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The Gut Punch


BRI:   I went through middle school and I went through high school thinking "I'm nothing. I'm not going to be anything. My family didn't do anything right. I'm not going to do anything right either." And it took a lot to change that mindset.

To go from that and to kind of get this sense of empowerment is incredible.

I’m Dan Baum and you’re listening to Redefine U. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we are challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.

In this, our first episode of season 2, we speak to Briana Barone, an aspiring teacher, who has had her share of what she calls “gut punches.” We also talk to Dr. Jackie Gambone, a long-time educator, whose own struggles led to a philosophy of empathy and gratitude inside and outside of the classroom.

First, Bri’s story.

BRI:  So my name is Bri Barone. I am a student here at AACC. I'm a dual major. I'm studying elementary education and communications.

DAN:  So what led to your major?

BRI: So I was originally a communications major by heart. I was like all over WVAL, my high school even took a trip down to Baltimore, where we just toured the studio, we met a bunch of the anchors, we heard a bunch of the stories that they've covered. And it was just a really cool experience and I was like "I want to do this, this is really cool."

So I was going through the communication courses and I had a girl in one of my intro courses who was really struggling with the course content. And we would meet every day in Hawk's Nest for lunch. And I noticed that somehow me teaching her some of the stuff that she missed in class, it brought me joy. So then I was like "Well, maybe communications isn't right." Because it brought me a little bit more joy than that. So then I was like "Well, why don't I go for elementary ed?"

DAN: Do you know what level you want to teach?

BRI: Believe it or not, I want to do middle school.

DAN: And how did you arrive at that?

BRI: So middle school was a dark time for me. I went through a lot of bullying, there were a lot of family deaths that happened during that time.

DAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

BRI: So middle school for me ... Thank you. And I realized it was in those years, those teachers in that Title I school environment in an outside Baltimore City school made that difference. They cared for me. I had a teacher ... Like I didn't have a ride home. My parents worked until six o’clock, so oftentimes I would have to have my grandmother, who was incredibly elderly, come and pick me up. She couldn't do it one day, she was sick.

So she said "Do you have a ride home? Why are you sitting outside?" And I'm like "Well, I'm waiting for my mom." She's like "No, you don't have to wait outside." It was like November. It wasn't too cold. I was like "I'm fine, I'm fine. I'll be all right." She's like "No, come in." So she brought me in. She sat with me well beyond her clock-out time. I think I ended up leaving around like six o’clock. And we just had like a talk about everything that was going on, like the bullying, the mental health. And she asked me one question. She was like "Are you doing okay? You're doing okay in English. You're doing okay in math, but are you doing okay?"

BRI: That's why I want to teach middle school, is because I want to make sure that my kids know that they have a safe space, and that middle school is hard for everybody. Kids are changing, their minds are changing, cliche, bodies are changing. Being there for them in one of the most transitional and pivotal moments of their life, that's how I know that my career will pay off, and that's why I wanted to do middle school. And people are like "You're nuts. You're nuts. Why do you want to teach a bunch of little jerks?" I'm like "They're not jerks, they're just teenagers."

DAN: So you said you were the first in your family to go to college?

BRI: Yes, sir.

DAN: Congratulations.

BRI: Thank you.

DAN: What does that mean to you, to be the first in your family?

BRI: It's a lot of pressure. It is a lot of pressure, but I have one of the greatest support systems in the world. My family, they are very cognizant of the way that they got to where they are. They know that they made a couple accidents, a couple booboos, a couple hiccups along the way.

So for me, being the first person in my family to go to college, it was a pretty big deal because I had my ambitions set really high, and I wanted that like cliche, Caddyshack, '80s movie college experience. Like I'm going to live on a campus, I'm going to have friends, I'm going to do SGA president, I'm going to do sororities, fraternities,

DAN: You're going to go all out.

BRI: I'm going to go all out. Yeah, that's my philosophy. If you're going to do it, do it big. But I didn't understand that there are circumstances in life that can hinder some of that, and as fun as it is to dream big, there are some things in life that are going to kick you down and say "Not right now. Not right now. You got to put it on hold."

So with my family not going to college, it was a really big deal to try to understand the college admissions process and financial aid. I didn't even know what financial aid was. I was like "What? You have to pay you to go to college? I thought it was free." And she was like "No, wake up. No you don't." So they kind of let me have that dream for a little while. They were like "If my kid's going to do it, she's going to dream big." And my high school experience was rough. It wasn't terrible. I was an awesome student. I did AP, I don't even know at this point, AP everything, pretty much.

