Public Education Matters

Education is a family business for many of Ohio's dedicated teachers, education support professionals, and higher ed faculty members. In Part 2 of our special "A Legacy of Education" season, we meet a mother-daughter duo in Northwest Ohio who share an important teaching philosophy: People first.

Show Notes

A Legacy of Education: Sandra Dowdy & Calista Altenburger - Season 3, Episode 11
Education is a family business for many of Ohio's dedicated teachers, education support professionals, and higher ed faculty members. In Part 2 of our special "A Legacy of Education" season, we meet a mother-daughter duo in Northwest Ohio who share an important teaching philosophy: People first.
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Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Sandra Dowdy, Lincolnview Schools
    • Sandra Dowdy lives in Van Wert, Ohio. She been married to her husband, Daryl, for 30 years.  They met at Bluffton University where she earned my teaching degree. She has two children who are both educators! Calista is an intervention specialist at Allen East and Justis teaches strength and conditioning along with physical education at Lima Senior. This is her 29th year teaching at Lincolnview Schools. She began as a high school Spanish teacher, then eight years later moved into a junior high math position, and for the past seven years, she has been a junior high language arts teacher. "Teaching is not a job to me," Dowdy says. "It's a privilege to be trusted each day to interact with my students and to be an influence on their lives."
  • Calista Altenburger, Allen East Schools
    • Calista Altenburger is a 3rd Grade Intervention Specialist at Allen East Schools, where she is in her second year of teaching. She earned her master's degree in Special Education through BGSU. She also worked for three years at the Hancock County board of Developmental Disabilities as case manager for SSA, and she worked for two years as a Job Developer with Capabilities in collaboration with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.
Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May, 2020, after a ten-year career as a television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on October 11, 2022.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and it's 120,000 members, and I am honored to bring you part two of our Legacy of Education series. You'll remember, this special series is all about Ohio educators who have followed in a parent's footsteps into the education profession. In this installment, we're meeting Calista Altenburger, an intervention specialist in Allen East schools in Northwest Ohio. She just started her second year of teaching, although she calls herself an 'old new teacher' because teaching is not her first career. And she's not the first person in her family to enter this career field. Calista's brother is also a new educator and her father taught at Bluffton University for a time. And Calista's mom, Sandra Dowdy, has been teaching in Lincolnview schools for 29 years. Sandra initially taught high school Spanish in that Northwest Ohio district, but then moved to teaching junior high math and now teaches junior high language arts. Oh, and Sandra also followed her family's footsteps into the teaching profession. Her great grandmother was a teacher, too. We wanted to learn more about this family legacy of education, so we invited Calista Altenburger and Sandra Dowdy to join us for this episode.

Katie Olmsted 1:46
Sandra, Calista, thank you so much for sitting down with us and being willing to share your family's story. I should note that just as we were starting this conversation, a granddaughter popped her head into the video here. Talk to me a little bit about your family.

Sandra Dowdy 2:04
Well, I am the mother of two children who are both grown. Calista is 29 years old and holding. My son, Justis, who is also a teacher, is turning 26. Today is his birthday. And he teaches at Lima Senior. I'm married, been married for 30 years to my husband Daryl who I met at Bluffton University when I was there in college. So, and I have two beautiful grandchildren. Calista's children. Shaylee is a kindergartener with her at Allen East. I'm jealous of the ad. I wanted her of course here with me both of them, but and then Rowan is three. And they're just a joy. They're just a joy. And I might as well just go ahead and tell you that at this point neither of my children wanted to be teachers.

Katie Olmsted 3:07
Let's talk about this. Okay.

Sandra Dowdy 3:09
They really did not, I would say to them, you know, along the way, as they're trying to decide what they want to major in and everything. Well, are you sure you don't want to think about being a teacher? Are you sure you don't want to think about it? I mean, a definite no, from both of them. I mean, why would we ever want to think about doing what Mother says? Right? So anyhow, they both went off. They both went to Bluffton University, they received their degrees in something other than teaching. And Calista can share with you how she was led to teaching. But it was funny because it happened even though they're four years apart. It happened at the same time for both of them. Both of them were going through getting their teaching degree at the same time. They both began teaching. Last school year was their first year. So.

