Today, Ali and JoDee sit down with Amy Cox, a former science teacher turned farm scientist who is also currently a candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives, District 40. Together, they’ll discuss what it means to be a self described recovered teacher, the value teachers can bring to civil service, and the false narrative surrounding the teacher shortage.
Connect with Amy:
Amy’s candidacy: www.voteamycox.com
Amy’s work: www.guidedbymushrooms.com
Connect with Ali and JoDee:
Ali’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisimon/
JoDee’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodeescissors/
For episode transcriptions visit: https://thegreatteacherresignation.buzzsprout.com
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.
This is The Great Teacher Resignation.
Amy Cox is a self described recovered high school science teacher after 13 years in the profession. Amy now works as a farm scientist at the urban gourmet and medicinal mushroom farm, Guided By Mushrooms in Dayton, Ohio. In 2019, Amy was asked to run for office and is currently a candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives, District 40. Welcome to the show today, Amy.
Thank you so much for having me.
Amy, before we kind of dive into our topic, I want to just really unpack the self described recovered teacher. Can you tell us just a little bit about the roots of that description?
Absolutely. I'm glad you asked. And I think a lot of us can sort of relate that have done that job and stepped away from it. Because you don't always know how much a person can deal with, you know, until you have been in that position. And then once you remove yourself from it, you're like, oh, my gosh, that was a lot. That was really heavy. Teaching requires so much mental effort, you know, energy, if you care, and you're empathetic to your students, and you really want to do a good job, if you want to make a difference. You know, sometimes that's even, even more work because you do care. But teaching is, you basically become a mom to a bunch of kids, you know, 30, at a time when I was doing the high school thing, you know, seven periods a day. And then that shifts every 18 weeks, and you have, you know, seven new families every 18 weeks, and that alone is a lot. And then you learned each one of them and their stories. And with that, if that's all it was, that'd be fine. But with anything else that's added to the job of teaching. It's just so much. And you identify as a teacher, when you've been a teacher, because you always carry that with you. You're constantly looking for ways to relate what you're teaching to the real world. So you're always a teacher in that regard. You see people that maybe remind you of, of students that you've had, or a story that student told you. It just gets into your head, like crazy. I can't say enough about the breaks that we do get when we get them, but they're always short lived, because you're constantly, you know, thinking, I've got to be ready for the next year or the next semester or whatever that might be.
You said a lot of things that I can really relate to. Identity as a teacher, when you're a teacher, that is who you are. And I think when you stop being a teacher, like you said, you still identify as a teacher. And there's teacher things that we're going to carry with us for the rest of our lives. But really the profession, it is your life. I mean, you live and you breathe education, your classroom, teaching. It pains me when people say Oh, but you get summers off. I don't know a single teacher who takes the entire summer off and does not do something related to education or school. They might even be working the whole summer at their schools camp or at another program that's education related. That really resonates with me what you shared about your identity, and really the the mental stamina that it takes to be a teacher these days. It is exhausting. And even more exhausting, when you really care, because then you're putting in way above and beyond what the required minimum is.
Yeah. And I think that when you care so much you sacrifice your own well being. And so for me, when I was teaching, I did I poured everything, every ounce of my energy into planning, being present, teaching rigorously, while also trying to meet everyone's needs. And one of the things that really affected me was not sleeping well, because I was worried about stuff all the time. And what happened as a result of not sleeping was I was getting horrible, horrible headaches. That would last for days and days and days until I had to go see a neurologists and say, why can't I sleep? Why do I have these headaches? And it was all stress induced and induced by worrying all the time. And so one of my recoveries that I've experienced is reducing stress, being okay, with not, you know, accelerating all the time, and just kind of taking a step back and saying, I'm going to be okay. I don't have to do all the things all the time. And so part of that experience was just taking care of myself, recovering to have live a healthy lifestyle.
It's really hard to have that balance in teaching. And I think a large part of it is what you said, JoDee, like being anxiety, I
had a lot of it was stressed, but it was also anxiety. You know, you'd go to bed knowing that everything wasn't done. That you still had tests coming up the next week that you had to write, or that there was something in the future that you were gonna have to plan. And as much as I loved it, it was one of those jobs where it was never done. There was never an evening where I, you know, close my computer, and I was like, okay, I'm good. Like, it's the weekend. I'm ready to have a weekend with my family. It was like, Okay, well, then there's gonna be Monday, and what's gonna happen on Monday. And so there's just like this cycle, this perpetual cycle that I really don't think you can understand, unless you've been a teacher. So you get it, Amy, you understand. And now they're in something totally different outside of the classroom. And that's what we're excited to talk more today about. So you've gone from teaching the discipline of science to becoming a practitioner, a farm scientist. Tell us how you got there, and how being a teacher of science prepared you for that career phase?