So I was getting these college application admission letters and scholarship, scholarship, scholarship. I'm like "Oh, cool, we have money. We don't have to pay for all of it." And that's when my mom said "Well, we can't pay for none of it." And I was like "What?" She said "We don't have any college savings for you. We didn't know that it would be this expensive by the time you were this old. We thought we can handle it. We can't." And that was like the blow to the stomach. That was like the scene in Rocky where he doubles over and it's like blood everywhere. It was like that was that gut punch for me, is "We can't afford to send you to college right now."

DAN: So it was all on you, then?

BRI: Yeah, it was all on me now. So I'm like, okay, so what do I do? I have 25,000 from this college, 17,000 from this college, but I still have X amount of dollars to pay out of my pocket and I can't afford it. I have to take a loan out. And you see in the news and teachers being like "Oh, I have X amount of debt from student loans." I'm like "I can't do that. I don't want to do that." And I was kind of, out of fear like "Well, what can we do? What can we do?" And my mom was like "Well, have you tried community college?" She's like "You completely ruled it out. Why?" And there was that stigma of "I'm too good for community college. That's a last resort option, I don't need to go there." She's like "Please, for me, give it a try, because this is not the time to see everything fall apart. You can do it."

And that's what was really cool, is being in first-gen, is your family knows what they did and they want to try to steer you in another direction. And then when you're going through courses, you think one mess-up, they're not going to be as proud of you. And that's not the case. That is definitely not the case.

DAN: So what have been some of the risks?

BRI: So we were very fortunate to receive a couple of scholarships to help with AACC, but still a significant portion was out of our pocket.

DAN: Okay.

BRI: So any financial hiccup could throw this entire thing out of balance.

My mom she got a job right out of high school with Imerys Carbonates in Cockeysville. And she was with them for, my gosh, over 35 years.

I was in my fall semester last year, last October, right around this time of year. And she came, I was getting ready to go to class, because I catch the bus, I have a two-hour bus ride. So I'm up at like 5:00 in the morning.

DAN: Wait, run that by me again?

BRI: I have a two-hour bus ride to the college every day.

DAN: One way?

BRI: One way.

DAN: So you're doing four hours round trip?

BRI: Yeah. So make the best of a situation.

DAN: Ok, so there's another little challenge there.

BRI: Yeah. So I'm up at like 5:00 in the morning getting ready to get on the 8:00 bus to be here by 10:00. And I'm getting ready. My mom's out the door, my mom worked four to three all day every day except for weekends.

DAN: Ok.

BRI: And I'm getting dressed and I'm leaving the bathroom, and here she comes with a box of stuff.

I went to school that morning and I didn't know what to do. Because it was October, we still had a November tuition payment, a December tuition payment, $400 each. My mom just lost her job. And it was at that point we were like "We can finish fall out." My mom's like "Don't worry, fall comes first, but we have to do some thinking."

Bri faced a lot of challenges — paying for college, the loss of her mom’s job, a four-hour roundtrip commute. As she put it, any little hiccup could throw the whole thing out of balance. But something kept her going.

How do we keep going through trying times?

Let’s talk to Dr. Jackie Gambone, a professor in AACC’s TEACH Institute, who has focused on intrinsic motivation and with it, the power of empathy.

DAN:         Today, we are joined by professor of education, Dr. Jackie Gambone. I am so flattered you're here today, because today is your birthday. Happy birthday.

JACKIE:     Thank you.

DAN:         Happy 29th.

JACKIE:     That's what I'm sticking with. Thanks.

DAN:         It really is an honor to have you here. Tell us a little bit about your role here, at the college.

JACKIE:     I am faculty, and this is my 13th year for the EDU department, within the Teach Institute.

DAN:         What exactly is the Teach Institute?

JACKIE:     The Teach Institute caters to a lot of different areas, behavior, with the best group. We have parenting, and we do a lot of credit/non-credit work, really all surrounding educating. How can we help people grow, and learn and redefine themselves?

DAN:         So, all aspects of educating?

JACKIE:     Yeah.

DAN:         What specifically do you teach?

