May 18, 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, and today I have Melissa McCallihan with me. She is our sixth grade teacher and she also teaches science, right? Am I getting that right? Yes? Good.
So let’s jump right in. Why don’t you tell us, what did you study in college?
Melissa McCallihan: Well, I’m a professional student. So, the first time I went to school, I got a degree in journalism, with a minor in political science, with the idea that I was going to be a lawyer or a politician. But I really enjoyed writing, I really enjoyed doing the newspaper thing, and I did it in Arizona for almost six years and then I met my husband, and we moved. I was a part of a weekly newspaper that paid nothing, and wanted me to work way too much. So, my husband said, “All I ever hear you talk about is being a teacher.”
So he encouraged me to go back to school, and the next thing I went to school for was Elementary Education.
Abby Liu: Excellent. What are you most passionate about in terms of teaching content?
Melissa McCallihan: Other than about Jesus? I would say math and science, those are the two areas that I’ve always had an affinity for in teaching, but not as a student. I think it’s because as a student, I was frustrated by how I was taught those things, and I hated them. So now I’m very passionate about it because I want children to love them. All the way through.
Abby Liu: Yeah, that’s so good. So, describe a moment when a student was challenged beyond what you expected in class. What did that look like, and what about that was exciting for you as a teacher?
Melissa McCallihan: I have two. One is shorter than the other.
So, this is when I was teaching combined four and five, and I was standing with a very exuberant fifth grader. We were in STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math], and he was just struggling with how he was going to create a model. He had this really big idea in his head. He was like, I just, I want to do it, I don’t think I can do it. And I looked at him and I said, “Well, what if…”
And I said like three words, and then he came out with like five more words, and then I came out with like five more words, and next thing I know, our hands are clasped like this and we’re jumping up and down, we did it, we did it, we did it! I can’t wait! And it was just… STEAM has always been a place where children can be their most creative, and also struggle because things fail. They have big ideas that they can’t bring to fruition. And this was one of those times where this big idea was able to be brought forward into something really fantastic and it was really fantastic and everybody was just like, right, and so it was like, the culmination of everything that I bought for that program in our school.
And then the second one’s really quick. I have a student who’s an excellent mathematician, and I found this project for this person to do. And she came up to me one day and she’s like, “My brain is melting. It is literally melting out of my skull, I love this so much. It’s taxing me so much that I just wanted you to know, and walked away.”
Abby Liu: That sounds so energizing!
Melissa McCallihan: It really, really is, because our students are so motivated. They are motivated. They have grit. And they have tenacity. They just keep going. They just keep pursuing bigger, better, creative things, and they don’t give up. If they have an idea and it’s not working like okay, what can I do to make it tweaked and still work? So that’s the cool thing.
Abby Liu: That’s very cool. So, as you know we’ve been thinking a lot about belonging through our study of Universal Design for Learning (we call it UDL), and Diversity Equity and Inclusion, or DEI. Can you tell us about an idea or something that you’ve done in your classroom, as a result of the work that you’ve been doing with UDL, or the learning we’ve been doing [with DEI]?
Melissa McCallihan: So, I have the good fortune of doing a social justice night with my students. This is a new celebration that we’re doing. Last year it was started by last year’s sixth grade teacher, Elizabeth Rachuri, called “social justice study,” but we’re turning it into a celebration. And so I’ve been using a website called Facing History, and we’ve been reading books about asylum seekers. We’ve been reading historical fiction about refugees and antisemitism and Asian hate historically, and also enslaved people. And so through literature and writing, and now art and music, they are exploring how to express themselves on a social justice topic. And so, to have a good foundation for them, we have looked at the Equal Rights Amendment. We have looked at it historically and where it’s at today. We’ve looked at antisemitism and the recent increase in acts of hate. Tthe recent increase in acts of hate against AAPI. And then basically just BIPOC, the idea that people have color. Also people and their gender identity, and the fluidity of that, and how people struggle to accept someone who’s not saying, I am just female, and uses pronouns her/she. So we’ve been looking at articles. We’ve been looking at videos. We’ve been discussing it, and then we’ve been talking about the universe of obligation. What is our obligation in our circles of people? And so we’ve looked at the different circles: school, home, church, community, and our country. So I’ve just really been fortunate to have this conversation with them.
Abby Liu: So it sounds like you’ve got both the UDL and the DEI in the same thing, finding multiple modes for your students to express their learning, and also the learning is in the realm of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. So wow, that’s a very good example.
Melissa McCallihan: Like today, they could watch a video or read an article or use a diagram, and every student chose something different. And it met their need, and there was no barrier. Right? It was so great.
Abby Liu: That’s great, that’s just so exciting. What motivates and inspires you?
