, and then fourth grade was really scary for me. That felt like a huge jump from first. Yeah. Um, and to be honest, I felt like it would be a good foot in the door. And then I would kind of get a feel for if there’s other grades that open up and ironically a second grade position did actually open up and I [00:13:00] had zero interest and okay.

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. So this will be my third year teaching fourth grade. I love it. And I would say about seven of the kids last year were taller than me. wow. Okay. So I prepared for that now every year. Yes. Um, but I absolutely love it and I, I don’t know. This might be the perfect grade for me. Okay.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Interesting. Um, and then.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: What do you think maybe what skills do you think helped you go into teaching or maybe had you learned before you went into teaching? Um, yeah. That you think are really applicable,

Sarah FitzGerald: you know, for me, I think some potentially non-traditional things have really prepared me to be successful. I think that, you know, I did my student, I did part of my student teaching in, um, Guang, China in 2014.[00:14:00]

Sarah FitzGerald: And I was expecting to enter an environment that was very rigid. and that I really need, and I love that I was really excited cause I’m kind of type a and I really like things very structured. And so I was like, okay, great. Like I’m gonna have a set schedule. I’m gonna know exactly what’s happening, what grades I’m teaching.

Sarah FitzGerald: And it was the opposite because of the dynamics of the country. Um, that certainly trickled down into how the schools were run, how the students behaved. The relationship between the teacher and the student. And I was blindsided at how flexible I needed to be. Mm-hmm and that was very challenging for me.

Sarah FitzGerald: Um, I didn’t have a choice I had to be. Um, and because of that, that is one of the biggest things that has translated into my teaching life here in the United States. And it sounds really silly. but the idea of covering someone’s recess [00:15:00] duty for them spontaneously, and the idea of, you know, a student having an issue and you needing to stop a lesson and do something else.

Sarah FitzGerald: Mm-hmm , those are skills that are really important and they build community. Um, and so those were things that I really brought into. My career that I wasn’t expecting. Mm-hmm I think, I think also, you know, sometimes I joke like, oh my gosh, if I would’ve just gone to college, when I was supposed to go to college, then I would be retiring in five years or whatever it might be, or, you know, different things like that.

Sarah FitzGerald: Um, or I would be making more money cause I would have more experience, but, but honestly, I don’t know that I would be where I am today. If I. Gone on that path that I had expected. When I went back to college a little older at 31, I took it very seriously and I had a mortgage to pay. I have [00:16:00] responsibilities that I wouldn’t have had when I was 18 years old.

Sarah FitzGerald: And so I was very focused, not only on actually getting good grades and learning, but also getting it done quickly so that I could start making. Money, even if it was even if it was a teacher’s salary, at least it wasn’t seven part-time jobs. Yeah. Um, so yeah, I think those are the things that I was not expecting to bring in and to learn that I, that I have.

Sarah FitzGerald: Okay.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: So you think that if you had gone into teaching, um, I guess right after school, do you think you would still be in teaching or. I don’t know what

Sarah FitzGerald: happened. I mean, I really don’t know. I would say that my advice, if I was talking to my younger self or someone else, mm-hmm , um, you know, my advice would be to always pursue what you feel your passion is, but don’t just go straight to college.

Sarah FitzGerald: And what I mean by that is like, I still [00:17:00] would. I still, I think looking back, I would’ve just pursued teaching more while I was getting my. So I would’ve thrown myself more into the classroom. I would’ve volunteered more. I would not, I would’ve spoken with more educators about their experience and versus telling myself that summer camp was the same as teaching mm-hmm or like saying babysitting children is the same as teaching.

Sarah FitzGerald: It’s not at all. Like, my job is. Relationships with parents. My job is about relationships with other people and those other teachers and those interpersonal connections. It’s not just like, oh, I get along with kids and I like learning about math. It’s so much more than that. So I think it’s about, if you have something in mind, take that time to volunteer.

Sarah FitzGerald: You know, if you wanna be a veterinarian, don’t just go straight to vet school for the next eight years. Like. Get your high into a vet clinic, you know, like [00:18:00] those kind of, those kind of things. Mm-hmm okay.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Yeah. And do you have kind of a favorite aspect of teaching? Because like you just mentioned, there are many different things that you do and it’s not only.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Working with the students.

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. I mean, I would say because of the grade level that I teach in fourth grade, there is so much room for not only creativity, but also for them to choose different ways to learn. So I think for me, it’s great to be able to expose my students to a variety of ways to learn, uh, specific skill.

Sarah FitzGerald: And then for them to be able to have the, uh, confidence to be able to choose which one works best for them. So I think that that is, that is something that we have the luxury of doing now. I, you know, it wasn’t like that when I was growing up even, um, that we were just taught one way to do it, and this was the only way to do it.

Sarah FitzGerald: And now there’s, there’s so many different ways to express your, um, skill level. And so [00:19:00] that, that exposure is, is really fun. And to be able to see students take ownership of their learning

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: mm-hmm okay, cool. Cool. I think that’s an interesting topic. Um, kind of thinking about different learning and also education changing over time.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: What do you think has changed or maybe what are some differences that you’ve seen even from when you were student to now, or just throughout your past years teaching?