JACKIE:     I teach education courses to students who are trying to be future educators in the primary, K through 12 grades. A lot of my classes are for secondary educators, but I also teach elementary future teachers as well. I teach teachers how to teach, so I'm Captain Redundancy. I also teach people that are coming back to get their certification. They're either already teachers, and just need a certificate for teaching, or they are going to be teachers, and they already have a degree in something else.

DAN:         How did you get into teaching?

JACKIE:     Ah, well I always wanted to teach. I taught my stuffed animals when I was little. I just always wanted to do it. My family jokes that I came out of the womb with a piece of chalk.

DAN:         You're not the first teacher who has said that. Is that typical? What brings a lot of your students to become teachers?

JACKIE:     We actually have this debate in class. It's, "Are you born or made?" We always come to the decision of it's both. That you're born with a lot of dispositions to be a teacher, and maybe they weren't going to be a teacher at all, but life experiences, their family, different things led them to wanting to work with people, help others, and genuinely care for either children or young adults, and teach them.

DAN:         That's the disposition part.

JACKIE:     Yeah, for sure.

DAN:         How long have you been teaching?

JACKIE:     I've been teaching ... My first day in the classroom on my own was September 11th, 2001.

DAN:         Oh, my gosh.

JACKIE:     Yeah. we evacuated a school full of kids.

DAN:         Where exactly was this?

JACKIE:     In Philly. My first day ever by myself, in a classroom.

DAN:         That's dedication. You came back, and you've been with it ever since.

JACKIE:     Well, that's when I knew I wanted to teach college. On my drive home, other than the chaos, I was thinking, "No one prepared me for this. I could do anything they wanted me to do in a textbook, but no one prepared me for this." Now, I take this job very seriously. That it's not just about what I can teach them, as future teachers in a textbook. It's what can I teach them about the real world of teaching, and being prepared for anything, especially in today's world.

DAN:         Tell me more about that. You're helping prepare teachers. How does the discipline relate to this theme of redefining yourself?

JACKIE:     I think it's a perfect match, in the sense that they come knowing that they like people. That they're interpersonal, that they like working with children or young adults. Then, through these courses, they get to experience fieldwork. They get to teach in our classrooms, they get to experience all kinds of different things that lend to their growth as humans. They can take these qualities to really decide where they want to teach, what kind of school they want to teach in, what best fits their values, and what they want out of a classroom. Then, they have so many options and opportunities to go seek that out.

DAN:         There's so much influence a teacher can have on young people. They, in turn, are helping those students potentially redefine themselves. How do you help them prepare for that? That seems like an awesome responsibility.

Jackie:       For me, it's become more about intrinsic motivation and less about the grade. It's actually not about the grade at all in my classrooms. We just really focus on what is going to make you a better educator. In education, not always knowing a date or a time is going to necessarily make you the best educator, but how can you take these skills, and bring them into work with actual human beings? That's by learning what they need. It's not about them. It's really about the students they're working with, and what they need, whether it's a different learning style, or an intelligence, or what motivates them, what drives them, their different locus of control, all of that stuff that's going to really make them feel comfortable and excited in the environment. We work a lot on building relationships. We do value mining in our classes, so that my students get to honor their own values, and then honor the values of all the people that they work with. It just becomes so powerful for them.

DAN:         I recognize that phrase. It's a coaching phrase.

JACKIE:     It sure is.

DAN:         We had professor Jen Laura, and her coach, Sue Abuelsamid in our first season. Tell me a little bit about ... because I know you're a coach. How did you get into coaching?

JACKIE:     Well, funny you mentioned Jen Lara. She, creeped in.

DAN:         The evangelist at work.

JACKIE:     Yeah. She said, "You've got to do this." After some push and pull from me, because I had a lot on my plate, and that just wasn't in the forefront, but she kept saying, "You've really got to think about it. This is life changing." And I went, and took the courses, and just immediately realized what an impact it was making. The shift in how I teach college has just been massive, redefining myself.

DAN:         Tell me more about that. In what way?

JACKIE:     I think earlier in my career, I was so concerned with, "Here's a quiz, take it. Did you know the information?" Now, it's more than that. It's so many different ways to assess learning, than just a paper pencil test for me and for them. It's having deep critical thinking discussions. It's powerful questions. It's relating everything to their own lives, and what's powerful for them, and what's going to be powerful for their students.

