“Ms. Ty’ease epitomizes a great elementary teacher: she loves each and every one of her students as though they were her own, incorporates fun and play into her daily instruction, uses a variety of instructional techniques to meet the needs of every type of learner in her classroom, and develops deep, trusting partnerships with families. She creates experiences that students will always remember; experiences that will serve as shining memories for her students for years to come.”
Principal, E.L. Haynes Elementary School
Before joining the staff, Ty’ease SetepenRa came to E.L. Haynes first as a parent. She was a full-time mom for eight years, running a small business out of her home, where she taught art and science classes to students. Once all of her children started at E.L. Haynes (she had a PK3 student and two second graders), she began volunteering as a room parent and helping out in the front office. “I was around all the time. I loved volunteering, coming into the classrooms to read, helping where I could. E.L. Haynes was such a welcoming place.”
In 2010, a position opened up, and the school approached Ms. Ty’ease about joining the staff as the Family and Parent Communication Liaison. She was tasked with critical family engagement work, bringing parents and families into the school and into classrooms to volunteer. She immediately felt more invested and involved, and she felt her community get bigger. “The work felt holitistic to me – working with the school, the parents, the teachers.” She would invite parents into classrooms to read with and to students.
Connecting students, families, and educators inside classrooms made her think, “wow this is something magical to me and it was just the tip of the iceberg.” She wanted to merge all those experiences, and though she enjoyed the work, she didn’t feel pushed or challenged. At that point, she began talking to her supervisor about the Capital Teaching Residency (CTR), a teacher training and residency program designed by E.L. Haynes and KIPP DC. “At that point I was talking about CTR, talking to residents and teachers who went through the program. And realized this is where I wanted to go. But I really needed to learn how to teach.”
That year, she became a resident in the kindergarten classroom (the classroom she teaches in now). Through CTR, Ms. Ty’ease learned so much about how she could impact her students. The experience was so much more powerful than she expected, and teaching became “the glue that really held her together.”
CTR was a challenging experience for her—she was a single mom of three, balancing evening classes and work. But the CTR support system was helpful and uplifted her, and the timeline of the program made the workload doable and led to her success. She worked alongside an excellent mentor teacher, received targeted coaching and feedback, and worked toward certification with relevant coursework.
“I just love kindergarten so much. I have to have a lot of patience and thankfully I was gifted with that.” But, beyond patience and character, working with five and six year olds is always exciting and different. “They don’t realize how much learning is taking place—they are sponges.” The students are always keeping her on her feet. She has to be creative, and like all of us, our youngest learners want to be heard and listened to, so she honors their questions and engages them earnestly.
“Today, Ms. Ty’ease spent 45 minutes on a Zoom call with my six year old. The conversation ranged from what he had for lunch and his favorite condiments, to what LEGOs he was building, to Pete the Cat and Star Wars, to boogie boards, the beach, and tennis rackets. All the while she engaged him, probed him with more questions, and connected it back to work they were doing in the classroom – whether math, literacy, or science. Her patience is unmatched,” said a current Kindergarten parent.
Kindergarteners “are so innocent but so cute in the way they express themselves, and it is so unique being in a learning environment with them. It is a combination of joy, fun, rigor, and seeing those “aha” moments—you can see their brain moving.” As a Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Ty’ease is charged with giving them the worlds and tools at such a young age, to navigate their thoughts, and even to question you. “It is pretty cool to reach students at such a young age. Kindergarten is the basis of what they need to learn for their whole futures.”
Her favorite part of teaching kindergarten is when students are learning to write—right at the point where they have learned enough sight words to create sentences. “It is the moment when a student is writing, and they are asking how to spell something. Now, in the spring, you have the tools you need. And I say, ‘I think you know how to spell it.’ And when they figure out they can sound out a word, tap it out, read it, spell it, and then write it out. When they realize that they have the gift to process and put their words onto paper—it is confetti and sparkles coming from the ceiling.”
Ms. Ty’ease would describe the transition to home learning with two words: “challenging” and “support.” There was the initial adjustment of being home, and then week two came and all the additional demands came into play—full-time mom, with a student who has an IEP, managing both her teaching workload (classes, planning, calls, report cards, comments, grades, juggling the timelines), but also navigating a world at home and supporting three children with their own learning during a pandemic. Luckily she has a gift for scheduling, but “in the beginning it was a challenge to manipulate time.” This transition was compounded by teaching such young children. “But now is not the time to be quiet. You have to share what you need and where you need support.”
That is why she is so thankful for the members of the kindergarten team. They have been encouraging and supportive. “Having a great support system in-and-outside of school has been uplifting.” Lately, Ms. Ty’ease has found a new groove and her work has hit a different caliber and has been more joyful. She’s given herself the space to embrace this new journey—“We are all in this together and we are all experiencing this together. We have come so far, we just need to make it to the end.”
Though, missing out on watching each student grow over the course of an entire school year has left her with a feeling of loss. Home learning becomes so important, “We need to make sure they are growing, and hitting their goals as best as possible. It’s important to call with families so see how home learning is going. It is equally important to check on their well-being!”