Teacher Spotlight: Q&A with Michele Gay
Safe and Sound Schools is proud to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of this week’s celebrations, we’re turning the spotlight to recognize our very own, Michele Gay. Many of you know Michele as one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools – and of course, mother to Joey, Marie, and Sophie. What you may not know is that prior to founding Safe and Sound Schools, Michele taught in the Maryland and Virginia Public Schools, where she served as both an elementary classroom teacher, a mentor teacher and a peer coach.
Q: What inspired you to get into teaching?
A: It was my family. I grew up in a family of educators. My father was a school counselor. My mother was a teacher and principal. As a kid, I marveled at how hard my parents worked. Too hard, I thought! But the impact they had on so many children and families was undeniable. It was inspiring. It tugged at my heart until I found myself working with children as a high school student and ultimately deciding to pursue a teaching career myself. The real clincher was the students themselves. Once I saw what they had to teach me, how exciting it was to watch a new skill take hold or a new idea light within their eyes, I was done. Teaching was it for me!
Q: What were some of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher?
A: The time I got to spend with so many incredible young people was undoubtedly the most rewarding part of the job. Every day was an adventure. Every child was uniquely gifted and challenged. It was incredible to be a small part of the journey of so many amazing people.
Q: What is one your fondest memories as a teacher?
A: My fondest memories are of laughing with my students. The science experiments gone awry, the unexpected answers, the serious moments that turned into unstoppable giggle-fests, the unscripted moments of kids being themselves–they were the best.
Those moments where a hard-earned victory was achieved top the list, too. Like when the furrowed brow of concentration on a child’s face gave way to the beaming excitement of discovery or long-awaited accomplishment. Nothing’s better than watching someone learn that they CAN do something they thought impossible.
Q: What was your biggest challenge as a teacher?
A: Time. Without a doubt. There was just never enough of it to meet all of the goals and objectives on the list for each day, plus the grading, and the testing, and the meetings, phone calls and continuing education. Like lots of teachers, I’d trim time off of my lunch, stay late after school, and still have to bring work home. Don’t get me wrong–I signed up for it. All of it! But I always wished there was more time for relationship building, teaching, and listening and learning from one another in every school day.
Q: Teachers can change lives. They play pivotal roles in shaping minds and inspiring their students. Can you tell us about a teacher that made a lasting impact in your life?
A: There were quite a few. “Miss Terry,” my third-grade teacher always comes to mind first. After a really rough second grade, I landed in her class and was greeted with the immediate comfort of a safe place. She created an environment where it was okay to make mistakes, ask for help, laugh out loud, and most importantly, to admit when you were wrong. She modeled all of those things for us every day. She gave us all that we needed to learn–and then she got out of the way. I continue to go back to those lessons throughout my life as a teacher, a mom, a wife, and an advocate.
Q: You’ve transitioned from educating children to educating an older crowd as part of your work for Safe and Sound Schools. What aspects from you career as a teacher do you use in your work today?
A: See answer above! Seriously, I am lucky to work with the most dedicated people you can imagine. Teachers, school staff, police, fire, emergency managers and responders, school-based mental health professionals, architects, community leaders, parents, and students–and on and on–that want school to be the safe place it has to be to serve our students and the future of our country. My work today is really just another kind of teaching. The students are much bigger and the conversations are a bit more complicated, but we are working together to solve for safety. My job is simply to guide the process and see what kind of amazing things they come up with.
I had the privilege recently of returning to work with a group to whom I delivered a reunification workshop for a few years ago. I still cannot get over how much incredible work they have done since our workshop together. I just provided the training, tools and a little inspiration. Everything else was all them. And judging by my recent visit, they are only just getting started. If I hadn’t chosen teaching all those years ago, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to step into this new role and move forward from tragedy in such a positive way.
The decision to become a teacher has been a blessing many times over in my life. Today, it gives me great appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the educators I work with, and deep gratitude for the teachers who have touched and shaped my own children’s lives.
Teacher Appreciation Week is observed from May 5-11 this year. Please take some time to recognize the teachers in your community – click here for ideas and facts.
On behalf of everyone at Safe and Sound Schools, we’d like to thank all teachers for their outstanding contributions and efforts to educate, inspire, and keep our kids safe and sound.