It’s an issue of increasing interest - math and science education in our nation’s schools. President Barack Obama has urged America’s youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This path to innovation begins with great teachers, yet the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of math and science educators. Helen Snodgrass, a biology teacher and Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellow at YES Prep North Forest in Houston, recently examined high-achieving women’s perceptions of the teaching profession. Her findings were published in the “New Educator Journal” and offer possible solutions to attract talented candidates to teaching.
HOUSTON WOMAN: Why did you become a teacher?
HELEN SNODGRASS: I have always loved finding new ways to explain something. Once I fell in love with biology in college, I saw teaching as the perfect way to unite my passion for science with my love of teaching. I get to spend every day helping 75 ninth graders see themselves as scientists and become as excited about science as I am.
HW: How long have you been teaching at YES Prep North Forest? What do you most like teaching at a charter school?
SNODGRASS: This is my first year at YES Prep North First and actually the school’s first year, as well. Everything I love about teaching at YES is really about the organization itself and not about it being a charter school, since there is a very wide range of charter schools. I love how small the school is — it means I know all of the teachers, administrators and students really well. This really helps build personal relationships with students, which translates into their work in the classroom, when you see them at breakfast, lunch, on college trips and field trips, and at school and grade-level meetings, not just for 50 minutes a day in your classroom. I also love that every single person I work with is dedicated to the same things I am — helping all of our students succeed, both at our school and in college, and constantly trying to be better at what we do. YES is very focused on improvement at all levels of the organization, and the teachers are always thinking about how we can work together to offer the best instruction to our students.
HW: How did you view the teaching profession before entering it? Have your views changed much now that you’re in the classroom?
SNODGRASS: I knew it would be difficult, but it was not until I began teaching that I fully realized the complexity of the profession. I am blown away by the dedication, talent and passion of teachers I have met and those I have been lucky enough to work with.
HW: What has been your worst and best moment as a high school science teacher?
SNODGRASS: The stresses of a frequently changing schedule, large classes, and getting down the basics of classroom management while working very long days made for a challenging beginning. This helped me understand why so many teachers leave in their first few years of teaching. I’ve also had so many great moments that I see how I could love being a teacher for the rest of my life. Seeing my students grow academically and personally has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to see them all graduate in three years and go on to the college of their dreams.
HW: You’ve done research on high-achieving women’s perceptions about the teaching profession. Why this topic?
SNODGRASS: As I became focused on teaching as a career, I constantly came across people who wanted to know why someone with a good education and a background in science would pursue teaching instead of science. I also realized that very few of my peers were considering teaching. This piqued my interest in understanding people’s perceptions of teaching that might either attract them to the profession or make them choose other careers, with the ultimate goal of thinking about what we need to do to attract more high-achieving men and women into the classroom.
HW: Were you surprised by your findings?
SNODGRASS: I was surprised and saddened by how many women were interested in teaching but turned away from it. Compared to other jobs they were considering, teaching paid less, had a much lower status and level of respect, and was perceived as difficult and stressful work. Most of these women’s peers and families discouraged them from entering the profession, as some of mine did. All of this led women to consider teaching as a heavy sacrifice.
HW: How can we recruit more skilled women into the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: To attract skilled women into teaching and to keep them there, we need to address the perception of teaching as a personal sacrifice.Teaching has to compete with other professions that women consider with respect to salary, professional development and support. The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation is one organization working to keep talented and passionate teachers in the profession.
HW: What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: If you are passionate about teaching, do not be deterred by some of the apparent negatives or what others might say. Speak to teachers to find out why they love what they do and continue to do it year after year. Then find a school and a district that will provide you with the support, collaboration and professional development to help you love your work and become the best teacher you can be. It’s going to be hard in the beginning, but stick it out and you will never regret your choice!
HOUSTON WOMAN: In your new book, 86,400: Manage Your Purpose to Make Every Second of Each Day Count, you advocate ‘purpose management.’ How is that different from time management? The benefit?
LAVAILLE LAVETTE: With time management the majority of your actions are dictated by time. With purpose management you no longer manage time… you use time, because your actions are determined by what moves you towards and what keeps you in a constant state of fulfilling your purpose. Purpose management challenges you to use those precious 86,400 seconds you are given each day in a way that engages you in activities that are relevant to fulfilling your purpose and eliminating tasks that aren’t. When you incorporate the principles of ‘86400 Purpose Management’ you will live your passion, achieve your goals, and become all you were ordained to be.
HW: When did you realize your life needed more balance?
