Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover with Stephanie Graham


How did you become a paraprofessional?

  • Used to live in Hannibal, Missouri
  • Husband is a teacher 
  • They had visited Nixa before and loved the area
  • Husband landed a job teaching in Nixa 
  • Stephanie used to be a woman’s dorm director for a college 
  • After moving to Nixa, got a job as a paraprofessional at the high school 
  • Worked with kids with learning disabilities and physical handicaps 

What are some things that you do to help break down the barrier between you and the student you are helping?

  • By building connections and relationships
  • Through being goofy and not being overly stern 
  • A slightly different role than a teacher 
  • She gives her students space unless she sees they aren’t on task 

A paraprofessional has the unique opportunity to experience so many different classrooms. What is that like?

  • Stephanie feels it is very beneficial because she gets to see so many teaching methods 
  • She can become critical of some classroom management styles
  • But, she’s also able to learn how the students do and do not like to be interacted with 

A paraprofessional gets evaluated yearly

  •  She makes suggestions during her yearly evaluations, such as giving paraprofessionals more training 
  • She feels like she struggled during her first year because she didn’t know what she was doing and wished she had more training 
  • Now she tries to help new paraprofessionals if she sees them struggling

How much are you told about the students on your caseload?

  • Stephanie has an idea of what to expect
  • The IEP is helpful 
  • But it would also be useful if she was given a note about their personality 

How does it feel to work in a system that is titled “broken”?

  • Stephanie feels there are more issues with kids’ mental state nowadays 
  • There’s more stress for the teachers 
  • And there are too many tests and a lot of data collection that adds pressure

What has the transition been like from when you first became a paraprofessional to now?

  • Stephanie is happy with her job because she gets to build relationships with the kids
  • She’s also grateful she doesn’t have the pressure of dealing with parents or meetings
  • Plus she gets those school breaks to spend time with her family! 
  • Every day is different and it keeps her on her toes 
  • She doesn’t get paid as much as a teacher, but her job is beneficial and she doesn’t see herself leaving
  • At first, she took the position because she needed a job.
  • Now she’s made it work for her and she enjoys it

Would you share more about what happened with your bachelor’s degree in graphic design?

  • Stephanie was going to add in a degree in art education but was forced to graduate with a graphic design degree due to her number of credits
  • She didn’t go back after she graduated because she didn’t qualify for any financial aid 
  • Then, she tried to find a job in graphic design, but the software she had learned at school was out of date 
  • Eventually, she decided not to pursue a career in graphic design 
  • Finally, she got her job as the dorm director at the college she got her degree from 
  • Which she was grateful for because she was able to be home with her kids
  • While she was frustrated with her degree situation,
  • She feels like she ended up where she needed to be.

Will you tell us more about where you grew up?

  • Stephanie grew up a bit in this area, then moved near Lake of the Ozarks, then to St. Clair
  • Her dad was a pastor and they would move when he would get new positions 
  • She grew up in a strict and very sheltered home
  • When she got to college she experienced a new environment and new people
  • She feels like this helps her understand her students better 
  • Because students’ environments influence their behavior
  • Even if the student is not behaving, she still cares about them and wants them to know that 

Missed an episode?  Find them here! 

Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds donated to the Burntout Educator will provide therapy for a child in the public school system
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network.

Interested in hearing more from Think Beyond?

  • Check out our website here!
  • There you’ll find links to our services and other podcasts.

68 Applications with Thomas Primm

Thomas Primm

  • Wanted to be a teacher when he was young 
  • Worked as a tattoo artist and painter 
  • Went back to school in his 40s and received a Bachelor’s in philosophy 

What was your experience as a college student?

  • Didn’t always feel it was necessary to engage/debate with the philosophy professors 
  • Was good friends with other students 
  • After his Bachelor’s degree, he went on to a Master’s program in art and theory 
  • Then added a second master’s program in special education 
  • At the same time, he was still a tattoo artist and started substitute teaching as well 

Did you encounter any problems getting hired?

