We chatted with newly named Arizona Teacher of the Year Sara Wyffels about her practice and also what’s bringing her joy and entertainment these days.Nov 13, 2020
In our most recent episode of 3Ps in a Pod, we talked with newly named 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Sara Wyffels, NBCT, about her journey into education, what it’s like to be named Arizona Teacher of the Year, and her encouragement for all Arizona educators. You can find that episode here. We wanted to continue the conversation and hear a bit more about her practice and also what’s bringing her joy these days. We hope you enjoy both learning a bit more about Wyffels and find a recommendation you like to add to your day.
You clearly love education but it comes with its challenges. What keeps you teaching?
“I have a really hard time thinking about not working in a classroom with a group of students everyday. I can’t get to the point where I see myself not doing that. I enjoy the unknown that happens every day with them. They’re truly the highlight of every day. I mean, they can also be the most obnoxious part of every day, but they’re also truly the highlight of every day. Digging into material, digging into Spanish and why do we learn it and how do you speak it, is just fun. They ask questions that you can’t predict, and I just really like that unpredictability.”
This year, at the Arizona K12 Center, we’ve been reflecting quite a bit in our teacher leadership spaces on teacher inquiry. What role does teacher inquiry play in your practice?
“I think teacher inquiry directly relates to the process of National Board Certification and how you really are starting with your knowledge of your students and how they’re sort of subjects to you in your practice. You’re sort of studying them and asking questions and getting to know them. What happens is then you ask the question, if I’m teaching Spanish, of course, how then can I connect the content and our learning goals to what I know about them? I think inquiry there can go a really long way. Each kid is so different and how they might receive the material and understand what they’re learning is super diverse. I think the National Board Certification really naturally gets you doing that.”
What are you reading these days?
- Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
“It has really cool visuals: it has photos from her life, it has artifacts, it has sections of judgements that she made. It’s inspirational. It makes me feel sad sometimes because you just wish she was still here, but I think there’s a lot to take from her personally and professionally from that book. That’s what I’m into currently.”
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (which she’s been enjoying with her 10 and 8-year-old kids)
“We’re reading a lot of Calvin and Hobbes in my house. We have the collection of all the Calvin and Hobbes comics. Frankly, they’re hilarious and my kids laugh out loud when they read them. It’s a happy thing in my house.”
Anything you’re watching that’s bringing you joy?
- The Great British Baking Show
“I’m almost caught up to the most recent season of the Great British Baking Show.”
- The Mandalorian
“We also are definitely sci-fi people, so we just watched the first episode of The Mandalorian that came out on Disney+. We love baby Yoda and the Mandalorian. We think he’s very cool.”
- Premier League Soccer
“We watch quite a bit of Premier League soccer in my house, which I do like.”
Are there podcasts, along with 3Ps in a Pod, you’ve been enjoying?
Related to teaching and education:
- the Cult of Pedagogy with Jennifer Gonzalez
- Nice White Parents from Serial and The New York Times
- 1619 from The New York Times
Not related to education:
- Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard
- SmartLess with Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes
“Sometimes I just need to laugh. I just need to listen to people goofing off.”
With everything going on in the world, for teachers, and for you in particular, what are you doing for authentic self-care?
“I’m really lucky and blessed to have a true partner that I live with and am married to. I think one thing that really helps is --I mean, this is sort of nerdy -- but having a calendar and putting everything on the same calendar and then communicating about it. Just that piece I think really helps relieve anxiety and stress because sometimes you might not know ‘Who’s going to be able to do this if we’re doing this?’ I think having a really organized calendar that’s a central piece and that you can access in advance really helps.
Personally, we also have the help of my mother-in-law who just retired... ...She’s been a huge part of helping support us. Regardless of what your family situation is like, if you have people who are close to you, who love you, and if you’re really listening to yourself and there’s a time you really feel like you need something, we have to be our own advocates, because sometimes you can’t just find a quiet moment. Sometimes you have to plan a quiet moment. Again, that calendar piece and planning in advance. ‘Yeah, I’m going to take a half-a-day quiet moment on this day’ and then plan in advance to make it happen. Because sometimes if we don’t do that, there’s none and then you end up losing it.
I also recommend getting a puppy. Get a puppy!”
Any other thoughts you wanted to share with Arizona teachers?
“First, if you want a professional growth experience that is going to change your practice and continue to change it forever and ever and ever, go for your National Board Certification and use the Arizona K12 Center as your support system. It’s vital to everything that I continue to do and I recommend it as the best professional experience ever.Second, in Arizona and since I teach Spanish, I am not a native Spanish speaker but I love the Spanish language and I love the connections I have been able to make with our Hispanic communities and our Latinx kids and families. I would really challenge Arizona teachers to really think about what home languages their students are speaking. It might not just be Spanish. It might be Maya. It might be Japanese. But I would challenge you to stretch yourself and to push yourself to learn even just a greeting in one of those languages — just ‘Hello. How are you?’ — that you could use with a family or with a student in their home language. I think just showing that amount of effort and putting yourself out there as a risk a little bit can really help build some strong community connections.”