Kayla Collins from Teach Like You Mean It is here to chat all about being a part time teacher, mom, and Teacher-Author. I've been following her on Instagram for years and years and she is truly such a unique person. She has an amazing eye for design and innovation. And you can see that in everything that she does on her Instagram, I want to be in her classroom. I mean, I want her to come to decorate my house. I've got all these plans for Kayla, but today we're going to talk about her journey through education and her life with her little one and so much more.
About six years ago when Kayla was in a new school and teaching fifth grade she and her husband took turns going to college. They knew they didn't have money for a long, long time. At the time they were living off of pancakes. And that new school was able to give her about $250 to work with to create a classroom. They decided to just make it their summer project together. And they ended up doing all these do-it-yourself projects. Tons of sanding and staining and building furniture and going on Craigslist and asking people for discounts and free furniture. And they transformed that whole room to make it a home for Kayla’s students.
It was also her first time going from kindergarten to fifth grade. So she really wanted to make it a space that would have a more grown-up, homey feeling for those older kids. And it ended up just being like a super bonding experience for her and her husband. So then they kind of continued that in every classroom she was assigned after that. She gets this fun project together to flip these rooms and make it like a surprise for the students when they first come in.
Kayla was so open and honest about where she come from and how they didn’t have crazy amounts of money. We see these “Instagram-worthy classrooms”, and we know how much money it costs to create an environment like that. But Kayla said, she and her husband went at it together and that they took turns to go into college. So even though finances weren't awesome, as is the case with most teachers. Because that's just kind of the name of the game. Kayla took it upon herself as a summer project and it has paid off. She is entering her 11th year teaching this year. And this year it looks a little bit different than it has in years past. But we’ll get into her journey to a part time teacher in just a moment.
Kayla’s experience of becoming an innovative and design teacher was such a natural process. It wasn't like 11 years ago when she was in college she said she wanted to focus on design, innovation, and engineering. When she first began teaching she taught kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade in a self-contained classroom. And when she taught first grade again, she went to this new school that was just transforming a huge space into a design lab. And they were focusing on the design thinking process. And so they sent Kayla to a training course in California at The Institute of Design Thinking.
Since she had already been integrating subjects within her classroom and doing a lot of STEM she fell in love with the process. The training took her to a whole new level. When she returned from that conference, she signed up that week to get her Master's degree in STEAM curriculum and design. After her Masters, she spent the whole year integrating STEAM into a fourth-grade classroom. Basically just in your typical classroom setting. The next year they invited her to actually be the design thinking teacher for the whole school. So the following year she taught pre-K through eighth grade kind of like a specialist teacher. She was basically the art teacher and the librarian. Her students came in twice a week. Through the design lab, she worked with the classroom teachers to integrate what they were teaching in the classroom setting into the STEM lab. In the design lab, they have a 3D printer, power tools, a laser cutter, and a Cricut machine plus a 3D pen.
While she loved the collaborative aspect, she missed being the core teacher who gets to integrate it all and teach it. And ultimately relationships are at the heart of everything she does. And she really missed having her students all day. So she went back into a self-contained classroom setting again.
After she became a mom she really wanted to be a part-time teacher and this opportunity opened up where her school asked if she would do that position again. Just two days a week so that she could still have a lot of time with her baby. And so she thinks it's kind of a perfect compromise.
I love following her journey to becoming a part-time teacher and a full-time mom. During the workweek, we recently interviewed Stephanie and Lorielle from Happily Ever Elementary and they are sharing a contract this year. So I love that Kayla gives teachers a little bit of hope to other educators that are struggling, maybe in the classroom, and want just a little bit of a break. But they don't want to leave the profession because we don't want teachers leaving, especially great teachers. We want them to stick around and to stay. So I hope that this is an answer to a prayer and an option for others. It's a testament that you can create your own future. Kayla was a classroom teacher that created her own job in the STEAM classroom.