LAVETTE: When I found myself going from one empty success to another. Realizing my life was out of balance was not an instant discovery. My biggest hindrance to discovering a better way to balance my life was all my time management experience. I am a recovering time-management addict, the worst kind. In fact, not only was I hooked on “to-do” lists, planners and other such tools, I was a dealer, as well — one who was paid handsomely to conduct workshops and seminars for those wanting skills to cram 36 hours of activity into a 24-hour day.
HW: In your book, you talk about the importance of not saying you don’t have enough time. You write about people known for their great contributions to society, such as Louis Pasteur and Albert Einstein, and then say our 86,400 seconds have the same amount of potential as theirs? Can you explain this concept and how it relates to all of us?
LAVETTE: Yes, I talk about Pasteur and Einstein. I could have added Oprah, President Obama, Peyton Manning, Bill Gates, Steve Harvey and others. They maximize the time they engage in activities that reflect their passions and their purpose. They live on purpose. Our seconds are as valuable as theirs, and we have the same ability to make a difference and be the difference. What is needed is the development of what I call an 86400 Mind-Set — a conscious state or attitude that frames how you approach each day. When you develop an 86400 Mind-Set your mind will direct you toward purpose-filled, rather than activity-filled actions. This mind-set makes your purpose the foundation out of which everything else evolves — your goals, your schedules and your actions.
HW: How is time management like a fad diet? How can one break out of the cycle?
LAVETTE: When I was doing training in time management, some methods helped me to pack more into my day. Other techniques helped me keep track of all I had packed into my day. These tools even gave me a temporary sense of accomplishment, especially when I could mark off my list the things I was able to finish. But, as time passed, I would go back to my old habit of spending too little time on things that were important and too much time on things that weren’t? Treating time management as if it were the grapefruit diet never helped me achieve my ideal life. And time-management fads will not maximize my time and fulfill my purpose. Only when I was able to make a change in my eating habits that was natural and sustainable was I able to achieve my weight goal. The same approach helped me maximize my daily 86400 seconds. I found it hard to be fulfilled crossing tasks off a checklist or going about my day as if I was the character Jack Bauer from the TV program, “24,” always racing against time, beholden to what I had to get done before the clock ticked down to zero.Managing career, family and community responsibilities was overwhelming for me. Just as I had a breakthrough with my diet, I had a breakthrough several years ago with how I spent my 86400s, my days. I was able to weave together a life overflowing with intention and relevance. It was natural and sustainable. My life ultimately made sense as I began to make the most of my 86400s. What broke the cycle for me — and what will break the cycle for others — is not letting the time, the days, the seconds, be the main focus. Ask: Is this next action in line with my purpose?
HW: You offer 10 tools to use in implementing purpose management. Can you share a few of those principles with us?
LAVETTE: The transition from time management to incorporating the 10 purpose characteristics in my life put me in a place mentally, emotionally and spiritually where I could see success. Incorporating the characteristics of forgiveness, wisdom, dedication, balance, imagination, thankfulness, patience, faithfulness, generosity and courage into your daily 86400 will challenge you to look at your life from a down-and-dirty, real-deal, front-row seat.The purpose values will minister to you daily, keeping you in line and on track. However, these values are merely hollow concepts if they are not placed in conversation with the things that affect your life in deep and profound ways; the past we carry, the present we live, the future we seek and the life we’re intended to lead. In the 86400 book, I outline the meaning and effective incorporation of each purpose characteristic in your day.
HW: You’ve had a very diverse career — from special advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to being a radio host and author. How does purpose management keep going in the right direction?
LAVETTE: Simply put, the 86400 purpose management concept has allowed me to stop the merry-go-round and get off! It’s more than a catch phrase to me; it’s a way of life. It has helped me to develop a laser-like focus on living each moment on purpose, which has paid personal dividends and motivated me to develop tools to help others to manage their precious 86400. I’m still a multi-careered, skateboard riding, 40-something southern girl, but my projects have a common denominator, They ooze of my purpose and passion as an educator seeking to change lives for the better. Free of my former dead-end addiction to activity, all of my actions grow exponentially in their power and impact.
HW: Much has been said about purpose. What does your book offer that is new?
LAVETTE: This book is an instigator for making the most of your time, your 86400 seconds each day. It will help you see life as a daily gift of 86400 seconds, so that you can achieve real power, purpose and productivity.
No organization understands the value and vitality that enthusiastic volunteers bring to the operations of an event like the management of Rodeo Houston. CFO Jennifer Hazelton is keenly aware how volunteer manhours affect the bottom line. Her job, which includes overseeing education and membership departments — and other full-time Rodeo Houston staff members — is a year-round endeavor, which culminates in a colossal entertainment event that is seamless to the public eye when it materializes for 21 straight days in March.