One of the things that we've been talking a lot about lately, is culture in our classroom. Before, I don't think I hit hard on that. It was just like, "OK, teach the students. Just make sure you're getting to all their differentiated needs." Now, it's more ... Culture, we talk about deeper things now. That it's not just about the cultures they're born into, or the cultures they choose. It's about all the cultures that they're a part of that they didn't choose. That has been extremely powerful in my instruction. I give my own examples. For example, my husband and I were held up at gunpoint and I'm-

DAN:         Whoa.

JACKIE:     Yeah, not fun, but I'm part of a violence culture. Definitely didn't choose it. We lost two babies in the last year in pregnancy.

DAN:         I'm sorry.

JACKIE:     Yeah, we are, too. We're part of the perinatal loss culture. We didn't choose it.

DAN:         Wow. That is powerful.

JACKIE:     Like, these children that they're going to be working with are part of the abuse culture, the addiction culture, divorce culture, different guardians, so many. The list is endless. If we're not considering all of those affective and non-cognitive areas of these students we're working with, then how are we ever going to get to the cognitive domain? For me, that's the biggest way that I've redefined, and redefined all my courses. I threw out the lesson plans and rewrote everything after coaching.

DAN:         That must be so eye opening for students.

Jackie:       It is. I've never gotten so many emails of, "This isn't something I'm just going to use when I teach. This is changing my life."

DAN:         Wow. That's pretty powerful-

Jackie:       It's not me. They're doing that. They are changing their lives.

DAN:         You mentioned intrinsic motivation. That's become pretty big for you. You have a sabbatical in the spring.

JACKIE:     You bet. Woo!

DAN:         Tell me about that.

JACKIE:     I'm so excited about it. I don't know, once I did the value mining, and realized that intrinsic motivation is one of my biggest ones, I wasn't really living that in the classroom because I kind of am bound by grades, and there's value to grades. At the same time, I found a lot of my students were so stressed out worrying about every point and every little detail. When I kept saying, "Let's just forget about that. Now, what are you learning? How is this going to make you a better teacher?" Not that grade point average isn't an important thing. I worked really hard for mine, but when I went to get my job as a teacher, they didn't even look at my GPA.

DAN:         Really? They don't ... Really?

JACKIE:     They looked at me in a classroom and they said, "Can this lady teach?" Again, like I said, it's not that there's not value to it, but in what I'm trying to do is, "How can I teach you to teach the whole child?" Not worry about every single little point, but worry about, "How are we going to get them to learn and truly want to learn?" Forming that foundation with them, so they can't wait to get up, come to my class, learn, go to their field work, and just be better and improve.

                  I started studying Montessori schools, which if it's a true Montessori, they don't have an ABC grading system. When I went to observe a school, I was just in awe of this school that was ... These students were teaching each other. Their lessons were tailored to their desires, their dreams, their hopes, and their values. They were doing real things, like creating business plans for a soup kitchen and selling their soup. They were using the Pythagorean Theorem, that they had just learned, to build a chicken coop. I was thinking, "Oh. I just learned that, put it down in a notebook, and closed the notebook, because that wasn't something I thought I needed."

DAN:         They're really applying it.

JACKIE:     Right. I think that happens with a lot of students. They say, "Why am I learning this? What's the point?" For me, it just became this eye-opening thing saying, "I want a sabbatical. I want to study these schools." Not to change the grading system of AACC, but to really see what I can do for my department, for the courses that I run. I teach a lot of the assessment courses for the college. How can we talk about other ways that we can assess, without it just being solely extrinsic for that grade, but for that learning, true learning, and true application of that learning.

DAN:         Well, on that note, how do you anticipate applying this in your classes, and maybe for the college as a whole?

JACKIE:     Right now, I'm actually doing an experiment with my students that will lead into my sabbatical. Basically, what I'm doing, I needed to make sure that my students were still following all of the stuff I needed them to follow. I need to make sure they're hitting every single objective and mastering those objectives. That was critical. I really wanted to try to do it with removing the stress of the grade. So far, what I've been doing, is I gave the students a choice. We did some value mining. We about what motivates them, how do grades impact them, all of that. Then, I said, "Well, you have a choice in here. If your grades are what motivate you, then Side A is what you want. You're going to literally work as you would according to the syllabus. Everything you turn in, I will grade for the points, and for the grade, and I will still add feedback to all of that. I said, "However, if you are already intrinsically motivated to be here, and the grade is something that is actually holding you back, because it's something that causes you more stress ... "

                  They had said it caused them stress, anxiety. That's one of the things that made them fixed minded. I said, "... then Side B might be what you want to choose." Side B said that they are still responsible for every single thing in the course, except on a quiz, for example, they won't have to worry about the grade. I'm not giving them a score. They'll get, let's say, an A, just because you took it, but I'm going to give them feedback. Now, what they're noticing, is with all of their quizzes, they said to me, "When I get a quiz back, I'm not even looking for the grade. I'm looking to see what I got right and wrong, so that I can learn what I got wrong." They're motivated to read. This is my 13th year, I've never had every single student show up. I have 64 face-to-face students. Every single one of them chose Side B.