  • He was concerned he would struggle to find a position due to his appearance.
  • Worked as an ISS teacher his last year of his Master’s program
  • Before being hired as a para, Thomas applied for 68 jobs. 
  • After doing well as a para, he received a teaching position 

What was your experience being a substitute teacher?

  • Thomas enjoyed helping the students and getting to know them 
  • Overall, subbing was a very positive experience 
  • His first subbing experience was in a kindergarten classroom
  • Unfortunately, the school did not want him to come back to sub for the elementary school
  • He was worried his tattoos would keep him from being able to do what he loved 

Would you change the way you look?

  • Thomas got his first tattoo when he was 13 to be rebellious
  • If he was 13 in today’s world, he wouldn’t get a tattoo because tattoos are so common
  • There’s a different view about tattoos nowadays 
  • However, he was familiar with being treated as “bad” even before he was heavily tattooed 

Advocating for kids

  • Part of the reason he wanted to go into education was to help the kids that are labeled as “bad” or “lost” 
  • Thomas was “lost” in school and didn’t have teachers advocating for him or trying to help him 
  • He truly cares about his students 

Becoming a process coordinator 

  • Thomas recalls being injured trying to help his students 
  • Which led him to make the decision to become a process coordinator 
  • It was a very challenging job that was not well-liked 
  • He was shocked at how many students were being pushed into special education that didn’t really need it 
  • He thought a lot of students were being mislabeled 
  • Thomas wanted the school and other teachers to step up and learn how to address different behaviors 

Supporting each individual student

  • The same strategies are not going to work for all students 
  • Thomas wanted to support each individual student and have everyone work together
  • Many professionals simply lower the standards, but Thomas maintained high standards for these students
  • And the students responded well!
  • The students liked that he would speak to them like adults, the connection, and his attention. 
  • Remember, if the student is being neglected at home, they only know one way to act at school 
  • This can lead to being neglected at school, but we need to see these kids too

The education system can be lazy

  • Teachers get paid the same regardless of their skills
  • Many teachers benefit by flying under the radar 
  • The system is not promoting teachers to be better 
  • There’s no way for just one person to fix the issues ingrained in special education
  • But we have to remember, kids are human beings with feelings 
  • Educators can be caught in the system, trying to make it through their days and can forget what their students are feeling
  • The connection to the individual is lost 
  • Thomas believes the best thing we can do is connect with others 

Trying to make a difference

  • Life can be absurd and pointless, but Thomas wanted to do something meaningful
  • So he decided to help the person next to him 
  • He can’t fix the whole school, but he can help the student 
  • The kids were always in “fight or flight” mode, so it was a challenging task 

Are You Still Working in Education?

  • After spending two years as a process coordinator, he has ended his time working in education 
  • COVID has been very rough for all educators & many educators have resigned 
  • Though, he does miss the classroom and students
  • Thomas is currently pursuing another degree, with hopes to work at the collegiate level.

Restorative Relationships with Mark Simmonds

Restorative Relationships

  • Mark is a huge believer in restorative practices 
  • And tries to make connections with his students by sharing stories from his childhood 
  • When he can make a connection, students respect him more and are more likely to open up
  • Though, Mark works at an alternative site
  • And it can be difficult to maintain respect 
  • But he really pushes and models restorative practices and respectful conversations 
  • It has helped a lot of students 
  • Mark’s favorite professor at Missouri State helped him develop this mindset because of the support and grace she showed Mark during his undergraduate and graduate studies 

What type of connections do you find in the classroom with the kids?

  • There are similarities between kids that grew up moving around for the military 
  • He grew up with the mindset that you need to respect your parents, so it was an adjustment being a teacher fresh out of the military lifestyle
  • Whenever he would reprimand students he always gives them a rationale 
  • Mark was able to relate to a lot of things the students went through because of his experience with foster care and military life 

What is your relationship right now with education?

