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Why did I...

Oct 22, 2020

…stop teaching Kindergarten? Because I got cancer. I so rarely say that outloud in public. It was such of horrific experience that I will cry to this day if I go back to those moments of diagnosis, the hours sitting through chemo, the surgeries, and the recovery process that seemed never ending.

It does sound cliché though. I think many cancer survivors find it necessary to make a change in their life once they’ve gone through the process of healing. For me it was leaving one of the most comforting and profound places in my life, the Kindergarten classroom.

I’ve been in education my entire life. I come from a line of teachers on my mothers’ side. I grew up in my mom’s third grade classroom. Her classroom was a magical place as a kid. If I didn’t have a teacher who compared to the creativity of my mom, it was sort of a hopeless situation for me.

When I began teaching out of college in the early aughts, No Child Left Behind had just passed. My teaching credential program was a huge disappointment. It perpetuated ongoing racial inequities. I had two horrible student teaching experiences that bored me to tears. Half of the day was devoted to reading and the other have was devoted to math instruction. President Bush’s new orders in education = disengaged and inequitable. NCLB stripped all the beauty and soul out of teaching and learning. I refused to participate in the harm.

Right out the gate I figured out ways to make my classroom as magical as it could be while making sure I was on the district demanded page of the day in my Open Court manual. Canned curriculum sucked every creative spark out of learning, leaving my students thirsty for a meaningful experience. I figured out how to make learning creative while dealing with demands.

I ended up spending 12 incredible years teaching Kindergarten. When my cancer diagnosis came, I knew it was time to listen to that little voice inside that kept nudging me to expand my leadership, convictions, pedagogy, and love.

I started leading teacher professional development at a county office of education. The program I led (The Integrated Learning Specialist Program) focused on arts integration and culturally responsive teaching. I spent 6 years managing, directing, facilitating, and growing a program. I LOVED it.

But a county office can only reach so far. A few years ago, I took a huge leap of faith and said yes to my brilliant co-founder, Jessa Brie Moreno, and signed the LLC papers to form Studio Pathways. Learning how to start an organization has been thrilling, hard, full of creativity, and liberation. It is not for the faint of heart though.

So there it is. I left my gorgeous little world in Kindergarten to support teachers, school leaders, teaching artists and arts orgs. I love learning and I’m so lucky to be co-creating something beautiful that brings me joy and delight every single day. I love seeing our outcomes, knowing that this work is making a difference for teachers and students across the nation. I am here for this.

Much love,

Mariah