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Meet Kimmie Allen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimmie Allen.

Kimmie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My path is a curvy one, like many people, and I look back now and see how everything I have done is an asset to the work I do today. I have a degree in Art History, experience in retail and fashion, freelance worked as a Macrobiotic cooking teacher. None of it added up on a resume. When my daughter was heading off to school and my husband had a work injury, I had a pull to get back to work. A friend was substitute teaching and it seemed to be a perfect fit. I could stay home when my daughter didn’t have school and work when I wanted, it was close to the house and I’ve always loved kids.

My first day of subbing was a disaster. I had a class that was very new to English and my foreign language skills are subpar, I had no training or strategies. I was flicking the lights to get control of the class. We all know, when a teacher is flicking the lights, it’s not going well. I came home and cried to my husband. It was so bad. I cried and knew, “I wanna go back. I wanna be a teacher”. I knew I could do better. I subbed for three years at that school plus another district while working on my teaching credential.

Today, I work in a suburban Los Angeles high school, teaching Business, Cooking and Fashion Marketing. I have been here for twelve years. Primarily, I work with 12th graders and my classes are very diverse academically with students with special needs, English Language Learners, and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds as well. Over and over, I hear how important my curriculum is and now, more than ever, students see entrepreneurship as a necessity in many careers. They also come to me with more experience and knowledge about business than ever before. The curriculum needs to be cutting edge and creative to engage today’s students.

When I first started, the topic of “using the internet in business” was just a paragraph in my textbooks. Today, just about any textbook becomes obsolete soon after we read it. I am constantly supplementing with current events and industry-standard material and having to learn more to teach more. Thankfully, I can still teach them core understandings of customer service, critical and creative thinking and business basics. Living in Los Angeles, students have close access to industry jobs, internships thought leaders and connections. I constantly seek to present them professional reading and assignments as identical to “real work” as possible. Nothing with construction paper and magic markers is acceptable.

Typically, in class, I have speakers come and talk to my students about their work and career path. Since COVID 19, I have been conducting similar presentations as interviews online. Entrepreneurs and people with inspiring careers tell a little insight into their path. I especially love some of the people we have had who have invisible jobs that are behind the scenes ways to do business such as the head of food services from Dodgers Stadium, owner of a makeup artist school and a real estate agent who works with charter schools. These are not the careers that students typically see and we are able to get specific, intimate stories and opportunities they haven’t seen before.

The online interviews start with a class meeting on Zoom. The speaker talks for ten minutes, then students can ask questions for ten minutes. The most frequently asked question is “What do you actually spend your day doing?”. Afterwards, I post the interviews to my YouTube channel, Kimmie Allen. I have also been posting lessons, cooking demos and vlogs. My most popular video was Egg Day. I miss being in class with my students. Their energy, smiles and conversations really make my day. Often, they tell me I am the most relaxed teacher ever or that my class is their favorite. Being of service at my work makes me deeply happy. It’s an honor and I tell them how happy I am to be with them and doing a job I love. I work hard to be respectful, to articulate our priorities in class, and not take things personally. I tell them how I live, staying active and eating healthy, keeping my mental and spiritual health a priority and how that makes me do better and be happier at my job. It is my hope they see that they can do these things too. Teens worry about their future happiness quite a bit.

Looking back, I see where every single job and part of my education can be useful in teaching. Art History gave me a wealth of visual language and skills to apply in advertising and fashion. All those “crappy” retail jobs and sales training are priceless for learning how to deal with people and put the customer experience first and be successful in “selling” my lessons to students. Today, I have spent well over 10,000 hours as a teacher, and now, with our newly added distance learning, my prior experience reminds me that problems are opportunities. Businesses are having to adapt immediately, and I have to mirror that in class.

Has it been a smooth road?
The spring semester, I was about to finish teaching a credential program, I realized I needed one more class to graduate. Problem was that it was June and it was hiring time for schools. I was sure not having my credential finished would mean I couldn’t apply yet or get job offers. I had to wait for the summer semester schedule to come out and when it finally did, the class I needed wasn’t until late August! I was devastated, sure I would have to wait until the following school year to get a job. Turns out, I did get plenty of interviews and even got a job.

I also had no idea how my work experience would present to an interviewer. It looked scattered and inconsistent. When I met the hiring person from my current school at a job fair, I presented my resume. I was certain I would work with the youngins. I had completed two student teaching sessions with first and third grades. High school students scared me. I was sure I would have to wait until my daughter was older to work with them, though it was definitely an end goal, once I had more experience and was “tough enough”. The HR person shared that there weren’t any openings in elementary but there was this one position open. “It will be teaching fashion, entrepreneurship and cooking, do you have any experience like this?”. I always tell my students, “It was like the pearly gates opened and Ohhhaaaahhhh (golden choir singing), angels came down and it was divinely meant to be.” This was the only work I had ever done. I am definitely meant to be with teenagers it turns out. I remember what it is to be a teen with their inner anxieties, awkwardness, their need to feel like they belong, have self-discovery and figure out who they are, laugh a lot, cry sometimes, and learn things they will actually use and figure out how they will get rich and be a happy adult. Having smartphones hasn’t changed our human needs.