  • Mark has a love-hate relationship with education
  • He wanted to move up and get out of the classroom 
  • But he’s not sure if what he’s currently doing is what he ultimately wants to do 
  • He currently works as the leader of a residential facility for at-risk youth that is an extension of the school district 
  • Even though he loves the job and the kids 
  • He also has the duties of a principal without the reflecting pay or support
  • And that can make it difficult to cope with the stress

What is it like to work in a system that’s perpetually labeled as broken? Who or what is the problem? And who or what is the solution?

  • It’s hard to pinpoint one simple thing
  • One thing that has been lost due to the high demands of education is the relationship piece 
  • There’s a lot of focus on the negative and not enough on the positive 
  • The teachers had a duty to keep the students safe and to help them learn and grow
  • And also work on real-life transition skills that they may not be getting at home 
  • The ultimate focus is on the students’ growth and achievement 
  • Another solution is being really open to change 
  • Mark’s school has been disproportionate for students with IEPs and students of color because they’re the hardest to relate to, and some people refuse to do that

The importance of restorative relationships

  • Making connections with students doesn’t just have to be the avenue to get to something else
  • Mark is very intentional in making connections
  • It can be difficult and require vulnerability to connect to someone that is very different from you
  • Mark enjoyed his educational experience growing up because he had teachers that understood that  
  • Growing up in the military, everyone had the same goal. So individual differences didn’t really matter 
  • His first experience with racism didn’t happen until he moved to Springfield 
  • Topics of conversation in education frequently boil down to race 
  • Taking two minutes to connect with a student every day for 10 days can give you a totally different relationship with that student 
  • Some of Mark’s favorite memories in school are from his teachers taking the time to connect with him 

Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds donated to the Burntout Educator will provide therapy for a child in the public school system
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network.

Think Beyond!

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The Art of Running (2)


Olivia Willoughby 

  • Co-host on Burnt Out educator
  • 8th-grade art teacher

Olivia As Student

  • Olivia’s father was in the military, so her family moved 10 times before she graduated.
  • She describes school as being the scariest, yet safest, place. 
  • In many ways, the public school systems across the United States are very similar.
  • This similarity and continuity gave Olivia the opportunity to connect with others, even if they themselves never moved.
  • Additionally, it gave Olivia the comfort of knowing what to expect day to day, school to school.

“I was forced to not run away from my problems. How am I supposed to deal with my emotions if I can’t run away? I guess I’ll create.”

Olivia’s Path to Education & Art

  • Throughout college, Olivia ran, dove, and took pottery classes while majoring in education and maintaining a 4.0
  • During her sophomore year, she had to undergo two surgeries, one on each leg.
  • These surgeries caused her to lose her outlet of running.
  • School was hard and she describes herself at the time as being extremely anxious.
  • At that point, she started making sculptures of her body parts as a way to process all she was going through physically and emotionally.
  • Near the end of her college career, Olivia realized she’d rather teach art than Spanish.
  • In the end, she decided to complete her student teaching in Spanish and take both the Spanish and Art tests to receive her teaching license. 

“They decided I could do it. Then I decided I could do it. So first I thought I wanted to teach Spanish. Then that was not the case.  I thought, okay, I want to teach art, but then I couldn’t do it exactly where I wanted to do it. And then, you know, all of a sudden, I’m doing it where I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it. And I’m teaching the subject I want to teach.” 

Olivia As Educator and Student

  • For various reasons, Olivia decided to pursue her master’s in education.
  • As she prepared to start the program, she thought of it as a means to an end.
  • However, her mindset quickly changed.
  • Her professors assigned books she enjoyed and encouraged connection and discussion.
  • While in undergrad, Olivia experienced a lot of fear of earning less than an A.
  • Throughout graduate school, this anxiety alleviated.
  • She realized, for the first time, that learning wasn’t about the grade.
  • Instead, learning is about the material and personal growth.
  • She learned to do the work of learning, rather than the work of turning in assignments. 