Kayla loves being the design lab teacher. The students get to come in and recreate and use all the tools and apply the learning to real life. And to Kayla even more than just the creative side. It's how she sees her job differently than an art teacher or shop class. Even though she has all those supplies in there, the students are just using the tools to enhance what they're already learning in all the core subjects. Then they get to apply those skills in real life. That’s also why she is so excited to do this job as a part-time teacher while she has a baby at home. Because it will be a fun class. She also gets to remove a lot of the classroom teacher pressures related to that position. Even though she missed the relationships with the students and parents. She is excited to be a special teacher and feels it's easier to be a part-time teacher in that kind of setting.
As Kayla was sharing I kept wondering what kind of school she works at? Is it K through eight? Is it a private school? A public school, because I can't even imagine where I live, having the funds to have something so cool as a design lab. I would love for my kids to have this moment, but we don't even have art or music in our schools, which is so sad. The school that Kayla is going to be teaching in the design lab is a private school. It has two wings. A primary school and a middle school on campus. So there's pre-K through fifth grade in the primary wing and then sixth through eighth grade in the middle school wing. And it is just a private independent school.
Then Kayla and I switched gears and chatted about how she took this idea of the perfect job and moved that into the online teaching space. Her Teacher Pay Teacher’s journey is also really just a natural one that happened and was unplanned as well. And it was before even the whole design lab excitement.
Back when Kayla was teaching and transformed that fifth-grade room she also started an Instagram account. It was a small account, but she started out sharing different lesson ideas. Then she began sharing more of her passion for being able to creatively help students meet the high standards and students all the tools necessary to reach them. She would come to school as her own substitute teacher and dress up in character all day just to switch it up since they were with the same teacher all day. So each of these subs had a different specialty. One was an expert in math and technology. One was a science character. So they would come in and teach these lessons. And then she started writing. Her students were really struggling with parts of speech, grammar can be such a dry subject. So she started writing skits where the characters are the parts of speech. Each of the parts of speech had personas. And then she started doing Mad Math Monday. That evolved into regular room transformations. MCIs (Mathematical Criminal Investigation Services) and they'd be doing detective math. Detective Math was actually algebra tech. lAnd even though the 5th graders thought they hated math and were still bad at it, Kayla made it low risk. It felt like a game.
This whole idea evolved into her TPT store. Kayla kept getting the question, “Where can I find that activity? Do you have a TPT store? Can I buy this? Where is this stuff, I would love a copy?” So Kayla reached out for some help from some Instagram friends who had TeachersPayTeachers accounts and they helped her set up one. She didn’t start out creating things for teachers, but rather her specific group of students. And in the end, other teachers from all over the place we're seeing that and had that same need and then they started buying it. That's how her store got started.
This is a really common thing that we hear from other teacher entrepreneurs that we're interviewing, especially ones that have found success on Instagram. The Teachergram world is insane. People don't realize it, especially those that aren’t in our world. Teachers are taking over Instagram and it's awesome that we're able to support people that way. Instagram has become the main thing for Kayla just because it's the one that took off the fastest. She does have a Facebook account, blog, and Twitter account.
Sometimes we hear that people feel salesy when they're on Instagram and they're sharing. Kayla learned to meet in the middle where she could share about her TPT products. Kayla feels like because she had started her Instagram account as a teacher sharing her journey. She thinks that helped find the balance because her account was already created to share teaching ideas. And her journey and the lessons and resources came last. So a lot of times when she shares a product it’s more how she is using them. Kayla says that's how you catch a lot of people's eyes. She rarely makes actual advertisements of her products on Instagram.
Switching gears: If you are on this journey and thinking about going part time, or thinking about leaving the classroom, whether it's for a sabbatical year. Or maybe that's something you want to do for the long run. The biggest fear, which I've heard from a lot of my teacher, and Instagram friends, is that they won't be relatable anymore. As Kayla is moving into this position. She shares how she got over her fear.
Kayla took six months off for maternity leave and her whole life was absorbed with her baby and she doesn't regret it at all. But then a piece of her on the business side was worried about being relatable. She often shared different ideas, from previous or different products and she began sharing other people's input about different things that she had created. She continued to have input and also just engage with other teachers, even if she wasn't necessarily in the classroom at that moment. But keeping up with conversations and connections and relationships was a key to staying relevant. She feels like the fear comes from people connecting when they know that you're in the classroom and you're using the product and you're going through it with them.
