April 26, 2021 | Abby Liu
This is a part of a new video interview series so that you can get to know our Middle School faculty. We hope that you enjoy learning more about them!
Abby Liu: Hello, I’m Abby Liu, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Mustard Seed School. I’m here today with Kat Jonker, who is one of our fourth grade teachers. Thanks for being here with me today so that we can get to know you a little bit better.
All right, so we’re gonna start right off with what did you study in college?
Kat Jonker: I studied elementary education and my major was integrated science. So it was an emphasis on science and how to teach science well.
Abby Liu: What is integrated science?
Kat Jonker: As I understand it, it just means comprehensive. And integrated also could mean that you want science to permeate more areas of school than it usually does. Usually there’s a lot of emphasis on reading and math. But science is obviously important, so I think it was sort of those two things, mostly when I hear the word “integrated” I think all the science.
Abby Liu: Excellent. So STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics] is perfect for you.
Kat Jonker: Yeah, STEAM works out well! It does. And that’s not even just science, right? That’s more things on top of it.
Abby Liu: So it’s integrating all those different pieces– the science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics.
Kat Jonker: Yes, and we do it to different degrees, like some projects have more engineering than others, right? We try to integrate at least three of them into each project.
Abby Liu: What are you most passionate about, in terms of teaching content?
Kat Jonker: I’m definitely passionate about science, and particularly the exploratory part of it. I love the idea that you explore a concept before you learn the concept. Like you experience it, and then you learn what it is. And I also am really passionate about teaching writing. I love to teach writing.
Abby Liu: Do you have a favorite writing project that your class does?
Kat Jonker: Well actually we just started a persuasive essay project, and I’m really excited for it. The thing about persuasive writing is that you need to take an angle. Your goal is to persuade. We did a debate today and we talked a little bit about counter arguments, and I was excited with how much the students grasped what those are and how to make them in the debate. And so I’m excited to see how some, hopefully most, of them will be able to implement that–well all of them successfully implement, even on top of just persuading from their perspective. They will also be able to anticipate possible counter arguments, and talk about those in their essays. I’m really excited about this unit.
Abby Liu: Watch out, parents, you’re going to get all of your persuading arguments and counter arguments [from your students]. It’s coming!
Describe a moment when a student was challenged beyond what you expected in the classroom. What did that work look like and what was exciting to you as a teacher?
Kat Jonker: Well this year, I had a student who mentioned that she had a connection with somebody who was an expert in or potentially a role model for our class as we did our Voices of the People unit. This is where they researched how current figures, people like Greta Thunberg, or Malala, to give two examples. How are those people influencing current movements for change? And how can we be inspired by them ourselves to be changemakers? And this student said, “I know this person who I could interview.”
She was the first female firefighter in New York City. Or one of the first, rather. And so she made a connection and she interviewed her. No, she didn’t interview her, she just researched her a lot. And then she was sort of like an ambassador for our class with this guest expert. So I was actually able to bring the expert to Zoom into our class. This student introduced her to us all and introduced all of us to her background, and then it went even further. Not only did the student do the normal, expected amount of work for her project but she also took the lead on building a website where we could write additional news articles about the figures that we were studying for the project. And she wrote a news article about this guest expert that we were able to hear from that she connected us with.
So that was really cool and led to other kids going above and beyond in the project, too right? They were like oh she’s building a website. She needs news articles for it. I have extra time. I’m gonna write a news article.
So yeah that was just amazing. She had the bandwidth, and the excitement to do it. And it didn’t just end with her, it brought other students in, too, so it was just ideal.
Abby Liu: That’s exactly what we want, right? Students getting excited about their learning and then taking it further and being so engaged that they want to go above and beyond. So that’s a great example. I love that.
As you know, we’ve been thinking a lot about belonging and UDL or Universal Design for Learning, and also diversity, equity and inclusion. Two big topics that we’ve been talking about in school this year. What is an idea that you’ve tried as a result of the study that you’ve been doing in Universal Design for Learning?
Kat Jonker: Well in UDL they talk about the importance of setting clear goals. I was inspired by a video I watched. A teacher was sharing about how in his lesson prep, he chooses the main objective for the lesson before he does anything else. Then he spends some time getting himself on board, asking Why is this goal important? Why is it important for the students to know this? And that’s been really helpful for me. Before I plan other things I say, “What’s the goal? What is the goal of the lesson and also why does it matter? Why does this goal matter?”
