Gaux Girl - Becca Taubel2020-10-22
For the first time ever, we opened up our Gaux Girl series to our wonderful community, asking you to nominate incredible women in your networks who went above and beyond to make a difference during the last six months. The stories you shared with us were touching and awe-inspiring: Thank you.
We are grateful to share two powerful profiles with you this month—this is the first.
"I've loved teaching my entire life. It's something I've always wanted to do, and it's a special community we have here," explained Becca Taubel, a teacher at a Manhattan school for kids with learning differences. "The kids have amazed me. You'd think most teens would be like, 'Screw this.' Even wearing a mask all day—kids with sensory issues have been so receptive and understanding that things aren't what they used to be. Things are frustrating, and it's okay to be frustrated. Their acceptance and willingness to try has given me a lot of warmth and hope for future generations."
When speaking with Becca about her work and students it's apparent how deeply she cares. And unlike those of us still plugging along at a home desk, her career requires her to travel from her home in Brooklyn into Manhattan each day and perfect the (relatively new) art of simultaneously teaching the students in front of her and those watching via a live video feed.
Here, our conversation about what it's been like to be in a classroom throughout the pandemic, the way her students inspire her, and how it felt to ride the subway for the first time in the age of COVID.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
With our particular profile of kids, learning online presents a whole new group of challenges. We're back at school with a hybrid model—some kids online and some in the building—and it's been my hardest year of teaching to date. It's a challenge for me: How do I differentiate my instruction for student one and student two who need things presented differently, all while wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance?
A lot of our kids are very rigid, but I have to say, they handled it way better than I did. I got online the [first] day and shared my screen with the kids and all my texts were up and they were like, "Ms. Taubel, your mom's texting you..." I made a typo in one of my documents and a student said, "Ms. Taubel, you've really gotta do spellcheck, you know." It's not because they're mean, it's their learning profile—they can't move forward because they're stuck [on that]. When those kids can't hear me or there are technical difficulties, they're really being flexible. This hybrid model is hard, and it's highlighting how these young people are truly wonderful.
The rest of the country has seen a lot of media coverage about what it's like in New York City. How have you felt through all of this?
I live in Brooklyn, so when we went into lockdown I was there; I didn't go back into Manhattan until August. The first time I rode the subway I was masked up, gloved up, not sitting. You get used to it, but the first one was trippy. I still think about being as distant from people as I can be on the train; I wash my hands a crazy amount. In our school we have protocols in place. They've done the best they can, but there's still an air of social responsibility.
New York looks different, though—it's not as busy anymore. Today there was a little traffic when I went out to take a walk during my lunch break, and I was jazzed. I never thought I'd be excited about a car horn!
I love New York because it's New York. We all live here for a reason. I love teaching New York kids because they're the best, they're so self-sufficient. It can feel a little eerie though when it's not as busy, and you wonder, "Am I going to have to do all this again? Is someone I know going to get sick?" It's something I talk to my kids about all the time, the idea of social responsibility and making sure people feel comfortable. If a kid has a tech problem, I'll ask, "Do you feel comfortable if I stand near you?" I just want to make sure we're all taking care of each.
What have been some of the biggest rewards you've found in your profession? And the biggest challenges?
The biggest reason I love my job is that I love teaching young people. I go back to the relationships you form with these students, especially if you're lucky enough to teach in the same place for a consistent amount of time. I have some students who are going to be graduating this year and one of them asked to have a meeting with me about becoming a teacher. There's this moment of, "Oh, man, I don't think she would've done this four years ago." What a credit to her strength and advocacy. It's lovely to see young people grow.
Recently in one of my history classes a student had watched the [presidential] debate and had four pages of notes they wanted to talk about. I did not ask them to watch it, I'd just said, "If you're going to watch the debate, look for nonverbal cues, and let's come back and compare." He did that and I was surprised, like, "You listened to me! This is wild!" That always feels great.
The biggest struggle is that there are days I could work for 18 hours and still not be ready for the next day. Work-life balance and when to take some time for yourself is something I think we all struggle with, but there's a lot to do when you're a teacher. Like, when should I decide to go on that Bumble date instead of lesson planning? It's also hard when you think you haven't done as much for a kid as you could because you're just so tired. There's a lot of emotional guilt that comes with that.
That type of emotional guilt must feel more poignant when dealing with all the different aspects of the pandemic.
I think I'm more checked in to my kids's emotional states now. That's hard because I'm not a teenager living in a major city, especially back in March when we were the hotbed of everything. It made me realize more that if I didn't get to subject-verb agreement today it's going to be okay because maybe we just need to talk about how we're feeling nervous. I want to be more cognizant of their stress levels, anxiety, emotions...everything that's happening is very real, and I can't imagine being 14, 15, 16 years old on top of dealing with other learning profile issues. I think about that a lot, how to talk to them about it without scaring or lying to them. I want to be honest.
What's it like to be described as a "hero" by people?
I feel very supported by my friends and family; they remind me that what they think I'm doing is great. You read all the other things that teachers are doing online and think, "Damn, you are doing it, you're a real hero!" I don't [necessarily] feel the same way about myself.
I think about our essential workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics...I think I worked hard this spring, but those people worked really hard to go into work every day. I realize the sacrifice that a lot of people are making. I say this as a single woman who's in pretty good health: I haven't gotten to see my family and that's upsetting, but I don't have kids or a family member who is immunocompromised. I feel very lucky in that sense because there are a lot of our teachers that do. I think of some of my colleagues and what they're doing right now, and I'm in complete awe. They're doing it and coming in every day and giving their best to these kids, and they're better for it. I feel lucky to work with people who care that much. If you're a teacher, you've gotta really love what you do or else it's not worth it, especially as we're asking teachers to come in on the subway and be in buildings and in schools. Now more than ever what our teachers are doing is an incredible feat, and I hope people continue to recognize that.
What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?
Having a purpose and moving forward with that purpose. In the literal sense it's being on the go all day long too. I liken teaching to a game of Super Mario where you're going up and down levels and moving all around. My day is full and jam-packed, and I'm moving. I have a purpose and move toward it; that purpose is always changing, but it's got to. If it doesn't, then what are we doing? It's about constantly reminding yourself that making progress doesn't always feel good and it can be awkward. Change can be uncomfortable, but sometimes it's warranted.