Struggles with classroom management always come up for teachers. Many students in my classes talk during class, or they’re on their phones at the wrong time. Finding tools to manage my classes and stay sane is a necessity for creating an effective learning environment. I can’t have students take anything away from the majority that comes to learn and I have been credentialed by the state and hired by my district to get this job done. I tell students, “Imagine if someone went to your parents’ job and stood in the way of them doing their work? It is the same in my classroom. I have goals and so do most students coming in here and I cannot let anything get in the way of that.” I have learned to not take bad behavior personally, that usually students have something else going on that is bugging them, or maybe just having a bad day, like humans do. My behavior plan is fair and simple with the number one priority being on me to make class so awesome that no one wants to miss out. We have so much fun and learn things that are either fascinating, delicious, useful or a great challenge.

I was actually so close to quitting a few years back. Some of my favorite students had graduated after working with me for three years. We had been very close, and I felt like when they left, there were ghosts of them everywhere; “This is where Frankie did that …” or “this reminds me of that day Matt, Emmanuel and I laughed talking about …”. The same relationships and care were not present with the new students that came in. I didn’t realize that I had gotten lax about rules. I didn’t have to be strict because we had mutual respect and connections. Well, that year, my classes were awful, never listening, breaking rules with bold disrespect. The administrator was awful, correcting me in front of students, leaving me with even less power or effectiveness. I cried a lot.

That summer, I read a few books on class management, specifically, Dream Class by Michael Linsin. When school started again, I followed his directions to a T, never failing to be consistent and clear with students. School became good again; joy and respect had returned to my classes. Every summer, I read one of his books and remind myself to be consistent and clear and that all the early enforcing will pay off for many months to come. My classes are now better with each passing year. I love my students again, and they are happy to be there. They understand the expectations and are willing to follow them because they know it makes for an awesome class experience- an awesome senior year experience- and I am free to make the class wild and fascinating all while supporting their academic and career goals.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
The subjects I actually teach are Business Management with Food and Fashion Marketing. I always say that it is like a modern Home Ec. Students practice writing a resume and job interviewing skills as well. In addition to those specialties, I have a large population of students with some kind of IEP or Individualized Education Plan due to some kind of learning disability or other special needs and lots of English Language Learners. Overall, my approach is to show students how they can be productive, respected and respectable through hands-on projects and teamwork. Everyone has a role where they can contribute, gain self-esteem and investigate their own goals. It’s my job to support them in their goals.

Each IEP is different, custom shaped for that one student’s learning ability and cognitive or emotional needs. At my school, and subsequently in my classes, there is also a large population of students recently emigrated from China. Students come in at all different levels of English ability from none at all to multi-lingual, very experienced and world travelers. Most teachers at my high school see 32 students in each of their five classes, so about 170 a day.

I love teaching students new to English. I remember my own study abroad and how mentally taxing it was to go all day attempting to speak and hear only a new language. I love seeing light bulbs go off constantly with them and teaching them weird words about cooking and the fine details of the English language. Many seem to pick the prettier words to use, and I love hearing creative descriptions from a vibrant perspective. Most of my students have never seen before so the content language is new to everyone, creating a more even playing field so that all students can be successful. I also love that brands are far more global now, so business discussions are a common language more than ever before. One ELL student was fairly quiet and avoided conversations but I remember the day we finally connected. I let her know that I moved her purse so it wouldn’t get food on it but I was checking that it was hers. Her eyes and speech were crystal clear, “the YSL purse, yes, that is mine”. YSL translates into every language.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I am so fortunate to be in a small suburb just outside of Los Angeles. My students have access to careers and industry leaders more than most. We are also just far away from Los Angeles not to have the challenges that a big city or giant school district does. The administration can make improvements and changes quickly, student programs can be directly supported by the city and parents and community members play a huge role in the schools long after their kids graduate.

I started having business owners come in pretty early on. One of the students’ favorites is a crime analyst. He tells haunting, true stories that keep the kids sitting silently, listening to every word. Seventeen years old sit for an hour, listening, asking questions, fascinated. Another time, we heard from women who started a dog rescue in Monrovia. They brought a couple of dogs and my students heard how to start a non-profit business and that just because it’s called a non-profit, it doesn’t mean owners don’t bring home an income. Other favorite speakers include Chick Young, owner of Paradis Ice Cream and Joe Badero, owner of Hummus Labs who shares invaluable experience and encouragement. I have continued this part of my classes on YouTube during the COVID 19 school closure which gave me more access to some professionals that may not have normally been able to visit my classes in person. We go live in a video call where students can ask questions, then I post the 25 minute interview to my YouTube channel. Lessons that were normally part of my classes and fun, creative projects are also posted. I know my students miss being in class. I know I miss them a lot so this is one way we can still connect, laugh and learn.

Teaching is a special career. Especially at high school, students see through us; looking for integrity and heart. They want adults to be better, to give them hope for their own future, to know that adults don’t have to be shitty people, that adults don’t have to be unhealthy just because we get old, and that we can still listen to EDM. I am so thankful I found this career and my school where I get to excel and keep learning, and help others as my daily work. The number one thing I teach is how being of service to others is the key to happiness.

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