DAN:         Really?

JACKIE:     Every single one of them.

DAN:         Wow.

JACKIE:     I have only had one student turn one thing in late at this point, and it was because he didn't know where to register. Like, he just didn't understand where to do that. Everyone is turning everything in. I asked them, "What's here?" They said, "The pressure's off. We want to do this stuff to learn, and we wanted to turn it in."

DAN:         That's amazing.

JACKIE:     It's amazing.

DAN:         What does it tell you about the current structure?

JACKIE:     I'm not totally sure yet. I'm really excited to dig into my sabbatical to find out what these schools are really doing to drive motivation, while still assessing for mastery and learning. What it's telling me, is I think a lot of these students ... Not all students. Sometimes, grades are what's going to motivate them in a particular class. My students, they chose this degree path because they really want to do it. They want to be better, and they want to learn, and they want to grow. What I'm seeing now, is they're assessing themselves. Like, some of them say, "This is a cool experiment for me to see if I'm really as intrinsically motivated as I think I am." I said, "Yeah, it's pretty awesome what I think." They're learning, and they're coming because they want to be there. Nothing is tying them to those chairs, they really want to come.

From 35:52 of full interview

JACKIE:     I feel very fortunate that in education, most of my students are there because they want to be educators, they want to be teachers. Even though we are working with students, and it could be a life or death situation ... When we're looking at the medical profession, for example, that literally is. It might be very difficult to say, "Here's your A. You're intrinsically motivated. Now, just show up and do your work." They really need to score a certain number or letter in order to show that they've hit those points in those careers.

DAN:         We want them to be highly skilled.

JACKIE:     Yes, yes. It's not that we don't want educators to be highly skilled, because we do. I just think that's important to recognize that this is not a one-size-fits-all, that I don't know if this would work in every profession. A friend of mine said, "Well I teach a class where the students have to take it, so they're not all motivated to be there." Trying to do an experiment with grades, no grades, might not benefit them if their motivation is to get the grade to then move out. In my job, for example, if they're not necessarily looking at the GPA for the job, they just want to know, "Can you teach, and teach well?", in other professions they are looking at that GPA, and they are looking at the grades. Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all. I think it's important to think about whether it's with the grades or not with the grades, we still want to drive their intrinsic motivation to learn.

DAN          That seems like a fascinating part of your sabbatical, is to figure out how do you get that intrinsic motivation for some of the things you've described. Maybe it's a required course, and they may not show up as motivated. How do you tap that intrinsic motivation. Or, they are driving for the grade, because that will help determine their future through their profession. How do you tap the intrinsic part to complement that?

JACKIE:     Exactly. That's what I'm looking forward to gathering. Just strategies to use here, at an institution with grades. How can we create strong ties to intrinsic motivation, even with a graded institution?

DAN:         So last year, you won an award from the students. They selected you, wanted you to speak at commencement. What was your main message?

JACKIE:     My main message was about perspective. That's become something really important, especially over the last year, in the new cultures we've entered as a family. I shared the story of my daughter.

[From Commencement Speech]

The amazing thing about perspective is that we have the power to change and shift our perspective, sometimes even in an instance. So my daughter, she's five. And she and I were playing Candy Land. And you know this game?

Yeah. And I was just about to get to the candy castle and end the game once and for all. I was not afraid to take her down. I wanted that game to end. All I needed was a blue square. But what did I pick up? The candy hearts.

You know where I went? You know where I go? Yes, back to the beginning. And I grunted. And I begrudgingly moved my little blue gingerbread person back to the candy hearts.

And Giuliana said, Mommy, what's wrong? And I said, oh, well, I have to go back to the beginning. And she said, no, Mommy. You just get to play longer. I was schooled by a kindergartner. And just like that, she shifted my perspective.

DAN:         I'm going to give you a magic wand. If you could give one skill to every teacher, what would that be?

