Inspirational Vegan Educator: Bethany Younkers – I Want My Students to know How Much They Have to Offer the World

How long have you been teaching?

I am wrapping up my seventh year of teaching this June. It is often so much more than just teaching, it is counseling, listening, talking (saying the same thing over and over again some days), creating, trying to entertain students/ forcing them to listen to my terribly corny jokes, motivating, and most days I really just view it as being a mom to many many kids.

Why did you choose to teach as a career?

Teaching was put on my heart from a very young age, I was that kid that lined up her stuffed animals and read books aloud and even made them all do school work. When I was in elementary school, I met a young man named Glen, Glen had Down syndrome, but I never really recognized that about him, I just knew we were in different classrooms and couldn’t play together all the time, he soon became one of my best friends; he inspired me to pursue the field of special education. I also think my teachers recognized my strengths and pushed me towards a path of mentoring and teaching.

As I began my career early on as a middle school Emotional/Learning Support teacher in Philadelphia I saw to a significant degree the social and emotional barriers students face that were impeding academics and it only increased my passion for supporting students identified as special education. What I have learned is provided with the right opportunities, appropriate materials and practices in a safe and positive environment all students can excel, this has motivated me to remain in the field. The current and past students I have had the privilege to work have taught me so much, especially resiliency, this is as valuable to me as any skill that I may have taught them. I have this amazing responsibility each day of helping students realize their unrecognized potential, particularly students that have been placed in special education programs.

 Many people question if our current education system is working. What do you think?

 What is so beautiful and powerful about this question is even though many believe our current education system is in ruins, as an educator at the classroom level I have this awesome power to recreate and change it every day. Many things that are wrong at a higher level is because decisions are often made by those not in a classroom. By being a part of something that doesn’t work, I have a say and power in shaping it to be what I think does and then sharing that and setting an example for other teachers.

 What would you like to see being taught in our classrooms?

I would love for more emotional intelligence, an area I think youth and even adults struggle with, to be taught in our classrooms;  teaching kids to be good people and awesome humans. I always hear teachers say this student can’t do this or won’t do that, I think as adults sometimes we forget that not all students have been taught how to do things we expect from them (even more reason why they need great teachers). For example, students struggle to talk through their feelings, or even recognize what emotion they are feeling and what to do with it. So instead they blow up or get into fights because that is what they know and what they think is acceptable. Teaching students self-awareness and self-determination in a way that meets them where they are at and then motivates them to go where we want them to be is crucial. Students are reaching high school defeated and with low-self-esteem socially and academically and often just need lots of extra love and encouragement.

 Share your proudest teacher moment.

 My proudest teaching moment was when I received a text message and photo from a former student who had graduated, the picture was of a note I had written him 3 years earlier, and a long message that made me tear up and essentially said he wouldn’t have graduated high school if it wasn’t for me. In that moment, I realized how powerful it could be simply letting a student know that I saw him and cared about him and wanted to see him succeed; it changed the way he viewed not only school but himself. If my students remember nothing else that I taught them, my hope is that they remember I was and always will be one of their biggest fans, I want them to know how much they have to offer the world and allow the world to see their potential the way I can.

What is the most important message about teaching that you would like People to know?

 First, passion trumps everything. If you are passionate about what you do your students will value that authenticity and be willing to meet the teacher’s level of enthusiasm despite any scary things you have heard about teaching students really do want to learn. If you aren’t passionate about what you are doing, how can you expect your students to be? If you are passionate all of the other things will fall into place. Second, consistency in essential, be consistent with students always, sometimes a classroom is the only place where students know what to expect, don’t change that up. Be passionate and consistent.

How can parents and Educators work together to better to ensure children are successful?

 Communication is so important when parent and a teacher communicate regularly about a child, the child often has a happier, more successful school year. Parents/guardians know their child best, and the more the teacher knows about the child the better they can effectively meet his/her needs in my classroom. I say this also with a reminder that high school students play an important role in their own success and education as well and parents and teachers should recognize this and encourage students to take ownership and responsibility and not make excuses or cause students to suffer from learned helplessness.

What is the most important educational gift parents can provide for their children to help them be successful learners?

The most important educational gift parents can provide for their children to help them be successful learners is to encourage mistakes and help them learn lessons from them. We often tend to shy away from failure, however, a child can learn so much from the journey of falling down and having to get back up.

 Who is most Inspirational Teacher you’ve had? Why?

The most inspirational teacher I know is not a teacher I had in school, but one I had the privilege of co-teaching with my first year as a teacher, Ms. Letitia Wright. She showed me what it meant to be a tough but compassionate educator. She helped me learn and shape my style as an educator and I know I would not be the teacher I am today if it was not for the hours I spent soaking up knowledge from her.

 How many hours a week do you spend completing all of your duties related to your job. Are there any extra duties that people may find surprising or not consider that you have to complete?

 All day every day I am in teacher mode, if I am not planning a lesson or preparing a lesson, I am thinking about how some of the items in the dollar bin at Target can be used for a lesson. I can’t shut the teacher off, the hours of work are countless and something I struggled with my first few years of teaching, the struggle of work/life balance is so real for young teachers. Working with special education students affords the unique opportunity for close relationships to be built with families, as a result, there are often late night phone calls, frustrated and saddened parents that need encouraging and constant communication. I don’t see any these as extra duties, I see them as all parts of being a teacher.

What do you think is a fair salary for teachers? Keep in mind the argument that celebrities make millions and teachers are always struggling?

 I think the fact that every year there are thousands of openings at schools and never enough highly qualified teachers speaks volumes that teachers are simply not paid enough. Most if not all of my colleagues, including myself work multiple jobs to support ourselves and families, this allows us to do the thing we love most, teach.

Have you ever paid for supplies for your classroom?

 Yes, all of the time, but what teacher hasn’t? I have also spent several summers writing grants in order to make my classroom that much better! School administration usually wants to help, but finances are always an issue.

If you had a wish list of needs for your classroom what would the top three things be?

Honestly, just opportunities, my students are often not exposed to many things and are forced to wear multiple masks as they walk throughout their day, I believe our classroom is a place where they can remove those masks and be themselves. I would love to have a space where they get to explore and access different opportunities that help build their character and help them discover what they are truly passionate about.

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  1. Inspirational Souls LIVE #5 Bethany Younkers – Inspirational Educator and Special Education Teacher – Inspirational Souls

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