A note to all current and future school teachers: Ninive Calegari has your back.
Everyone has or can remember at least one teacher, whether from college, high school or elementary school, who has gone above and beyond the classroom to capture the hearts of his or her students. The one who stayed after school, on her own time, to teach you more advanced algebra. The one who gave you additional books to read. The one who spent her lunchtimes indoors talking to you one-on-one about nothing related to academics, but just about life. Ninive Calegari has been working over the past decade to give those teachers the recognition they deserve.
Ninive knew she wanted to become a teacher when she was still in high school. “It felt patriotic and noble. [There are those teachers] who feel like they can see inside a part of your heart and soul, and expect more from you. I wanted to do what [my teachers did] for me for other people.”
After ten years of teaching in both the United States and Mexico, Ninive returned to San Francisco in 2002 to co-found 826 Valencia with friend and writer Dave Eggers. The non-profit organization is known as a creative writing and tutoring center for students ages 6 to 18, but Ninive also created the group with teachers in mind: “All teachers have dreams: we wanted to make the dreams come true.” Ninive served as the CEO of 826 National, and recalls her proudest moment as when she received feedback from teachers: 100% reported that while working with 826 they were treated well. Respect for teachers is key.
Calegari also founded The Teacher Salary Project, for which she currently serves as president. The Teacher Salary Project works to raise awareness regarding the working conditions and status of public school teachers. Though they teach and foster the minds of the nation’s future, American school teachers are among the most underpaid and under-appreciated professions. Ninive is trying to change this.
On a personal level, we recognize the hard work of our local teachers. But that admiration gets lost in the shuffle when projected onto the global scheme. Calegari’s call to duty comes in the form of American Teacher. Produced by Calegari, along with Dave Eggers and Vanessa Roth, the documentary follows four public school teachers, and their struggles in the academic profession.
I was able to attend the Los Angeles premiere of American Teacher. Ninive came to the front of the busy theatre to introduce the film. The moviegoer next to me said, “Wow, you can tell that woman is a teacher.” Ninive hadn’t even spoken yet. But the statement was true. And by the end of the evening, we were all given homework assignments.
Ninive is a powerful force that you can feel walk into a room; a person who you know won’t take your excuses, but would just the same wrap her arm around you and listen to your life story. She is intimidating, and inspiring, refreshing and passionate.
After graduating college, I decided that I too wanted to become a teacher. Did I want to teach kindergarten or college? I wasn’t sure yet, but I knew I wanted to teach. I voiced my concerns about becoming a teacher to Ninive and asked her, “What if, what if, what if?” Did she have any tips for me? Did she have any advice? What she did not have was any warnings. All she gave me was a directive: just do it.
“Teaching will be the most rewarding experience of your life. That’s all I can say.” And I believe her.