One In A Million: Sebastian Payton

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One In A Million Feature Questions

Name: Sebastian Payton

School: Frank Borman Elementary

Grade: Middle School Science

 How long have you been a teacher? 22 years

What made you get into the teaching profession?
I was originally an engineering major, for my first 2 years of college. I had a moment of clarity when one of my teammates thanked me for achieving his highest grade in a math class. I realized how much I enjoyed his success. At the end of that year, I changed my major education and began my journey.

Initially, I would say that I became a teacher to help students. But once I stepped into a classroom I realized that I was changing and saving lives.

Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
Honestly, my most inspirational teachers was one of the many negative experiences that I had. My 5th grade teacher, who will remain nameless, gave me the “Most Yelled at in One Year” award. She called me up to the front of the room, set me up as if it was going to be positive and gave it to me. She also said, in front of the class, that I was going to end up in jail. I still have that certificate, as a reminder of the impact that a teacher can have on a student.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
There are everal issues facing educators: kinder entrance ages being lowered, class sizes are still too large and the public perception of education.

Overall, teachers are being asked to do more for students while being given less resources. We have less time to teach more standards. We have more students in a classroom and Americans have little to no faith in the institution of education. With all that said, teachers are trying to finance advanced degrees to move up the pay scale, only to find out that their advancement falls short of their financial needs. They are forced into administrative positions, which takes most of our best teachers out of the classroom.

How do these issues affect your day to day?
They don’t. I take one child at a time, one day at a time, one lesson at a time! I trained myself to know the content well enough to teach without a textbook if necessary or technology. I have adapted my approach to accommodate a large number of students. Finally, I shaped my lifestyle around my pay, so that will hopefully never be ‘forced’ to take a position that I don’t want.


What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you? I wasn’t aware that there was one.

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
Most teachers are trained to apply their knowledge as opposed to analyzing and evaluating the students needs. Most of the new teachers, last 5 years, require technology to execute a lesson; tablets, internet access, apps. They seem to come with strategies that are targeted for a certain skill level and socioeconomic group. When they are required to adapt, they are either unwilling or unable to do so. It seems that teacher training should require a methodology that will give teachers to assess the type of learner as opposed to the level of the learner. In my opinion, the most effective teachers are those that understand their audience and their content.

Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
Lack of managerial support, too many administrative tasks and an unprofessional work environment. The amount of progress monitoring, assessing, agreements, trainings and tasks that are not directly to classroom instruction is overwhelming for most, in my experience. We have become accountants and that is a direct result of public opinion. We have to validate and substantiate every moment and lesson that takes place during our work day. I believe that this is an effort to justify our positions and our salaries. Given the other employment and financial options that are available, many opt for paths with less resistance.

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?
God, my upbringing and the kids youthful, innocent and unyielding naivety. I immerse myself in the students and community because they have an endless amount of needs. That need fuels me. Knowing that my skill set has value motivates me to perform at a high level. So, as a servant, I am replenished by my desire to serve; there is a higher purpose for me that transcends stress or pressure.

What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?
Honestly, it’s not something I’ve given much thought to. The fact of the matter is I’m not looking for gratitude from them. I would prefer that my employer show gratitude through salary and benefits.

What is your wish for Arizona’s children?
I would like to see less testing at the school and district level, in favor of programs, projects and rich experiences, so that will dream bigger dreams. I would like to see a stronger STEAM emphasis. I would also like to see a stronger corporate and academic (college) presence in public schools.

 What additional support or supplies do you need in your classroom and who do people contact if they want to help out?
I would like to offer tangible incentives to my students for their academic efforts, like gift cards, tickets to museums and other empowering opportunities.

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Growing the Tree

Million Dollar Teacher Tree was first developed in a classroom by students in a program called, Next Generation Service Corps at Arizona State University in December of 2017. These students were tasked by Lloyd Hopkins, founder of Million Dollar Teacher project with developing a project that can potentially become an integral part in helping MDTP achieve its mission. The group eventually developed the original prototype for Million Dollar Teacher Tree—a cutout dollar sign that would be placed in surrounding businesses near the partner school. The idea was pitched to staff members of MDTP during the last of their class, and the project was picked up by MDTP as a new pilot program for the organization. After many months of planning, the prototype was eventually revamped into what it is today, Million Dollar Teacher Tree.

Golden Apple

These apples are intended to provide any sort of Professional Development which, in turn, gifts them with key knowledge to add to their personal skill-set to better work with their students.

As educators, teachers are constantly looking to continually grow in their profession to not only learn how to better connect with their students, but to also make the learning experience much more exciting.

Suggested donation amount range: $10 – $100

Red Apple

These apples are designed to provide the typical day-to-day items in the classroom. Teachers spend can spend upwards of $1,000 out of pocket to have enough supplies yearlong for their students– to alleviate this, the Red Apples were created.

Everyday school supplies include; pencils, notebooks, crayons, hand sanitizer, etc.

Green Apple

These apples are intended to provide a big-ticket item for the teachers. These supplies are typically something that the teachers can use for more than one school year.

Examples include; a class-set of computers or new furniture for the classroom.

Suggested donation amount: $500+