Because if I don’t care about it, I’m not going to teach it well. I have to be on board with it too. And then once you do that, if you do that in advance, you have more time to think about different avenues for achieving that goal that you really have in your mind. You begin to see the goal over just the particular activity that you’re doing, and that is great because some kids–you know, saying some kids is kind of othering language I think– each kid will achieve the goal through slightly different means. Yeah, so it’s just important to have the goal at the forefront of your mind, and the activities are sort of secondary, because you could do multiple different kinds to get there.
Abby Liu: Excellent. That’s so good. What is an action you’ve taken to better honor and celebrate diversity present in your classroom?
Kat Jonker: Well I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own bias and you know our sessions that we’ve been having as a staff and also other things I’ve just been reading on the side personally, have really pushed me and challenged me to do that. And something that I’ve learned is that bias is something that you act out of when you’re thinking quickly and when you’re teaching you’re thinking on your toes all the time. One way I’ve been pushing myself personally, is to say, “Okay, I’m going to have faith in the students’ intentions first.”
You know, and by having that fundamental, I have faith in the students intentions, I think that helps me take a step back. And before I make judgments about the student, and why they’re doing what they’re doing, I’m having faith in their intentions. This just helps me slow down and so maybe I won’t act out of my initial bias, or my initial actions won’t be influenced by my own personal biases. But also in terms of really concrete action steps, just putting material in their hand that’s by or centering people of color. We use a lot of news articles and I try to pull from articles that center the voices of people of color. And also just the books we’re reading, like the birthday books that they get. I try to aim to give them something that’s going to broaden their perspective, rather than just to be more of the same. So those are a couple things.
Abby Liu: Those are really good ways of knowing and caring for students in your class. I really appreciate that. What motivates and inspires you as a teacher.?
Kat Jonker: This year it’s metacognition.
Abby Liu: Oh, big word!
Kat Jonker: Yeah, let them be able to think about their own learning. I mean, lots of things! The kids are so resilient, and so eager to learn in spite of everything. That really gets me up in the morning, it really does. But also their ability to think about their own learning is exciting, because that is really the ticket for them to be successful and to be lifelong learners, is for them to understand how their brains work. And it’s great because it’s a road to self acceptance, and it’s also a road to them feeling powerful and strong. And it’s such a healthy road for that. You know, there are so many unhealthy ways to achieve that but feeling like you know yourself as a learner and that you can challenge yourself and understand your own growth, that’s cool. So that’s something that I would say.
Abby Liu: Excellent. Well is there anything else you think our family should know about you?
Kat Jonker: I moved here relatively recently, just two and a half years ago, and I just am so–I just didn’t know what I was getting into! But I have been so blessed by the community here, by this school, by the people that are leading the way. I just really genuinely love working in a place where teachers care so earnestly and honestly about the students, and just really put students first.
And I have just learned so much from them. So I think that would be something that I would want people to know. I just have so much joy working here–if that’s ever not apparent– but there it is.
Abby Liu: Oh, it’s so great to hear! All right, we’re gonna do the quick questions. I think you already answered the first one, but we’re gonna do it anyway. How long have you worked at Mustard Seed?
Kat Jonker: This is my third year.
Abby Liu: And what’s the last book you read?
Kat Jonker: I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a novel.
Abby Liu: What is this show that you’re watching right now or recently enjoyed?
Kat Jonker: Oh, um, Schitts Creek is funny. Also The Queen’s Gambit.
Abby Liu: Oh, I’ve heard that’s really good. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic is over or at least the major restrictions lifted?
Kat Jonker: Either go to a movie theater or go to a symphony concert.
Abby Liu: Favorite dessert?
Kat Jonker: Cheesecake.
Abby Liu: You’re the second cheesecake I’ve heard from the staff! Name a band or artist that you enjoy listening to.
Kat Jonker: Phoebe Bridgers, singer songwriter.
Abby Liu: And finally, what’s one item that will always be in your fridge?
Kat Jonker: Cheese. Brie cheese.
Abby Liu: Cheese is a good thing, especially in a pandemic. We all need cheese! Well, thank you so much for joining me today, it’s been great to get to know you a little better.
Kat Jonker: Yeah, thank you, Abby, thank you so much.