Melissa McCallihan: Children! I mean, I love children. I love being in the room with them. I love the way that they figure out the world. I even love when they’re not getting along, because they’re not satisfied with not getting along. Do you know what I’m saying? Okay, I can agree to disagree with you, but let’s make sure that that’s where we want to leave it. And part of that is our Mustard Seed way, our culture that we’ve developed in the realm of community, but I’ve taught in a lot of different schools and I have seen children not be okay with it—I just can’t leave it this way, I want to make sure that we can at least coexist. Right? And so that right there is just inspiring, not to mention just the way that they are so determined in their learning. So determined.
Abby Liu: To get that perseverance that they need when they get older, on to high school and in college where they have to just keep going with it.
Is there anything else that our families should know about you?
Melissa McCallihan: The work that we do with children is a Pre-K to 8 experience. Someone leaves our school, it leaves a hole in the community. And I don’t think people realize that. I mean if people have to move, they’re transient in that area, I get it. But all the work that is poured into children in this community goes with that child. Which is lovely, but also leaves a hole in the community, that as their child goes on, whether or not it’s at the end of eighth grade, their legacy and their person-shaped hole stays with us, and we remember them and carry them with us and they matter. So, that’s one thing I would like parents to know.
Abby Liu: Yeah, that knowing and caring, right? You get to know students so well and so deeply that you miss them when they go on, when they move.
Melissa McCallihan: Yeah, and I think oftentimes people think… well for me when I first started being here, I was so surprised how many alumni came back and visited, or came to the alumni pizza night, right? And I was like, I don’t even remember anybody but two of my eight grade class. Whereas, people were reminiscing, they were talking about teachers. These are people who graduated in the 90s right and I’m here in 2008. And I thought, how the impact is carried forward, right, and it stays as a history with this place, and with the people who were here and the people who are here.
Abby Liu: Each person matters in this community. So don’t move to the suburbs!
Melissa McCallihan: Yes!
Abby Liu: All right, some quick questions. How long have you worked at Mustard Seed?
Melissa McCallihan: Since 2008. So 14 years?
Abby Liu: Yeah, I think you came the year before me? I’m 14, so 14 years.
Melissa McCallihan: So I was doing my hanging out the fall and spring, the fall of 2007 the spring of 2008, and then in August, 2008 I joined the school.
Abby Liu: Excellent. What’s the last book you read?
Melissa McCallihan: 84, Charing Cross Road. It’s one of my favorite movies. It’s kind of an older movie, an older book, and it’s basically letters from a screenwriter (she eventually became a screenwriter) to a bookstore in the UK, and they correspond back and forth from 1949 to 1980 something. Yeah, it’s lovely.
Abby Liu: What’s the show that you’re watching right now or that you recently enjoyed?
Melissa McCallihan: So, we’re addicted to a lot of UK TV, but we found this Canadian show called Blown Away. It’s a competition show of glassblowers and it is fascinating. It is just fascinating to see what they do, blowing glass and shaping glass and working with this extremely hot oven and this extremely hot medium. So it’s just it’s really fun, it’s really exciting to watch.
Abby Liu: Wow, you wouldn’t think that about glass blowing. If you could speak with a historical figure, who would it be?
Melissa McCallihan: Totally Jesus, totally Jesus. I know there’s a lot of historical figures but I’m fascinated by, but none more than Jesus. I just… why, why did you come to Earth for me, and die on the cross, that’s my biggest thing. I know it’s out of love, but I sometimes wrestle with that thought, you know?
Abby Liu: Yeah, I get that. What’s the first thing that you’re going to do when the pandemic is over or at least the major restrictions lifted.
Melissa McCallihan: I have tickets to see The Music Man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. I annually go to a theater performance with Ms. Kuperus. So I would say, the minute I can sit in a Broadway theater and watch a show, I will be there.
Abby Liu: I’m with you on that. Favorite dessert?
Melissa McCallihan: Chocolate chip cookies. Second favorite is brownie. So a brookie is pretty good for me too.
Abby Liu: Name a band or artist that you enjoy listening to.
Melissa McCallihan: I’m a big Lauren Daigle fan. I just love her voice, I love her personality. I love how she loves people through her songs and through her actions. So she’s a big one for me.
Abby Liu: Great. Now name one item that will always be in your fridge.
Melissa McCallihan: Almond milk and salsa.
Abby Liu: Interesting!
Melissa McCallihan: I love an ice cold glass of milk in the morning, but I can’t have it so almond milk is the thing. And always have this salsa that we first fell in love with in Mexico, and it’s constant in our fridge.
Abby Liu: So good. Can’t go wrong with chips and salsa.
Melissa McCallihan: That was my college go to. Chips and salsa.
Abby Liu: Well, thank you so much! Thanks for taking the time and being with me today and letting us get to know you all better.
Melissa McCallihan: Thank you so much, Abby. This is great.