Olivia’s Desires As Educator

“I wanted to be someone within the system that saw kids like me, who felt like they were going to be sick every single day, who were scared of being here, but also needed to be here and find a place through class… When I have kids like that, I want them to know that I’ve been there every single day of my life. And that sometimes as their teacher I still feel like that.”

  • This ability to own something “shameful” induces a lot of surprise from the student
  • Desires to seep the love of learning into her students, little by little.
  • To retrain them that the grade isn’t what matters.

Why co-host Burnt Out Educator?

  • This is the type of conversation, learning, and growing that we as humans strive to find.
  • These conversations make us better and remind us what education was meant for.
  • I want to honor the experiences of other educators and be seen in my experience.
  • I’m happy to be part of a podcast that’s creating more human beings that know that they can be, and are human beings. 

Beyond Healing Center


Beyond Healing Media

Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds donated to the Burnt Out Educator will provide therapy for a child in the public school system. 
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network. 

The End of the Infinite Ladder (1)

Level Up. 
  • The purpose of college is to pursue financial security for his family.
  • After a brief stint in international business, Ryan switched to education.
  • While he enjoyed connecting with students, he knew he couldn’t earn enough as a teacher
  • So, he devised a plan to become superintendent.
  • Ryan’s plan detailed how he would move from one level to the next
  • He was offered his first teaching job at the local deaf magnet school
  • He successfully completed his master’s during his 4th  (out of 5 mandatory years) years at Parkview and started applying for administration jobs in that 5th year.
  • 18 months into his assistant principal job he started applying for principal jobs. 
  • When he accepted the principal position, he knew there was major work to be done to ensure he continued to be successful in leveling up.
  • During his principalship, Ryan held and led others in the belief that if a teacher worked hard enough, they could have 100% of their students be proficient on state standards.

Ryan and Objectivity

  • Throughout his career, Ryan had this desire to create connections for students and educators.
  • While wanting others to connect in this vulnerable way, he was unable to meet their vulnerability.
  • Many educators hold themselves in similar capacities of longing for connection but presenting themselves as objects.
  • Additionally, Ryan was so focused on the plan, that opportunities for anything outside of it didn’t make much sense.
  • Finally, there was too much risk in experiencing affect and it going negatively.
  • So he stuck to the plan and used his strategies to be of service in these temporary roles.

Finding Subjectivity 

  • Regardless of how hard he worked, how much time he spent away from his family, how perfect his strategy was, he was unable to reach 100% proficiency in student scores.
  • Racked with shame, he had to let go of the object he’d polished for so long.
  • Ryan was forced to choose between gritting his teeth and bearing it for the next 20 years or creating a new object.
  • So, he spent a lot of time strategizing on what might that other object be and how to provide for his family.
  • He had to divorce himself from the dream he’d been chasing, the plan he’d been working.


“What I’ve learned is there is no strategy to meet that goal. There’s no single strategy that does that. The thing that has the capability of doing that is through connection, one to one, human to human, authentic, subjective connection.”

  • Further, maybe inviting someone into vulnerability and having an impact on them is greater than what any strategy could offer.
  • Maybe seeing the human, caring and showing positive regard, and loving them for who they are and who they aren’t, is more powerful than teaching them the strategy to help them meet the objective they think they need to meet.

Beyond Healing Center

Beyond Healing Media

Interested in supporting a child? 

  • 100% of the proceeds contributed to the Burnt Out Educator will support providing therapy for a child in the public school system. 
  • Not therapy capped at a certain number, but an open-ended relationship with a highly qualified therapist in the BHC network.

Introducing Burnt Out Educator (0)

Welcome to the Burnt Out Educator 

Meet Ryan Savage

  • The Burnt Out Educator
  • Current Executive Director of Beyond Healing Center
  • Retired/Resigned Educator
  • This podcast is about revealing the human in the 7th-grade girl’s basketball coach putting in many hours for practice, traveling, and games – all while sacrificing those hours in their personal life.