JACKIE:     Oh, empathy.

DAN:         I was going to say, that's what I'm hearing in all of your exercises, and the things that you're doing, is really helping these future teachers have empathy.

JACKIE:     Yeah. I used to be the kind of teacher where a student would come in late all the time, and I would be like, "You're late. This can't happen. I don't appreciate lateness. You know the rules. One more of those, we're done here." Now, I can sit with that student and say, "I've been noticing that you're late. What's going on?" So often my, students say, "I'm sharing the car with three other people in my family. I had to take a cab to get here, or an Uber." It's like, I never would have known that. Just simply asking a curious question can not only shift my perspective, but give me the empathy I need to support that student, instead of attack that student, and make them feel worse than they already do. That is what I want.

DAN:         You're helping your students do that. If every teacher did that, what impact would that have on students, and maybe on the world?

JACKIE:     I think they could soar. I think if they felt heard, if they felt that people understood them, if they didn't feel alone, if they felt like they could still be successful, even with all the cultures they're a part of, that they didn't choose, or the things that they're really frustrated about, I think that it would be so awesome for them to breathe and just think, "Okay, I'm not going to fail because I'm doing the best I can." I wish I had known that when I first started teaching. I wish I knew this five years ago. I knew it to a degree, but not like this. It's shifted everything.

DAN:         If you wave that magic wand at parents, would it be the same skill? What skill would you give parents?

JACKIE:     Yeah, I would want to tell parents, especially being one, that even though your child is so important in that classroom, there's also 20, 30 other students in that class that these teachers are usually, not always, but usually doing their best to help them learn, to get to them, to meet their needs. Sometimes, as teachers, we fall short. There's not enough time in the day, and we do our best to try to reach everyone. Sometimes, we do come up short, even with our best efforts. I think that's given me a bit more perspective. It's just not always easy as a parent, because if they are your kids, it's easy to be judgey.

DAN:         You want to expand their empathy, not just for their child, but for the other children in the classroom, and for the teachers.

JACKIE:     Yeah. I need to keep reminding myself to do that with my children's teachers, to make sure I check myself at the door.

DAN:         Well, you have on your wrist not empathy, but you have a tattoo that says something else. What does that say?

JACKIE:     It says gratitude.

JACKIE:     This is my structure. I look at it, I live my life through a lens of gratitude, and it helps remind me that even when things are really difficult, that there is so much to be grateful for. I work to remind my students of that. When my students are going through so much of what they're going through, sometimes it's hard for them to even see what they can be grateful for, with everything they're going through. It's just a good reminder to think about that.

DAN:         Everything we're talking about sounds like you really have redefined yourself at different points. How would you say you've redefined yourself?

JACKIE:     Redefined myself? That's an interesting question, because I feel like it does take a village. It took a village to redefine me. I'm grateful for the people that have offered me support, listening and empathy. There's a huge difference to me now, between empathy and sympathy. That has helped redefine me and my views. I don't actually love sympathy, because I feel like it's as Brené Brown says, someone's up in the hole looking down at you like, "Aw. Sorry, you're going through it. Want a sandwich?" Well, in empathy, they're going to climb down in the hole with me. That's just really been powerful for me to think about. That's really redefined the way I think about other people. The way I think about me, the way I make assumptions.

                  I used to assume this is what was going on, and often, I'm completely wrong about what's going on with them really. It's not that they're late cause they're disrespectful, they're late because of other reasons. Or, they're not turning in the best quality work because they haven't slept in three days, because of whatever's going on in their life. I think that's been really helpful.

You hit it on the head. Empathy and gratitude have completely helped me. Also, just being with any emotions that I need to feel, to be honest. Even in the past year, just being so angry, or so frustrated, or so hurt, that has helped me understand how other people feel sometimes. I've been through hardships, but this year was like icing. It was the top of the cake. It was the highest one for me.

DAN:         I would think, in some ways, that's liberating. Being a teacher, being up front there, you’re expected to be the expert on everything. What you're describing, is you're right there with them, side by side. I would think that's a little bit liberating.

