Each month, ToneDen Lunch and Learn brings cutting-edge, educational speakers to the office (along with delicious food). Designed to provoke conversation and company enrichment, this series is always open to new perspectives. Think you'd be a good fit for a future Lunch and Learn? Say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iyla Ollinger is a San Francisco native and graduate of University of California, Berkeley. After completing her Bachelor's in Sociology and Psychology, she moved abroad to teach and serve immigrant/refugee populations in the Middle East and Latin America. Some of her professional endeavors include researching internally displaced migrants in Turkey, training elderly Chilean women in sustainable entrepreneurship, serving as a Fulbright scholar in Colombia, and teaching Syrian refugees English. Upon return to the United States, she completed her teaching credential and Master's degree in education. She is privileged to currently teach English Language Development to newly arrived immigrant youth.
ToneDen: You're a teacher and an advocate with a Masters in Education, who's researched refugee and immigrant student experiences with trauma. How did you develop an interest in this specific area? What's your story?
Iyla Ollinger: My story is actually motivated by another! When I was in high school, one of my friends confided in me and recounted their immigration trajectory. Despite the fact that my friend immigrated with their entire family on sponsored work visas, their transition to California was marked with traumas. I learned that upon arrival to California my friend's school didn't offer classes for English Language Learners, which meant that the school was actively avoiding student needs and failing this Spanish-speaking student. My friend was instead placed in a segregated class for special education students. I couldn't believe that the same public education system which served me had entirely failed my friend by ignoring the needs of English Language Learners. It was a moment of cognitive dissonance (in which many privileged people find themselves), and my motivation to work with English Language Learners was ignited!
You spent a year in Colombia as a Fulbright Scholar. What role did that experience play in your career trajectory?
Iyla Ollinger: Prior to my time in Colombia, I had always served students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in both the U.S. and abroad. I believe that teaching English at a private university as a Fulbright Scholar encouraged me to become a more dynamic educator. Coming from teaching in classrooms with dirt floors and switching to fancy touch screen boards, I had to name my biases and foster student relations to learn about how I could still be an effective educator. At the end of the day, every student is deserving of a learning environment in which they will be pushed and grow as people. During my time in Colombia I made the decision to apply to graduate programs and work in under-resourced schools.
What's the most common misconception about teaching that you encounter?
Iyla Ollinger: Ha! There are almost too many to list, but I think that the one which irks me the most is the workload.
People assume that because teachers have longer vacations and summers off, it is a "relaxed" profession.
In fact, many teachers work full-time during the summers and hold multiple jobs during the school year to compensate for their low annual pay. I have never worked so hard in my life—it's an eternally gratifying job but I work minimum of six days a week, with an average of a 15 hour work day. A full night's rest is a rare item during the school year!
You've worked with students who've survived incredible upheaval and political turmoil. How do you foster a sense of security in the classroom?
Iyla Ollinger: This is a great question—I believe that creating a safe learning environment is of upmost importance if you are asking them to grow as students. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a constant reference in education pedagogy because students cannot begin to learn if their basic needs are not met, such as a sense of safety. In my classroom, I spend a lot of time talking to students and learning about their narratives and motivations to establish trust. I might do this by chatting while sharing my lunch with them or making a phone call home to learn more from their relatives. Once students see that you are there for them as a person, they begin to take risks in class. Of course, this isn't a process that one can complete in a day. It's paramount for teachers to stand up for each and every student throughout the year. If the model isn't authentic they won't follow!
You've recently relocated to LA from the Bay Area. What's next for you?
Iyla Ollinger: I'm very much looking forward to continuing my teaching and researching career in Los Angeles! I will serve newcomer students at Hawkins High School teaching English Language Development 1/2.