“I made these concessions of the things that felt good to me or that I wanted to pursue, but found these barriers inside education… There were portions that felt almost dehumanizing, that if I’m going to find success in that space, then I need to meet this list of criteria, some of which may be compromising to what I either desire or who I am as a person.”

Meet Olivia Willoughby

  • Co-Host
  • Currently in her 5th year of teaching
  • Teaches 8th-grade art
  • I create my classroom to make space as often as possible to say, hey, we’re creating and we’re doing what we need to do, but what’s more important is who you are. 

“It’s about the people in the room learning, myself, and the other adults in the building, every single human. They have a purpose and a place. I think that’s exactly what we want to discuss on here.” 

Burnt Out Educator

  • The education system is massively influential to the makeup of the US
  • The Burnt Out Educator is an interview-based podcast where we talk about this system from a grassroots perspective.
  • At BOE, we place immense value in hearing people’s stories.
  • Because it is only through these diverse stories, we can hope to see the larger system clearly.
  • Importantly, we want to hear stories all along the spectrum.
  • From burnt out to thriving, we want to hear the experiences of educators and students.
  • Understand, there is no interest in convincing educators to leave education.
  • Put simply we are inviting humans to see themselves as humans. 

Burnt Out ———————————————————————- Thriving

Questions for the listener

  • Can you allow your humanness to come through your role as an educator?
  • Does it feel confronting to you when a student needs you to be more than just their teacher?
  • Are you willing to put techniques and knowledge about a specific subject matter aside to talk about what’s happening in their lives outside of the room?
  • Is the relationship between teacher and student a means to an end? Is it something that needs to be leveraged to achieve a goal? 

Subjectivity & Objectivity

When you’re seeing me, you’re meeting every moment I’ve ever been in.

  • Objectivity: the role of educator
    • The robot
    • “You’re the art teacher, they’re all a bit out there.” 
  • Subjectivity: the human that plays the role
    • “No, I do this because I’m Olivia.”
    • When you’re seeing me, you’re meeting every moment I’ve ever been in
  • Intersubjective space: the space between two subjects
    • How it felt for Olivia to see the student showing up needing more than her objectivity 
    • The sum is greater than the parts

There’s tension between objectivity and subjectivity, an interpersonal conflict between the profession and what it expects.

Maybe we’re all just humans. 

  • Seeing the humanity in yourself and others
  • When you start to pay attention to the ways we understand humans emerge throughout their lifetime, you realize you are different after every experience you have. 
  • We notice the big ones, the influential, the traumatic moments.
  • But you’re also different from one room to another.
  • For example, Olivia’s contemplation of what was going on with a student who threw a pencil across the room and screamed a cuss word.
  • Instead of following some strict protocol, she saw the student as the full human with life before and after her class.

Our Invitation to Interviewees.

  • BOE is inviting educators into this space with the hope of seeing them through these questions:
  • Why did you choose education? Why do you enjoy working with kids?
    • Did you meet that objective?
    • What cost are you willing to endure to sacrifice your subjectivity to meet that objective?
  • Is education a career? A job? A joy? Can it be all of them?
    • How does that change over time?
    • What’s the story behind that answer?
  • How do you navigate the persistent conflict between impossible expectations and caring for your students? Objectivity and subjectivity?
  • What’s it like to be a member of a system that’s perpetually labeled as broken? Who or what is the problem? Who or what is the solution?


We’re not here to tell people how to be. We are not here to tell them what to be, or how to live. We’re here to see human beings that happen to participate in the same community (education) and give them validation of “please, share, because we would love to hear.”

Goals of the Burnt Out Educator

  • Provide a space for educators to tell their stories
  • Provide an opportunity for the listener to come, connect, and feel what’s in this room. 
  • Here’s the big one: donations made from listeners like you will provide therapy from highly trained therapists to children.
  • Not band-aid therapy capped at 10 sessions (or any arbitrary number).
  • Instead, therapy that facilitates deep change and an invitation to feeling safe in connection with another.

Interested in supporting a child? 

Beyond Healing Center

Beyond Healing Media