That's an excellent question. When I stepped away from teaching, some friends of mine that had already run for office contacted me and asked me what I was doing. And I said, it just sort of taking some time off, trying to figure out who I am. You know, decompress a little bit. And I was doing little things here and there, you know, for my mom, and, you know, family, friends. But they were also in the midst of starting a mushroom farm that my friend, his name is David, he had started it in his garage. And all these chefs from Cincinnati and Dayton and Columbus area were like, I really love your mushrooms, and they all talk to each other. So he had to start making more of these gourmet mushrooms. And at that point, you know, sort of at the same time the campaign was going on. He's like, hey, do you want to come in and help you know, I have to start producing a lot of mushrooms. And if I screw this up, I am losing a lot of money. And I need someone with some lab experience. And when I was in undergraduate, before I ever became a teacher, I worked with Dr. Wayne Carmichael at Wright State University on a government funded research project. And they would send us samples of water from the Salton Sea, California. And there's a lot of buzz about the Salton Sea. It's an area of land in Southern California that is below sea level. So all the water that used to drain into it, it just sat there. And believe it or not, it was a recreational place. But all these birds and fish and turtles and everything started to die in mass. So they were trying to test whether these were certain bacteria that are considered to have neurotoxins. But my job was to isolate and mass culture these samples out of the solvency. And I had to look for specific types under a microscope, and pull those out piece by piece and tried to grow them up in big, you know, cultures, and then they would test them to say, hey, yeah, this does have, you know, toxins in it, or it doesn't have toxins in it. But, you know, I did have that, that ability to use aseptic technique, which is basically keeping all the germs out of what you're working on right there and anything else that might destroy our mushroom crop. So they brought me on. And being a teacher has also been really helpful because this was a family business. We are now a worker, co op. And in the midst of doing the work to switch over to that you actually have to take classes to do that, to understand it. So it's been really nice, because with this job, we also every couple years, you know we have, it's kind of like a school project. These folks worked in public education also. So we all kind of have the same background. We're just different areas. I'm the only one that's a science person on the farm. But we have a media person. We have an environmental law person. And you know, we've got a salesperson and we've got a production person and and a maintenance person. But there's six of us that basically decided we want to work for ourselves and we want a sustainable business. We actually take the waste materials from farmers, and we use that and a little bit of water to grow mushrooms. And when we're done with the mushrooms, that material can be given back to the farmers to recharge their soil. So it's really a great, a great thing to be getting into. And the politics part really helps me stay involved. So I don't feel like I just walked out on, you know, an entire generation. You know, I taught millennials, but I'm raising Gen Zers. And I, you know, just they taught me more than I taught them, I'm sure. So I'm just trying to do a service for them and get them, you know, out to vote and more civically engaged and kind of speak their language, which scares the pants off of a lot of older people.
I can definitely see that. Sounds like you have just done a lot of things since you left the classroom. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the political side? How do you think teachers can run more than just a classroom or a school? And what value do teachers bring to civic service and civic engagement?
So teachers are great managers. That's one reason they really love me at work, because I can kind of deal with all the different personalities and make that gel. You know, as a teacher, you're constantly dealing with all kinds of personalities, and they don't necessarily have the emotional regulation skills, to, you know, control that in a classroom. And when you work among, you know, people in any project, you know, you're you're used to managing people and different personalities. The civic engagement, you know, teachers are masters at communicating really difficult subjects into simple chunks. They tend to be more, I guess, theatrical. I don't want to say theatrical, but we do a lot of acting and teaching. You know, that every teacher knows that you have to, you gotta be on. You know, when that bell rings, you gotta be on, because the kids are going to know. And the kids a lot of times now, if you're feeling bad anyways, you know, you can't hide it. But we have a lot to offer, you know, managing a campaign and running for office, even though people say mean stuff about you on the internet. I mean, we're shells of our former selves once we've been beaten down, right? Like, I have no feelings left to hurt. So come at me, bro. I'm doing this for the right reasons. I'm not doing this for personal gain. I would have never been a teacher for longer than one month, if I was in it for a personal gain. So I'm just trying to make the world a better place. If I win, that's great. I get to get in there, and I get to go to work. And I get to make, you know, teachers, at least, you know, front and center, let's do something with the climate that our teachers are dealing with right now. I mean, we don't have a teacher shortage. That's what your podcast is all about. This is people saying no, I am setting limits, because this job is more abusive than any crazy abusive relationship I've ever found myself in my life. You know, it's like, what am I doing? And it's not fair to the kids. It is not fair to the kids. And that's why we built those schools. That's why we tax everybody to put those schools there. And that's why we need schools so that we have a good group of citizens to be able to work and be productive and have nice, you know, lives that they can enjoy. You know, and you can't do that when there's no first step and you're destroying that foundation of our democracy.
