Inspirational Educator: Olivia Bertels – Nothing Can Compare to Feeling the Impact You’ve Made.

How long have you been teaching?

The 2017-2018 school year will be my fourth year teaching.

Why did you choose to teach as a career?

I didn’t! I actually began college as a journalism major, but after a year of classes, I realized that it wasn’t for me. As a relatively young person, I had to re-evaluate what was important to me and how I could turn those priorities and strengths into a career. I landed on education because I had some incredible teachers over the years who, in retrospect, paved the way for me to be successful as an adult. Plus, I love to read and write!

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

This is a tough question to answer. I think if we’re looking at it on a macro level, no, it isn’t working. Our system was designed to serve an Industrial Revolution-era society, and we’ve obviously advanced past that. People need to be equipped with different skills than they had even ten or fifteen years ago. We also have schools that are still actively segregated – though through less obvious means to the casual observer. We have a Secretary of Education who is a proponent of school choice, which is another way for privilege to exert itself through education. Having access to quality (read: well-funded, individualized) public education is a right that not everyone enjoys right now, and there is quite a bit of work to be done to ensure that it happens in the future. That being said, there are some amazing things being done by individual teachers, schools, and even entire districts to combat the issues that public education faces. I don’t see myself, or any of my colleagues, as “failures” in any capacity. Every teacher I know cares deeply about kids and is passionate about making their school experience the best one possible.

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

I would love to see students learn that they are much more than a standardized test score. Though teachers themselves are not the reason that this mindset exists, it prevails because high-stakes state testing has been packaged as the end-all, be-all of students’ cumulative educational experiences. I think we could reformat schools to encourage more openness, creativity, and innovation amongst our students. Project-based learning is one way that we’re already encouraging collaboration and communication as well as integrating different content areas. To me, it’s important to be able to answer the “why do I need to know this?” question when it is asked.

If you have been teaching less than five years, do you intend to stay in the profession? Explain your feelings.

School and academia are two things about which I feel very strongly. I will be staying within the realm of education, but I’m not entirely sure what my role will be moving forward. For the time being, I’m absolutely content with the diverse demands and energy that come with being a classroom teacher, but I also love designing curriculum and taking on leadership roles. I am passionate about social justice and politics, as well, so if I could combine all of these things into one profession, it would be fabulous!

Share your proudest teacher moment.

Nothing can compare to actually feeling the impact that you’ve made. I had one of my students participate in a program that allowed him to take the ACT as a 7th grader. I had no idea that it was even happening, but he came to me after getting his scores and told me that lots of material that I covered in my class had shown up on the test, and he was grateful that he had the knowledge to be able to answer those questions correctly. He thanked me for teaching him skills that were applicable outside of my classroom. To him, it was probably nothing, but I definitely cried about it later on.

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

I see people questioning the effectiveness and integrity of teachers and public schools every day – mostly online or in the comments section of news articles, which is a dark, dark place that people should avoid at all costs. It’s important to me that people know that “the school system” is NOT a sum of its parts – teachers are selfless and devoted individuals who bend over backward for very little compensation in order to educate future generations. Some issues that people have are with the system itself, but they end up aiming their criticisms at “bad teachers.” This is a huge misconception that is hurtful and, more importantly, largely incorrect. I hope that people can learn to separate the two and attach a more positive stigma to teachers.

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

All of my current and former bosses ask their staffs to focus on a “same team” approach, and I think that’s the best way to describe it. It can often be frustrating for both parents AND teachers when their children and students are the centers of the conversation. Our views can sometimes conflict, but shifting our mindset to remember that we’re all working in the best interests of the kids is so important! Open communication is so integral to parent-teacher relationships. I aim to be as transparent as possible about what is going on in my class. A parent that is extremely involved in their child’s education is a GOOD problem to have! Teachers have to trust parents as the biggest influence in the students’ life, and parents have to trust teachers as trained professionals.

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

Read to your kids! I can’t stress this enough. Expose them to literature as early and as often as you possibly can.

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

I have always been super inspired by one of my college professors. She’s an author and a researcher, as well! She is someone that I now consider to be a friend, and she helped me shape my pedagogy to include positive relationships first. If I hadn’t had her influence, I would probably spend a lot more time worrying about what my students know about commas rather than how they relate to their peers and spread kindness.

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?

I don’t think that anyone is arguing about the extensive hours that teachers work (at least I hope not). If I had to guess, I probably spend at least 50-60 hours per week on work-related things. As an idea of what I do outside of teaching: I coach volleyball in the fall, volunteer with Girls on the Run in the spring, sponsor Student Council year-round, teach the online version of my class through my district’s virtual school, serve on my building leadership team, and work at sporting events when I’m not coaching, as well.

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

Without doing any research, I can’t really put a number on it, but I would certainly like to see teachers’ salaries be comparable to other entry-level salaries, especially in the private sector. I mentioned earlier that I coach, sponsor a club, teach online classes, etc. I am compensated for doing those things, but without them, I wouldn’t be able to stay afloat, financially. To me, someone’s base salary should allow him or her to live a comfortable life with no supplemental income.

Have you ever paid for supplies for your classroom?

Regularly. I’m extremely lucky to work at a school with access to technology and a supply closet that is stocked, but I’ve been in different work environments where that was not the case. Most teachers I know outside of my current school provide almost all of the supplies that they use in their classrooms themselves.

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

  • A set of Bluetooth iPad keyboards
  • A futon couch for flexible seating
  • A Google Home or Amazon Alexa

If you would like to help Olivia fill her wish list, please contact her here: or @missbertels_ on Instagram/Twitter

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