HOUSTON WOMAN: What is the key role that volunteer forces play in the operation of Rodeo Houston?
JENNIFER HAZELTON: There isn’t a key role; the volunteers are the key. We would not be able to do what we do without them. Our revenue would be much lower, and expenses would be much higher. I’m not sure we would exist in any similar form today if it were not for them.
HW: How many volunteers are enlisted every year, and how have those numbers grown throughout the history of this celebrated annual event?
HAZELTON: During the 1950s, the show had approximately 500 volunteers. During the 1980s, around 5,000 volunteers supported the show. And when I first started at the show in 2004, we had approximately 16,000 volunteers. For the 2010 show, more than 24,000 volunteers donated their time and talents with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We’ve added several new committees that take over new areas, and I think that accounts for a lot of the growth. We have to credit talented volunteers who are our “boots on the ground.” They made observations and created solutions to improve our operations the first few years after we settled into the new Reliant Park layout. For example, last year our volunteers took over the sales of daily grounds passes at our gates. In prior years, a staffing agency handled the sales. It saved us a lot of money, and along the way, we have improved our customer service.
HW: How are the volunteer forces at Rodeo Houston structured? Is there a complex management system? Is it run by staff or other volunteers?
HAZELTON: As you can imagine, it would be very tough to manage a force of 24,000 volunteers without good management. One of the reasons we are so successful is the clear structure we have in our volunteer management. We have 18 volunteer vice presidents, and each manages several of the more than 100 different committees. Each committee has a chairman who is ultimately responsible for the day-to-day operations of his or her committee. The committees then have a management hierarchy consisting of vice chairmen, captains and assistant captains. The numbers of these vary, depending on the size and function of the committees. Most of the committees have subcommittees managed by the vice chairman who manages certain aspects of the committee’s responsibility. The volunteer management roles are one-year appointments, which ensures that there are opportunities for everyone, helping to keep our volunteers motivated.
HW: Would you describe the diverse functions and opportunities available to those who would like to be a volunteer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo?
HAZELTON: If you name it, we probably have a committee that does it. We have sales committees that sell memberships, rodeo tickets, carnival tickets and solicit corporate donations for scholarships. We have several committees that get donors to pre- commit to buying at our junior auctions. Probably the only thing we don’t pre-sell is the fried food. But, give us a few years, and we probably will.Our working committees are our secret weapon. When I talk to financial people at other fairs and events they are blown away by the amount of work we get done by volunteers. We have committees that make sure the grounds are clean, get equipment donations and then manage that equipment during the show, assist our commercial exhibitors and give tours to schoolchildren. Volunteers are here to greet and help the kids with their livestock when they are moving their animals in (when most of Houston is asleep). During the show, I’m often here early to prepare information for our daily operations meeting, thinking how tired I am as I’m driving there. Then I pull on the grounds and realize there are several hundred volunteers who have beat me here. Sometimes they are standing in the rain, smiling and waving at me as I drive in. They are all so excited to be here and you can see it on their faces. It is amazing how much value a smile has when it comes to customer service.
HW: Can you estimate how many total volunteer hours are spent on these activities or estimate the dollar value of their actions?
HAZELTON: Each year, volunteers at Rodeo Houston collectively work more than 1.62 million hours, based on an average of 67.8 hours per volunteer. If we paid our volunteers $20.85 per hour, the estimated value of the volunteer hour (per independentsector.org), that would represent nearly $34 million worth of donated hours each year!
HW: In your opinion, what motivates people to take time away from their careers and busy daily lives to volunteer?
HAZELTON: If you ask the volunteers why they do it, most likely the first thing out of their mouths will be, “it’s for the kids.” I think everyone today understands the importance and value of education, in general, but also the value of getting a college degree. Our initial mission in 1932 was to promote livestock and agriculture in a public fair environment. We added the education and scholarship aspect in the late 1950s. I think the education component helps us reach more of the “city folk” volunteers who may not know much about agriculture or livestock.The second biggest reason for volunteering is probably the social aspect. Serving on one of the committees is a great way to meet and get to know people. A lot of our older volunteers will tell you their closest friends and/or their spouses were on committees with them 30 years ago. Not only do you make friends, but networking is also a great way to network professionally. I have some friends who have gotten new jobs and even changed careers because of contacts they have made at the show. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is probably Houston’s largest unofficial networking service.