You're opening a can of worms for Ali and I right now, because we just got out of a meeting together, where we're talking about how the teacher shortage narrative is a false narrative.
Yes, it's all lies. Yeah,
Yeah, it's a false narrative. It's a teacher retention. Yes, issue based on the core problems in education right now, which is for another discussion. But I do want to go back to just one, you've done a really nice job of intertwining the politics in your new career as a mushroom grower. And that really shows how you can take a content specific profession, such as science, and move into other careers. Because I think the content area teachers feel like they are stuck in this narrow space of how do I get out of that specific area. And then on the politics side, there are teachers in every single district who are advocating for higher pay. They are advocating for benefits. They're the ones that are going into the meetings with the school board, with parents, with unions, talking about what teachers need. And they have a certain level of resilience that you have to have when you are working in politics. Because let's be honest, like I don't know if the political side, I wouldn't be cut out for that. Because I'm a fragile emotional person. I don't have the resilience to do that, because you do have to have some resilience to be in that scope of work. And so you are really shedding light on one, how you can take a content specific profession, such as being a science teacher, and how you can translate that in other professions. But also, if you're an educator, who is passionate about certain political issues, how you can further that passion and support education. So thank you for bringing that up.
Yeah. And to add on to what you were saying JoDee about the value that an educator can bring into politics and into the civic service, like becoming a civil servant, running for office. I think what I most take from my teaching, and from even just being a former teacher who reads about legislature that gets passed is, we need people who actually understand the impact of passing legislation. When you pass something related to education at the state level, and it impacts an entire state, and you are changing the way that things have worked for decades, or even longer. What are the real implications? If you've never been in a classroom, you don't know what that means to cut funding. To say that you can or cannot teach something in a certain curriculum. You really can't understand that, unless you've been there. Because most people, they were learners. They were in a classroom as a learner. They were not in a classroom as a teacher. So I think that we need more voices of people who understand the way that policies will play out, and the impact that policies can play out. And it sounds like, you know, I can hear behind your explanation, your passion to really be able to sit at the table with other people who are making these decisions for your community and for your state. They're really important decisions that educators should have a seat at that table.
I didn't realize when I was in graduate school, that a lot of my coursework was on education technology policy. A lot of the research and understanding of ed tech policy. And as a teacher in grad school concurrently, I could see how those policies that were currently implemented, were impacting the classroom. And it really opened my mind to the impact of passing those policies, and then how it's affecting the students directly.
Unknown Speaker 17:33
Yes. And to just piggyback on what both of you said, and I think you implied this, it is more than just those education decisions. I mean, you see the stress of working families on the faces of your students, ladies. That's part of the things that keep us up at night and keep us sad, and, and when we're at the grocery store, we're like, ah, I probably ought to buy this extra box of granola bars, because I know, I know, they're gonna get eaten. I know, I'm gonna have grumpy kids. You know, I can't tell you how much money I spent as a teacher. And when I quit teaching, it was amazing how much money I was able to save, even though I was paid twice as much to be a teacher as what I'm doing now. And even though I only work 25 to 30 hours a week, I still felt like the hourly rates probably the same when you consider the fifty five hours you put in. You know? But it is all the policy. It's everything that is not family friendly, that is not child friendly. Any policy that you know, doesn't help families, we get to see what that looks like a teachers. And it's hard. It's hard. And it takes a toll.
Yes, 100%, that when you spend time, especially in public education, you get to learn so many things that you would have never known otherwise, about the way, the way our society is, what different barriers families have, and bringing that to a space where policy is being made. I serve on advisory boards for military families. And I can tell you that the experience I've had as a teacher is so valuable in those discussions when we talk about families and children and what their needs are. Things like food insecurity, which is what you were touching on. Honestly, we could talk about this for a whole nother hour. I'm so thankful that we were able to speak with you today, Amy, and I'm really looking forward to hearing how your campaign and your election goes this year. I do want to share with our listeners, how they can find out more information on your candidacy and that's by visiting vote Amy cox.com. And if you want more information about Amy's mushroom farming, you can visit guided by mushrooms.com Thank you
If you liked The Great Teacher Resignation, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon, YouTube, and Audible. Today's episode was written and recorded by me Alexandra Simon, and my co host JoDee Scissors. executive produced by Teacher Brain. Produced and edited by Emily Porter. Original Music: Emoji by Tubebackr. Special thanks to our sponsor Paper Planes Ed.