Transforming a Love of School into a Love of Teaching
Los Angeles ‘21 Corps member Phoebe Markiles shares her story
October 31, 2022
Phoebe Markiles has always been a fan of school. “When I was little, I really, really loved school,” she recalls, “that’s when I decided I wanted to be a teacher.” Her childhood ambition is now a reality; Phoebe is currently a corps member and middle school Special Education (SPED) teacher at Downtown Value School in South Central Los Angeles.
Phoebe teaches within the school’s Resource Specialist Program (RSP) regularly working with 20 students in grades 6-8, all of whom have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)–learning plans that outline the specialized services and instructional assistance for students with disabilities. As an RSP educator, Phoebe meets with students in two settings. She pulls students out of their general education classrooms for modified lessons in a different environment or steps into classes to provide specialized instruction. “There are not always the proper supports, especially for SPED,” she shares, “(the 2021-2022 school year) was the first full year back in person for the kids; it was really tough. It's the jump, two years in age, there's a lot that they missed developmentally.”
Teaching has a steep learning curve. It can be even more difficult for SPED teachers who must learn how to manage challenging student behavior, master the administrative elements of the role, and complete additional certification requirements. SPED educators collaborate with other subject and general education teachers to align content and lessons for every student. “It was tough at the beginning, managing the relationships with other teachers and figuring out what they’re going to do versus what I was going to do,” she recalls, “But it’s gotten better, and I really enjoy it.” Phoebe quickly became attuned to the ebb and flow of the academic year and now balances the chaotic times with the calmer periods, which she never takes for granted. Her ability to manage stress is tied to her genuine passion for teaching and love for her students. “I really like to be with the kids. Not to sound cheesy, but it makes it all worth it.”
“I believe students deserve respect just as much as adults do. I've been trying to show my kids that I respect them. We need to treat our students with respect because they're really doing an amazing thing.”
One of the nuances of Phoebe’s role is that she’ll have the same students until they graduate middle school. The relationships she’s forming now will only continue to grow in the years to come. The strength of her relationships with students has been one of the most delightful surprises of her career so far. “I obviously knew I would be close to students. But I didn’t expect it to be so fun…some of them are buddy buddy with me and come looking for me. That surprised me!” says Phoebe through a smile. Working with smaller student groups, she understands each student’s learning style, personality, and motivations. She’s also able to see their academic growth and knows how her students express genuine understanding when they grasp a new concept. “Noticing what they do when they understand something and then seeing that behavior more frequently– their cheeks come up or their eyes kind of wrinkle, that's a sign they're getting it, and they're smiling under their masks. That’s probably my absolute favorite part,” she says.
In only one year of teaching, Phoebe is impacting her students and recently watched three of her middle schoolers receive honor roll certificates in a small school ceremony. But, according to her, their success should only be attributed to them. She’s constantly calling for students to be respected and celebrated for their efforts and accomplishments. “I think it takes a lot for students to go to school. All students who go to school and try hard are amazing. I think that people who jump to conclusions about certain students are just like feeding their own bad narratives,” says Phoebe. She knows firsthand how difficult school has been throughout the pandemic and thinks the courage and resilience of her kids are admirable. “I believe students deserve respect just as much as adults do. I've been trying to show my kids that I respect them. We need to treat our students with respect because they're really doing an amazing thing.”