JACKIE:     It is. I think it's what allows my students, us, to build the foundation that we do, because they know that I don't know everything. That I'm learning from them as much as they're learning from me. That it is a team effort. That has been extremely powerful, where I think, when I started here it was I felt that I had to know everything. I had to be in front of the room, and I have to be the master teacher, what I'm realizing now, I'll never be a master. I don't want to be a master, because then, that's saying I have nothing left to learn, and that will never happen. I hope my students appreciate that I'm right there with them. My students saw everything I went through last year, not being there, and being there, and communicating with them through everything. Just being totally transparent about what was going on in my life, so that they could feel so comfortable telling me what was going on in theirs. It was amazing to see how many students could talk to me about their losses, and about what they're going through that was super difficult. That hadn't happened before, because I was just an open book.

When we find ourselves in situations we didn’t choose — in cultures of violence, abuse, addiction — we might say, as Jackie did, “no one prepared me for this.” In those times, we may need to shift our perspective. A shift toward empathy or gratitude may give us the opportunity to see things in a new light, and liberate us from restrictions placed there by others or put there by our own way of thinking.

Let’s return to Bri and hear how she managed to shift her own perspective away from destruction and feeling like nothing to one of empowerment and a willingness to help others.

DAN: If you have a four-hour round trip, you had financial concerns, family issues, while having support from your family, it seemed like you might have some other helpers on your journey.

BRI: Absolutely, absolutely.

DAN: Who are some of the other influencers for you?

BRI: Dr. Gambone, without a doubt. Professor Sabol. Dr. Phelan. The education department.

DAN: So I'm hearing the whole Teach Institute.

BRI: Yeah, the whole Teach Institute

So I kind of think it's funny, the very first day we had Dr. Gambone, she came in the classroom and she said "I was destined to teach you." And I said "I like her already. I think things happen for a reason. That's my philosophy. She is my woman. This is cool."

And it was in that semester that I had her for our “Intro to Education” class, our EDU 111. So first class we take as teachers. She said "In this class you are not a student. You are a teacher. You're going to teach yourself, you're going to teach other people, you're going to teach me."

DAN: That sort of echoes you even got into teaching.

BRI: Right.

DAN: When you helped that fellow student.

BRI: Yeah, exactly. So it was just a very warm and welcoming environment for me. She had some personal struggles of her own during that time, and it was during that time when my mom lost her job. And there's so many things in my life up until that point that was making everything seem hard. And she showed me that if she could do it, I can do it. And it got to the point where something really tragic happened. And to me, she was there when my tragic thing happened, when my mom lost her job and when I didn't know I was coming back the next month. I needed to be there for her. She's always there for us. We needed to be there for her.

DAN: What a great support system you all built there.

BRI: Absolutely

Dan: Also from what I know Dr. Gambone, she's been experimenting in the classroom grading processes and such, so how is that impacting how you see your approach to teaching going forward?

BRI: I think her philosophy on grading, a lot of the assignments that we did we graded ourselves. And I was one of those type A people. I make one mistake, it's all over. I shouldn't have made that mistake. What did I do wrong? Why did I get that wrong? So in her philosophy of grading, it's kind of shown me that in grading other people's work and grading my own work, everybody makes mistakes. It happens. It's just one little thing you've got to go back and fix. It's not the end of the world.

Dan: How do you think you'll carry that forward in the classroom with middle schoolers?

BRI: I think for middle schoolers that's like the time they start thinking about college. They're already dead set on college. Avid's pounding that, and you have to go to college, you have to do something post-secondary. Trade school, military, something. And for them, that's when they really start internalizing that, like "I'm wrong. Why am I wrong? What am I doing wrong?" And the whole change that happens in middle school, it's hard for them dealing with that, their family, their friends, and then they fail a test. God forbid they fail a test. When I grade something I don't want them to think that that's an end-all, be-all. I am a firm believer if you know where you did wrong or if I can show you where you went wrong and you fix it, that's amazing, and I will reward you for that.

Dan: What skills have you gained most through your experience here?

BRI: So I came into college with that baggage, and that baggage kind of shifted who I was in a classroom environment. When I started, I was a very timid, I was a very shy kid. I maybe had one or two friends in a class and I called it a day.

DAN: Wait, seriously?

BRI: Yeah, I was an anxious ball of mess.

DAN: I'm having a hard time picturing that, Bri.

BRI: A lot of people do. But for my first communications course, COMM 101, it makes me laugh now that I think about it, my very first speech I broke down, I was so nervous I lost it. I'm like trying to talk about Ganz theory, and I'm crying because I'm nervous, and I feel like everybody's watching me.