Meeting with teachers that are in the classroom is a great way to stay in the game. And it's not as scary as you think. I think people assume that you'll be unrelatable, but to everyone else, you're still the same old person that you always were. So Kayla took six months off with her little one. And for her, the postpartum season was an effort. It was so hard to share about postpartum because she had tried for four years to be able to get pregnant. This was something she’d wanted for so long. And of course, you love your baby and your child. And she felt she could be authentic about everything in her life, except her postpartum journey. She didn’t want to admit that anything could be negative because this was the dream. She really was starting to spiral and not admit it to herself. It was during Covid so she couldn’t even really leave the house. She really felt like she was spiraling into depression and up all night with so much anxiety.
But she didn't want to admit it even to herself, because then that would mean she didn't love being a mom, in her mind that’s what it felt like. And her mom came during spring break right before she was scheduled to go back to work. And her mom recognized how bad it had gotten and really pushed her to just call her doctor and talk. Her mom encouraged her to be open about where she was at. It was probably the hardest thing she’s shared on social media to a bunch of strangers. But through that, and the hundreds and hundreds of likes, and DMS and comments of people going through the same thing. Or in that same scenario where you don't want to admit it because you feel like there's something wrong. She started sharing more on her Instagram stories and she would get thousands of replies.
As Kayla spoke, I felt that so deep in my soul and got a little teary-eyed. Because I'm in that season right now where all I've ever wanted was a baby girl. I also forgot how hard it is to have a toddler and a baby. And I'm struggling, you know, I've been in the thick of postpartum depression for years and I never, ever, ever want to go back. And although we didn't struggle with infertility, here I am with all of these beautiful children that are all healthy and the guilt is real. And then throw in breastfeeding guilt, there's so much pressure in society to be a good mom. And then to see it on Instagram, you feel like you have to be this certain way, but it's not always easy. Every day I say to myself I can be a good mom and still struggle.
Kayla says that although it was so scary to share about her journey on such a large social platform, no negativity came from being vulnerable. But she cautions to be ready or in the place of being able to share, be authentic and vulnerable. If you are not ready emotionally, but then post it on IG for all those strangers it might backfire. It just brought her a lot of comfort to realize she wasn’t so alone. And she hopes to bring that for somebody else.
Kayla is also very open about something else on Instagram that I admire so much. She is very public about being hard of hearing. It wasn't until Kayla was about four where it really started to become noticeable with speech and communication. Once she was in kindergarten, the teacher recognized that there was something serious going on and her family should get her hearing checked. When they did check she was over 60% hearing loss. So it was very severe and it was in kindergarten. That’s when she got her first pair of hearing aids. She shares that journey with her students a lot. Kayla says, “It's an example of how we see ourselves and the words other people say, it makes an impact.”
In the beginning, she was so excited about her hearing aids. She proudly showed them to everyone. But over time, all the comments from students crushed that feeling more and more. Students making fun of her or the hearing loss. She remembers in middle school where another student told her she knew why people weren't her friend. It was because Kayla had “those weird things in her ears” and it just hit Kayla. It was the first time she thought, “Wait, people wouldn't like me because of that?”
As a result, there became more and more shame over wearing them. By the time she reached high school, she switched schools in eighth grade. She was determined nobody would ever find out she wore hearing aids. She wore her hair down for the next 10 years, pretty much always over her ear. She never told anybody, even her closest friends in high school didn't know that she was wearing hearing aids. With all the shame came a lot of miscommunication and a lot of sad things in school. Kayla says, “if you are too ashamed to ask somebody or to speak up, you miss out.” She just let herself miss out on life because she felt like that was better than being open about it.
