For Nat Pickering, history teacher at Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School (APB), teaching isn’t just a job, it's a calling -- the thing he was destined to do. “Teaching is in my blood,” joked Pickering. “My dad was a high school teacher, my grandpa was a dean, my mom is a social worker, and I had uncles and aunts who were teachers, so it's just in our belief system that we live to serve.”
Following His Dreams
Pickering recalls knowing as early as high school that he wanted to be a high school history teacher, to help students understand change and how the world around them is shaped. For Pickering, becoming an educator meant he could help students build a life for themselves. After earning his teaching credential, Pickering became a teacher at Alain LeRoy Locke High School in 2003, prior to Green Dot’s operation.
It was at Locke that he learned, firsthand, the need for higher quality education options for students. “It was a very toxic environment for me,” recalled Pickering. “There was such a big disconnect with all the different parts of the school, students were shuffled around and moved out of your classes, and you never knew what happened to them.”
During his three years at Locke, Pickering formed friendships with some of the educators who would later join Green Dot and found a new independent charter. “I would ask the students, ‘who are the teachers who are helping you the most?’ And I would seek those educators out for guidance and advice, because there were no development or support opportunities available,” recalled Pickering.
This group consisted of veteran teachers who mentored Pickering and offered support where there was none. “We built a support system for ourselves; we were a community of adults who cared about a community of students, parents, and the greater neighborhood.”
In 2006, Pickering and his colleagues from Locke joined Green Dot and opened Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School (APB). APB has faithfully served the Florence-Firestone community since, and has received a Gold Ribbon Schools Award from the California State Board of Education for its excellence. “I will never forget the moment when those first students walked on campus, it was so humbling,” recalled Pickering. “The fact that those parents trusted us with their most prized possession showed the extreme need for change, and that people wanted something better for their kids.”
At APB, Pickering teaches history and a special course, the Academic English Essentials (AEE) course. AEE provides students with extra support in reading, writing and related soft skills. Although he always knew he wanted to teach history, the AEE class has provided him an opportunity to reflect on the culture of his classroom and his own educational experiences.
“Growing up I had an experience in school that was so uninspiring and I don’t ever want my students to have that kind of experience in my classroom,” remembered Pickering.
“I was pulled out of class in elementary school to work on my handwriting because, during a parent conference, my mom mentioned that my handwriting wasn't very good.” From the class’s inception, Pickering’s goal has been to establish genuine relationships with his students and ensure they see the AEE class as a safe space to get additional support in developing better reading, writing, and communication skills. He not only wants to develop these students’ skills, but also to build their confidence in the process.
The Green Dot Difference
Pickering believes that Green Dot offers educators a unique opportunity to create authentic, caring relationships between students, teachers, and school leaders. As a student, Pickering recalls avoiding interactions with school leaders, because it was seen as a sign that you were in trouble.
“At our schools, it is not uncommon to see students checking in with their principal or assistant principal, because the adults on campus are seen as more than policy enforcing authority figures,” recalled Pickering.
“Our students know they are seen as a full person, and that is attributed to the many opportunities available, to build more dynamic relationship between peers and adults.”
“Nat is a transformative teacher, he has a remarkable ability to draw out the best in each and every one of his students, no matter their prior knowledge and previous level of success in school,” said Brian Thomas-Reed, Principal at APB. “He can see the big picture and triangulate the small details in a remarkable way. The educational experience he provides his students is uniquely tailored to their individual needs, the context of the current time, and the target of college readiness.”
Fulfilling His Destiny
After 15 years in education, Pickering’s passion for making a difference in the lives of youth burns brighter than ever. “The energy and dynamic of a group of students trying to wrap their heads around becoming adults is still so exciting for me,” said Pickering.
“There is a road to real satisfaction in what we're doing, because our schools are serving the students who need it the most, using a model that has the potential for the most success.”
"There is a road to real satisfaction in what we're doing, because our schools are serving the students who need it the most, using a model that has the potential for the most success.”
He attributes his long career to the culture at Green Dot, one where educators’ voices are heard, opportunities exist for educators to have genuine relationships with staff and school leaders, and leadership development opportunities are available to all. “I’m able to come back every year because I'm not burning out like I was at other districts,” said Pickering.
He is looking forward to what this year brings--hoping to further develop his curriculum and provide more opportunities for students to develop and tap into their inner potential.
His one takeaway from his lengthy career in education has been: “this is not a profession you can perfect, you can't win at teaching, but you can grow and get better,” reflected Pickering. “We should be embodying constant growth because as educators, that's what we ask our students to do.”