"Empowered women empower women." This is the quote on Christina Costa of @teachlikeagirl's instagram bio and this quote speaks so much to who she is as a person. All of her posts, most of which are connected to female empowerment, critical thinking, or teacher wellbeing, are uplifting and inspiring and just kick-ass. Christina is a former middle school teacher who is now getting her PhD in Psychology and studying teacher well-being at the University of Michigan. I feel soso lucky to have had the chance to sit down and (phone) chat with her about some of her teaching philosophies and personal stories.
Q: Who is Christina Costa? What is one thing people might not know about you from your Instagram and YouTube accounts?
A: Oh girl! That’s a good one! So I am in grad school as a PHD student and a former teacher. Something that people might not know about me because I don’t talk about it often is that I grew up moving around. I was born in Germany, moved to Michigan, moved to Australia, then Michigan again, and then I went to Brazil for my last year of high school where I met my husband. Then I moved back to Michigan for college. So travel is a really big priority for something and me I don’t talk about that much on social media. One of my main goals in life is to travel the world. I grew up traveling like that so it really sparked my interest.
Q: What inspired you to start Teach Like a Girl?
A: So this is unique because I know the exact moment that I started it. I always had a personal Instagram and have always loved sharing pictures. The night of the election, I posted a picture on my personal Instagram of one of my female students with the caption “I cannot wait until I go to school tomorrow and we can talk about how we have a female president.” At 2 AM, my husband woke me up and he was like, “Trump’s our president” and I was like no you’ve gotta be joking and it was that moment that I was like -- it makes me sick that the girls in my advocacy had never seen a female president – regardless of politics or candidates – this is just crazy that they’ve never seen this. So I wanted to create a curriculum that really just empowered girls and let them see themselves in leadership positions. I was already creating these resources so I was like let me create an Instagram to go along with my resources and to share my teaching experience. So I started that and then “teach like a girl” is just from a campaign by “Always” with the hash tag #likeagirl. That was the moment I started it.
Q: It’s easy to assume that all women care about female empowerment but that’s not actually true. What got you thinking about female empowerment?
A: I think a lot of people assume that people in this space always thought like that (cared about female empowerment). I didn’t understand what feminism even was until I was in college and my roommate took a women’s studies class. She would say “isn’t it weird that boys have to hold the door open for us?” and I would be like, “what’s that all about?” I don’t care. She would bring all these examples and I understood that feminism meant gender equity for everyone but it wasn’t until I had my own students that I was like wow this matters a lot. When I started reflecting on what it meant to be a woman for me and little things that would happen as I got older and was like OH did this happen when I was little too? My principal said I wouldn’t get a bonus because I was a woman and they wanted to recruit more male teachers. That made me really reflect on situations of power and in college settings like who gets called on more? Who is in the science classes and math classes and politics and in positions of power? Having my students and understanding and learning about history and dynamics of power that I really never understood before – probably because I’m a white woman which comes with privilege – there were things I didn’t have to think about – and I didn’t understand them until I understood history.
It’s really the little subtle things like wow if I was really encouraged to go into math when I was little, would I be doing something in science or tech or engineering? If there had been female presidents, would I be like “yeah I want to be president”?
Q: I feel like we (staff and school teams) increasingly understand that it’s important to talk about race in schools but don’t recognize as readily that we need to talk about gender in schools. What do you think?
A: I agree and I would love to be the person leading those PDS. I don’t see it happening and it’s a problem because there are really easy quick strategies that you can put in place to make sure that your female students are being empowered and it’s not that hard. There are always higher priority items to the school that they feel need to happen before those conversations can.
Q: What inspired you to start your girls group?
A: It’s the same thing as I said before. I just wanted a place where I could have extra time working with my girls and just to dive into what it means to be a leader as a female, talking about history of oppression, and how we can overcome those oppressions and learn from the women who have been doing the work all along. A lot of the curriculum is based on studying women in history, poetry, vision boards, self love activities --- all things that I wanted my girls to have that I didn’t have time for in advisory alone.
Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a new teacher?
A: My go to advice for any educator is to just BE YOURSELF. We get so caught up in wanting to be a teacher that we’re not – the nerdy teacher, the teacher who stands on desks, the funny teacher. But kids really appreciate when we are ourselves and we’re authentic. Kids love the teacher who is quiet and reads all the time and they love the teacher who does jokes, stands on desks – as long as that’s just who they are. Be yourself – kids can notice when you aren’t.
I have another one! If something doesn’t feel right, question yourself as to why you’re doing it. Let me give you an example. My school made the kids walk in silent lines and our do now had to be silent and it caused me so much anxiety because it was never silent! Everyday I dreaded when they’d come in and it wasn’t going to be silent. Then I really started to question why I was having them stay silent -- it just didn’t feel right. When I asked, “why am I doing this?” and there was no real answer, I changed it, and it was ok! Just always ask yourself, “WHY am I doing this?”
Q: What was your most challenging experience in the classroom? What did you learn?
A: Honestly, morally, my biggest challenge was seeing things happen that I wasn’t ok with and not feeling comfortable to speak out because of power dynamics. Feeling really uncomfortable with roles being put in place, speaking to my principal and saying we shouldn’t be doing this – I regret not having more of those conversations. At the time, I felt like “I’m new, I shouldn’t be speaking out.”
Q: What does self-care mean to you? How do you take care of yourself while taking care of others?
A: That’s what I’m studying in grad school. So I am looking at that so I will share later when I figure out scientifically what that means. Personally what that meant to me was doing my best to leave work at work, which is almost impossible, and taking the time I needed to unplug and do what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. People would judge me for this so hard but as soon as the bell rang I was out of that school and that’s what I needed. I went home and would do some work from the comfort of my couch and just STOP at some point and if I didn’t finish something, I didn’t finish it. That’s just what I needed for me. If you’re not 100%, you just can’t be 100% for your students and my first year teaching I was NOT 100% and I know that affected my students and it was only when I could take time for myself and recharge that I realized I could keep doing this – teaching.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I don’t know – I’m really loving teaching undergrads and I can see myself lecturing at a college or university and then traveling and doing PD for schools. I might do something like that. I can also see myself going back and doing high school or doing AP psych.