Casey, Education Policy Graduate Student, WI
Casey Ulrich is a current Stanford graduate student studying Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. Before beginning graduate school he worked as a High School math teacher for four years in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin. Casey was interviewed by a colleague in the Stanford POLS cohort and is part of the RE-ENVISIONED team.
Take a moment and think about a child you care about. When you're ready, tell me about that child and what makes her unique and special.
There are not a lot of children in my life currently. I have a few cousins but the one I'm thinking about is my best friends' from college kid that was just born in the beginning of August. I'm going to think about her. She's about three months old. She takes a lot of naps, just like her mom.
Imagine that the child you are thinking of is in her 30's. She's out of school and into her adult life. What do you hope for her about her life and what would make it a good or successful life?
If anything else, I just want her to be happy and to have the ability to be with her family. I want her to enjoy her time with family because her family definitely values being very close. I don't want her to be bogged down with too many obligations or things that stress her out or pull her in too many directions where she wouldn't be able to spend the time with them. I want her to be able to work in something that she's passionate about. I hope she treats her job as more than a job just like her mom who absolutely loves where she works. I want her to find something like that.
Is there anything that you can picture getting in the way of that type of a good, successful, happy life?
I guess I just worry and think about the middle school years. I worry that she's accepted no matter how goofy she is because her both her parents are rather goofy. I hope that she can develop a strong personality and be strong because I think that everybody is judged at some point in their life. Also, I want her to be able to develop the character to persevere even when things are hard and people are against you. At the same time doing the right thing and not being the person that's instigating.
You mentioned the character trait of persevering. Are there any other character traits that you wish she would develop.
I really want her to be a good person. What does being a good person mean? I guess I want her to be open to other experiences and other people and cultures. I want her to be able to have a sense of being passionate about something but also being open to discussing things. Hopefully she makes friends that aren't necessarily the same as her in every way.
What role do you think school should play in achieving those goals of having those personality traits and being happy, being successful?
I guess I want school to help develop her sense of creativity and wonder about the world and allow her to explore what her passion will be. I think it changes over time and it's definitely not something that you know right away. I want it to allow her the freedom to chase her dreams and develop her passions at the same time challenging her and opening her to different perspectives. It should also push her to be the best that she can be so that she can be successful and end up with a career that allows her to have the time for her family as well as gives her the enjoyment that she's looking for.
Do you think that schools currently play the role that you would envision for her? Why or why not?
I think some schools get close to it. I think some teachers can really do it but I think there are a lot of teachers that don't. Not necessarily on purpose. I think there are a lot of schools that are restricted by what they can do so their focus is elsewhere because their goals are different. So I guess in ways yes, but not fully.
Will schools be able to play this role that you've envisioned for all children or not successfully?
I think it can but it's very very hard. I think it's difficult for teachers because a lot of times teachers come from one culture or they only understand how to teach from their experiences and their culture. It's hard for one person to be able to do something very different for many. For me as a teacher, to be able to create a learning environment for 30 different kids who are different individuals is very difficult. I think its possible but it requires a lot of work and you need every single teacher in the building to do that to be able to make that work.
What have been some of your most empowering educational experiences? It can be outside of school or after you finished.
I think just conversations, one-on-one conversations from my end as a student and having conversations with a teacher where they told me what they saw in me and what they thought my passion should be. Whether I agreed with them or not, it helped shift me over time. And also, conversations I've had with students. I think it is important when you have a conversation with a student, to have personal conversations that go beyond education and everything else about their life. It's the most meaningful thing I've ever done as a teacher, more than teaching anyone how to learn any content.
Tell me about your favorite teacher when you were in school and why they were your favorite.
It's difficult because I was very self-motivated, so I didn't necessarily have one teacher. I could definitely narrow it down to a few though. I think my physics teacher was awesome because he had really high standards. I was used to always getting A's and his class was hard and I wouldn't get A's on all the tests. It was kind of frustrating but it was also kind of cool. His personality was great and he was sarcastic with us. Granted we were juniors and seniors so he could be. But, at the same time he was very supportive and would help us so it was a good balance.
What was your worst experience in school?
In 5th grade we had paper mache fish so we had to blow up a balloon and cover it with paper mache, pop it and paint it. I got an F on it, I mean it wasn't necessarily the best fish but I did the whole project. It was a Packer's fish so maybe she wasn't a Packer’s fan. I didn't really care, I didn't like art and I didn't like my teacher very much. I wasn't a fan of her. But that was a little heartbreaking. I'm a 5th grader. I actually wrote a song about it. I wrote a poem called, Why is there art? I later turned it into music because it was that traumatizing I guess. So that and then even though I was a math teacher and I always excelled at math, I never enjoyed math class until my sr. year because I was ahead a grade level or two and they bused me to the HS when I was in junior high and I didn't know anybody and I was the smart kid so it was like I liked doing math but I didn't enjoy learning it. I didn't enjoy the experience of being in class. I thought, give me the textbook, let me learn it myself. My senior year finally people in my grade caught up and I enjoyed it. That might have been a personality thing too but where I came out of my shell sr. year.
If you had to choose one thing to intervene on to make schools more like your ideal what would it be?
I would allow time for students to have passion projects and let them have time where they can do whatever they want. You can bring in experts in any field. I feel like I just hate seeing the arts and creativity go away. I loved band and orchestra even though I never did that, I never was in it. I would say why not let kids play in a band and like practice that. Come to school and bring your bass and guitar and stuff and go in the back room and jam out ya know. Work on something. That would be cool. We should make school a place where kids create because of school not in spite of school.