Sarah FitzGerald: Well, a couple things. I mean, I grew up going to a private school. There was 40 students in my class mm-hmm um, and which is enormous. and you learned one way to learn things and that was it.

Sarah FitzGerald: And it didn’t matter what you were necessarily going through emotionally, or if you were struggling academically, we were pushing along. And so that’s one thing that I take pride in is being able to assess my student and where they’re at. And if we are having [00:20:00] an emotional breakdown, if we are having students, you know, like this year we had students that were upset, they were having just conflict with it, with, you know, like friendship issues.

Sarah FitzGerald: Yeah. They’re not able to learn. They’re not. And you know, if you certainly, if you have support of a school counselor or anything like that, that’s fabulous. But sometimes we don’t have that. And I had multiple occasions this past year where I just stopped teaching and we just got in a circle and talked and kind of problem solved some things.

Sarah FitzGerald: Um, and that was a game changer because then I was able to get back to teaching and they were able to absorb it and care about it. Yeah. Um, because I was able to make that modification. So I think being able to have that flexibility is huge. I think. You know, dealing with COVID and so many different things going on that administration certainly recognizes how important it is to meet students needs of their social, emotional [00:21:00] needs.

Sarah FitzGerald: Mm-hmm first, before you can teach them anything. And so it comes back to that flexibility and, you know, being able to modify things like that. Mm-hmm

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: definitely okay. Um, kind of going back to knowing which grade you wanted to teach. Is there a grade you really don’t wanna teach or like you would never want to teach?

Sarah FitzGerald: Um, well, that’s funny. You’d say that when I was student teaching in second grade, We had a teacher that was in the middle school that got ill. And my principal said, can you please just step in just for a couple hours in seventh and eighth grade? Yeah. And it was fine. It was fun. But I came back and I was like, this is not a good fit for me.

Sarah FitzGerald: Like I, I, yeah, I am an elementary teacher period. I. I could be a middle school teacher. I could be a high school teacher [00:22:00] for an hour if I needed to. I I’m joking, but more than. But it would not, it would, I would not be my best self. My best self is in elementary education where I can reach the whole student in a variety of ways, social, emotional, academic, um, that mix of love, but loving but firm, um, you know, clear expectations with a hug.

Sarah FitzGerald: That’s that’s who I am. Mm.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Okay. Okay. Alrighty. Well, I think that we’ll start wrapping things up here, but okay. As always, my last question is Rachel, what’s the best piece of life advice you’ve been given.

Sarah FitzGerald: It is the most random and simple phrase and it is leave it alone. And I will tell you that my friend’s husband brought this phrase to me about 15 years ago.

Sarah FitzGerald: And to her, yeah, it’s really about picking your [00:23:00] battles, deciding when it’s appropriate to speak and not speak. Deciding when there’s certain things that you just need to leave it alone. And I used to not leave anything alone ever. I used to pick everything and I don’t mean nitpicky. I just mean that I felt like I was an advocate for myself and for everybody around me, even if they didn’t advocate for themselves.

Sarah FitzGerald: And I’ve learned with experience that it’s really important. Just like we’ve learned with tell us something it’s, it’s, it’s almost more important to listen than it is to talk. Mm. And the leave it alone thing has trickled into all aspects of my life, whether it is a student behavior that is just annoying, not dangerous.

Sarah FitzGerald: Mm-hmm leave it alone. Right? Ignore it. Leave it. Whether it’s a personal situation where someone has said something, do I really need to comment on that? [00:24:00] Leave it alone. So this leave it alone. Thing has been a pattern for me. And it sounds really silly, but it actually has been like super profound for me.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Okay. Interesting. Yeah. I never ever had that piece of advice, but thank you. you’re welcome. Okay. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really

Sarah FitzGerald: appreciate. Thank you so much for having me. That was fun.

Sierra Tai-Brownlee: Of course. And thank you guys for listening.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Rachel and Sierra. Rachel is an elementary school teacher in Western Montana. Rachel has her bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in reading and earned her master of arts in integrated art and education all from the university of Montana. Miss. Rachel served at the local nonprofit north Missoula community development corporation as board chair and secretary in Missoula for 10 years, where she led [00:25:00] fundraising efforts, board retreats, and attended various conferences in and out of state.

Marc Moss: When Rachel is not working, she can be found with her St. Bernard Laura lie on logging, walks with friends, reading her next book for her monthly book club, grabbing a Quatro formage or pizza from Beka pizza. And planning her next road trip Sierra Ty Brownley is a curious individual with a never-ending interest in people and their stories from asking 50 strangers for their best piece of life advice to sitting down, to hear about pivotal stories on her podcast, impactful experiences with Sierra Ty Brownley.

Marc Moss: Sierra is always excited to meet new people and hear what they would like to share. You can find the impactful experiences podcast, wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks to our inkind sponsors, Joyce of tile, gecko designs, float Missoula and Missoula broadcasting company. Thanks for listening to this week’s podcast.

Marc Moss: Remember to get your ticket to the next event. [00:26:00] September 27th, 2022. Live at the Dennison theater. The theme. Letting go more information and tickets are [email protected]