And then she met her husband in high school and opened up to him about it when they were dating in college. And he helped her see it in a whole different light. He asked why she was ashamed, he told her it made her an even more awesome person. She traveled when she was 19 to South America and learned a second language while being hard of hearing. She’s a successful teacher. Her husband told her she should own that! Be proud of that. It still took Kayla several years to get comfortable with sharing. Her husband would help record her speech so she could practice and gain confidence. Kayla reminds us speaking is hard when you can't hear the sounds. He even made the point that everybody has something they struggle with. Everybody has something they're insecure with. So by being vulnerable and open, it helped people be able to connect and be able to be open about where they're at too.
She shares with her students the very first day of school. The first thing they do is sit in a circle on the carpet and she introduces herself and she does the complete heart lesson. She takes the smooth piece of paper that is cut out in a heart shape. And shares that story about how she first got her hearing aid and that smooth heart is how she felt about it. She was so proud. There was no negative connotation with them at all.
But then every time she tells them a story about people who were mean or negative about her hearing aids, they crumple up the paper and by the end she has her students help smooth it out. And of course, you can't get rid of the wrinkles, even though they're faint, they're still there. Those memories are still there. And she uses that story and the power of words. Because a lot of the comments that people made were jokes, but they stuck with her and changed her whole self-identity over jokes.
Once she was able to be open with her students about her hearing and see how powerful a connection was made, she felt like she could finally be open about it on social media. Because as a child the very first time that she was able to access the internet, when she was 12, the first thing I looked up was ‘which famous people wear hearing aids'? She didn't know a single person in her world that was hard of hearing except for some elderly people. And she read that Bill Clinton, president at the time, wore hearing aids. She doesn't even know if that is true, but she walked away from that story and thought “The president wears hearing aids, I'm not a freak!”
That representation was missing in her life. And so now even as a part time teacher she is very open and able to share it on social media too, because she wants to normalize that we all have our struggles. There are different people who are hard of hearing in the hearing world. And she just wants people to be more empathetic. Even though it wasn’t something she was always brave and open about, now it’s something that she feels very proud and open to share.
And of course, I love the way her husband allowed her to see this other side of who she really is! That's a beautiful story. After my conversation last week with Nita Creekmore and her sharing how we need to lift up the quiet voices, I wondered how we can support Kayla in her journey of being hard of hearing? Everyone has something that they are very passionate about, and I know that in the Instagram world through stories, there are just certain things that we can do to help Kayla and other people who are hard of hearing. Kayla said the biggest thing, at least on social media, is accessibility.
Make sure your stories always have captions because a lot of the time people, if they can't hear what you're saying, they could potentially try to read your lips, but then they're missing out. And it's that same feeling of being in a group and everyone's laughing or connecting over something and you can't hear what it is. And, but you can't even ask somebody to repeat themselves because it's just on social media. So Kayla thinks videos are the hardest with the deaf and hard of hearing community. Because if there are no closed captions or subtitles or anything, you miss a lot. She loves that Instagram added the captions feature. She knows some people like the text and a block better, but now all you have to do is just click that button and it will, it will put the subtitles on your stories for you.
Kayla also mentions as a presenter, or teacher in your day-to-day life, try to face your audience. She realized when your back is turned every time you're writing something on the board, the person who's hard of hearing or deaf has lost a big part of their communication. Because body language and reading lips are half of the work for hearing. She is very conscious of that as a teacher, even though there are not necessarily any students that she knows of who have been hard of hearing in her classroom. Kayla says even in a presentation, you should always have some kind of visual that goes with what you're saying. And the biggest thing online, it's just being able to just make sure all your videos have captions!
Such good advice about your body language and always facing the front. I think that that's a wonderful thing to take from this that I had never really even thought of before!
Kayla is such an inspiration and I know you are going to want to connect with her. You can find her on all social media at TeachLikeYouMeanIt. Kayla reminds us as we are beginning our CEO Teacher® journey, that you can never force being vulnerable or trying to be authentic. But she believes if you start with low-risk questions and engagement you can build up to the hard stuff. She also says if you're wanting to express more of who you are and for people to be connected to your journey and therefore connected to what you do and your business, it's great to just start small. Introduce yourself and fun facts that are low risk. You could even connect over your part time teacher contract. The more people feel connected over favorite foods the more people can connect to who you are and your business brand.
© kayse morris 2020 / legal / design by saffron ave
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