In her highly praised book, “You Only Die Once: Preparing for the End of Life with Grace and Gusto,” Margie Jenkins, a Houston psychotherapist, makes a compelling case for preparing for life’s ending and using that preparation as the groundwork for living a more bodacious and rewarding life. Jenkins walks the talk and inspires us all. Jenkins, now in her 80s, decided to go back to college in mid-life to pursue a post-graduate degree at a time when “adult women just weren’t doing that.” She talked about that (and more) with us.
HOUSTON WOMAN: When and where did you get your undergraduate degree?
JENKINS: I graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1945 with a degree in health education. Afterwards, my husband (Jenks) and I taught at William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri.
HW: How would you describe the atmosphere for women in the workplace in the 1970s, when you were attempting to go back to school to pursue your graduate degree?
JENKINS: I would describe it as cautiously assertive. We [women] were ready to move ahead but not quite sure of the path to take, and we [women] were experiencing a lot of roadblocks.
HW: Which obstacles were especially challenging for you?
JENKINS: When I enrolled at the University of Houston, obstacles were all around me. Everyone was younger than I, and they didn’t know what to do with me. I dressed differently. Other students wore jeans and t-shirts. I wore slacks and sweaters. Some even came to class barefooted. I wore shoes.
HW: How did the other students relate to you?
JENKINS: On the first day of class, I was asked to introduce myself. I stood up and said I was married, had four kids and wanted to become certified as my own person - not just as a wife and mother.One guy in the back of the room stood up and said, “We don’t need rich people like you who probably lives in 77024 and have husbands who make big profits. Why don’t you stay home and just do your volunteer work?”In one class on the stages of development, a chapter in the textbook talked about people in their 50s and over as slow to learn, with low sex drives, loss of memory, low energy, high fatigue. I gave a report on that chapter of the book and said it was all wrong. Then I complained to the teacher about the book, telling him I objected to its philosophy. I was labeled a trouble maker.
HW: What advice do you have for people (both men and women) in their 40s and 50s who want to pursue new careers?
JENKINS: Go for it. Don’t let roadblocks stop you. Be willing to risk new adventures. Take criticism as a way to learn the opinions of others — not as truth. Be properly prepared by researching your new interest.
HW: You have said that each decade of our lives brings many challenges and opportunities. Would you elaborate on this and how to adjust?
JENKINS: Every future decade is an unknown. We never know what is ahead. The “good old days,” whatever that means, also had challenges and opportunities.Rules change, politics change, health issues change, expectations change, values change, relationships change. The goal is to accept what you can’t change and stick to your own values and beliefs. Because of all the changes that we go on in life, I think it’s really important we keep learning; pass on our values, as well as our valuables, including our stories and history. I tell others to write about their experiences, their role models and be sure the kids and grandkids know what they stand for.
HW: You encourage all of us to “live a bodacious life.” What you mean by that?
JENKINS: One way to be live bodaciously is to think of ways to make ourselves more interesting, less irritating and more loveable. An interesting challenge, especially the less irritating part. Living bodaciously means to never stop dreaming; it is the spark to imagination and accomplishment, and it enables us to exceed our expectations. There is a shortage of kindness in this world. Living bodaciously also means sharing our love and affection in unexpected ways with people who need it. Living bodaciously means smiling more. (We are better looking when we smile.) It means finding our bliss, having a passion and spending our talents and energy doing things that make us forget time. Living bodaciously means forgiving others and yourself. It means not dragging a garbage bag of regrets into the next decade.
HW: Why did you write your book, You Only Die Once? Who is your audience?
JENKINS: In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen many clients of all ages who are facing end-of-life issues. Most don’t have a clue how to begin the process of planning for life’s final chapter. I saw the need for a “road map” that would help everyone know how to plan for life’s ending. Since dying is inevitable, an equal opportunity event, we all get to do it. I think we should “shop before we drop,” and know the options. I encourage the readers to make important decisions before it’s too late and talk about this subject with family and friends.
HW: What is the main message of your book?
JENKINS: In my book, I encourage everyone to live life to the fullest. I think it’s important to evaluate our lives to see if what we are doing is providing us with joy and satisfaction. If not, we need to let go of some things and make room for new adventures that will fill our lives with pleasure. We need to spend more time thinking about what we want to do and less time doing what we have to do. We need to not let a day go by without including some joy, some pleasure, some sense of making a difference to someone else in your life.
HW: What has the response been to your book?
JENKINS: The response to the book has been amazing. My husband and I have given more than 100 presentations to people all over the country – at hospices, churches, medical centers, retirement communities, financial institutions, hospitals, book clubs, etc.One of my daughters told me recently, “Now I get it, Mom. Instead of the Lamaze method for helping with childbirth, you have written the La Margie method for helping with dying and living.”