Lights, camera, education: Former film maker Carrie Scaife explains how education stole her heart 17 years ago
The plan for Carrie Scaife, after obtaining her bachelor's degree in film from Pacific University was to be behind the camera. Like all best laid plans, this one took a bit of a detour that then became a full-fledged career. Instead of behind a camera, for the past 17 years Scaife has been in front of a classroom at Cedar Ridge Middle School.
While working in film after college, Scaife took on the role of teaching film to people of all ages who came into Willamette Falls Television (now known as Willamette Falls Studios) in Oregon City. This, her first foray into education, inspired her to go back to school at Pacific for a master's degree in teaching after three years.
"I worked at a TV station but my job at the TV station was teaching people how to make films and how to use equipment and I realized that I liked that aspect a lot more than the actual filmmaking, so I went back to school and got my teaching degree," Scaife said. "I love being a teacher. I love interacting with people and sharing my knowledge."
Her master's degree in hand, Scaife continued to work for the TV station on nights and weekends for another 11 years, while also teaching. Only when she realized a desire for more personal time did she plant her focus more in the classroom.
Education appears to be what has Scaife's heart, though it was her love of storytelling that appealed about both film and her current role as a middle school language arts teacher.
"I'm a storyteller. I do everything through storytelling," Scaife explained. "I love to write (and) I love to read. I used to read, before I had kids, hundreds of books a year. Now it's more like 20 or so. I think that humans interact on a really basic level and that's how we can find connections and that's what I get to do all day long and it's awesome."
While Scaife started out in education thinking she'd teach high school, she said "middle school is 100% where I belong."
"Just that particular age group (and I); we just have a lot of connections," she explained. "I'm a quirky, weird human and all middle schoolers are quirky weird humans, so it works."
Regardless of how "quirky" and connected Scaife feels her students are, she admitted there are still challenges.
"I think the biggest challenge is that every single kid that comes into your classroom, comes with their own world with them and trying to incorporate all of that into a 55-minute period where you're showing them that their world has value and that you care about their world and that it's part of the learning experience and reaching every kid at that level is a really big challenge," Scaife explained.
Another unexpected somewhat challenge Scaife noted was that, as a teacher, you end up going over the same material multiple times a day and grading sometimes hundreds of papers on the same topic.
"You have to find the different personalities in the different little humans in your classroom so that you can change it up and you don't die of boredom," Scaife joked. "There's a lot of repetition. I don't think people realize."
Even with the repetition, Scaife said the relationships she builds with those "quirky, weird humans" is what makes her job worthwhile and rewarding — that and feeling like they're actually learning something.
"You see that moment when someone gets it; it's just really awesome," she explained. "(It's rewarding) when you're trying to explain a complicated concept and somebody just has the famous 'light bulb moment,' like they totally get it. It's just really awesome to share your knowledge like that."
Scaife, like many educators, admits that the past year has been difficult for teachers and students alike, with distance learning presenting new challenges for learning and mental health. However, one of Scaife's favorite aspects of education is that "there are changes constantly."
"Part of education is just constant change, because there are so many people who have a stake in education," she explained. "There are parent groups and students themselves and legislators and different superintendents and different school boards and different ESDs and ODE. There's constant change and we just have to roll with it. That's just part of it. There's always going to be new testing or new standards or a new type of lesson plan, and you just have to adapt. I actually like it. It doesn't get boring because there's always something new; there's always somebody to revamp education. And sometimes it makes a really big difference."
Though Scaife enjoys change, she did miss seeing her students in-person during distance learning.
Virtual learning created its own challenges, including getting students to turn on their cameras or getting students to participate in discussion. Scaife said a lot of the actually learning happens in the chat section of virtual classes.
"One of the reasons I've been successful in the classroom is because I'm just me. I'm really real," Scaife explained. "I'm not a character, I'm a relatable human, and I think leaning into that and just understanding that this is really hard for everybody and being really flexible and knowing the kids are struggling too has made it — it's not good — but tolerable. It's made us able to able to learn things."
When Scaife isn't molding the minds of middle schoolers, advocating for LGBTQ2SIA+ youths as the school's Gay Straight Alliance advisor or spending time with her family, she is likely passionately advocating for her peers.
Over the nearly two decades Scaife has taught at Cedar Ridge (taking a one-year divergence to act as the district media specialist), she has served as leader of the Wy'East Education Association on multiple occasions, and even now that she's not active with WEA, she is looked to for advice by current organizers.
While Scaife doesn't live in Sandy, she says she feels a connection to Sandy kids as someone who "grew up on a farm in Oregon City like a lot of Sandy kids."
"I never thought I would stay in Sandy, I really didn't," Scaife said. "But, my second year teaching we went on strike in Sandy, which was crazy, and I come from a proud union family. I can't even think of any of my relatives who aren't union members, and I just got really drawn into union work and I was loving teaching and loving the community and all my fellow teachers, and it was just like the perfect storm. I loved the community. I loved the kids, I loved my coworkers and it's funny because when my coworkers now talk about 'Oh, I'm thinking about moving. I'm looking for another job.' I'm like 'What? Why? This is like the best job … I think Sandy is a place full of passionate people who have big hearts and who are more alike than they realize."
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