You got to take a deep breath. You got backtrack, calm yourself. It'll be all right. So through that philosophy that everybody makes mistakes, you kind of learn to be more confident in yourself and be confident in your mistakes and be willing to say "Hey, I messed up, here's what's right. Or "I messed up. Let me get back to you on that."

And through that confidence, you kind of build this sense of communication in the sense of transparency and everything that comes with being me. I'm a very bubbly person. I will say hi to a random stranger. I don't care who you are. If you look like you're having a bad day, do you need a hug? Do you need something to drink? What can I do? What? Why are you so upset?

DAN: So through that, how has your self-perception changed or evolved?

BRI: So I'm going to go a little dark here. But in such a time where in middle school I was physically assaulted, verbally assaulted, sexually assaulted to the point, by classmates, to make you feel like you're nothing and make you feel like you have nothing in this world.

To go from feeling like nothing to having the opportunities that I have now, the support system that I have now, it's so empowering. And I have such a strong view of myself now. There's a lot of things in my life that aren't perfect. I'm not perfect. I physically am not perfect. I'm mentally not perfect. We're all not perfect. We all have mistakes, we all have flaws. But how can we take those flaws and show them off to the world, flaunt them? And if you don't feel comfortable flaunting them, fine. How can you be comfortable with them? How can they be something of support and not something of destruction?

DAN: And how would you say you have redefined yourself?

BRI: Oh, man, dude, it's like a full 360. Any time I hear "redefine yourself," I think of like a total 360. And I've done it, I call it a 720, because I did the same thing in high school, and I left high school a little bit better. Then I came to college and it all came full circle. So redefining myself, I think, came from me knowing that I was capable. You kind of have to take that philosophy of "I'm capable" and give it to other people. Because once you know that you're capable, you see that other people are capable. And even the smallest mistake that somebody makes, you know that they're working on fixing themselves, and they're capable of doing so much.

So redefining myself is just understanding that I'm human. And humans are flawed. Humans don't have to be these type A robots that have to get everything right and that have to teach just the right way or have to learn a certain way. It's everybody does things differently. And it's kind of like a big machine in this one giant central place, whether it's AACC, our nation, our global community, it's all one giant machine. Everybody works differently. But in the end, if we're all doing the same thing and we're working towards the same goal, it can make everything run so much smoother.

DAN: I am hearing so much dedication and drive from you. What fuels that?

BRI: To be truthful, I have no idea. I really don’t.

DAN: That's honest.

BRI: I really don't. Like I get up in the morning and it just ... You do something and it feels right. It feels right to you, it feels right to your community. I genuinely think growing up not having friends to count on, and having friends that I'm excited to go see ... School was a place to fear. And changing myself and redefining myself and giving myself a place of support made me want to come here. I wasn't faking being sick to get out of getting beat up in the locker room that day. I was coming to class and I was talking to my friends and I was talking to my colleagues.

So I think that lack of social interaction as a kid kind of fuels it. Because I know I have friends in Phi Theta Kappa and SGA and the education department who I can't live without. They're my best friends. They're my family now. It's so cool. And I think that's where a lot of things come from to my dedication, is I have my own family, and I'm very grateful and I'm very loving and I love them to death. I would do anything for them. But equally I have a family here now, and I would do anything for them. Anything.

And I think in supporting other people and having that friendship connection, I want to get up in the morning. I want to make sure that person's okay. I want to make sure I see them and talk to them and talk about how the Capitals almost had the Stanley Cup, and they lost and I'm mad about it. You know? It's just something I want to have fun with. And I wake up and I know that I'm going to see people who are like-minded, who are driven, and who share similar things with me, to where I want to come and I want to talk to you. I don't fear anything anymore.

DAN: That's great. That's great you found your home.

DAN: Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you, Bri.

BRI: It's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

DAN: I wish you much success.

Perhaps there is a “grade” that is holding you back. Some label, some experience, some expectation that restricts your ability to move forward.

When someone reaches out and asks a heartfelt question like, are you okay? That could be the start of the turnaround. That could be the point when we discover, as Bri learned, that if I am capable, I can give that to others. That is the magic wand of empathy.

Imagine what that could do for you, for those around you, for our world? We all have that power. In a classroom. At work. In our personal lives. It’s a potent elixir. So apply it wisely. We could use a lot more of that today.


Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College.
Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch.
Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Angie Hamlet, Alicia Renehan, and Ben Pierce.

Special thanks to Bri Barone and Jackie Gambone.

Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website:

I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.



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