Katie Olmsted 4:07
So Calista, there's a lot to unpack here. First of all, why didn't you want to be a teacher? And then second off, what led you to being a teacher now?

Calista Altenburger 4:11
Okay, so, you know, parents will tell their kids all these advice and things that they shouldn't do, right? And you're like, "Well, my parents are old. They know nothing. It's like they never even grew up. They just were born as a parent," right? So I very much did not want to go to Bluffton University. I did not want to go to the school my parents were at, I very much did not want to be like my mother or my father because he taught at the time too. He taught at Bluffton University for a couple of years. And I just was like, I'm not going to do what they do. I want to be my own person. I want to go in you know, follow my own direction. I love the medical field. I still do to this day. So I thought I was interested in marine biology as well, however, that requires you to go by the ocean. So I ended up going to Bluffton, and they didn't have marine biology because there's no ocean around us. They didn't have a nursing program yet, they are getting one or have one now, which is awesome. But they didn't have one at the time. So I went into public health. I ended up getting into various classes. And I ended up focusing my concentration and public health was the education piece. So I thought I was going to be working for health department getting out there in the schools promoting public health, you know, whatever it is. And I worked at a mental health addiction dual diagnosis Center at that time, too. And I really liked that therapy groups where you're sitting and you're - it's educating. You are you're talking about strategies and things you shouldn't shouldn't do, you know. And then I started working at Capabilities working with anybody who had any type of disability, whether it's developmental, mental health, whatever it is, and I helped them get jobs in the community. And I really, really loved love, love, love working with my individuals that had Down Syndrome, or cerebral palsy, like the the big, big, big, you know, disabilities, areas that require a lot of attention. But I loved working with that population. And I had a nice sit down chat with myself. And I said, "Listen, either you're going to be a nurse, or you're going to be a teacher, and you need to decide now." And when I decide, that's what I'm doing, and I'm doing it. So I signed up registered with BGSU, within like a couple of weeks of deciding that. Had a child three months, two months into my first year of my master's, had another kid and my master's program had two babies throughout my master's program and special ed got a new job at the Board of DD as a case manager, for SSA, working with people with developmental disabilities. I also what else did oh, I had to do my student teaching as well. So quit my full time job with all the great benefits working for the county. And spent a whole semester not getting paid, but being a student teacher. S o yeah, I took the long way around. In the end, I should have just listened to my mom. So you know, kids should just learn from me. But you know, yet again, I'm sure my daughter's gonna be the same thing. So

Katie Olmsted 7:32
I just want to say, this is now on the record, Sandra. She said she should have listened to you.

Sandra Dowdy 7:36
I was just going to say that! I'm so glad you're taping this.

Calista Altenburger 7:40

Katie Olmsted 7:40
So, Sandra, when, after all of that time, she did the thing you thought she should have done to start with, what did you think?

Sandra Dowdy 7:50
Yeah, I thought, oh, man, it would have just been so much better if you just would have decided that in the first place. However, it didn't surprise me at all. I just felt like teaching would be something that just would be fulfilling. I think our family likes to have purpose in what they do. Whatever the job is, I mean, you - not to say that other jobs do not have purpose. But we are kind of a serving kind of family, I feel like, and we'd like to be helped. We just do. We like to give and we like to be helpful. And I think that just fits our family so

Katie Olmsted 8:34
Calista, what was your earliest memory of your mom as a teacher?

Calista Altenburger 8:40
Good one? Bad one? Which one do you want?

Katie Olmsted 8:42
What do you got for me? I'll take them both. Maybe that maybe that'll be telling about why you didn't want to be a teacher and then did.

Calista Altenburger 8:50
well, nah, I don't know. Um, so my earliest memory

Unknown Speaker 8:56
of her being a teacher probably would be I think I was in Kinder - No, not kindergarten - I would have been in first grade. And I would I just liked hanging out with her kids at the end. And I mean, as a kindergartener, I had I thought a few boys were cute. So I knew if I could hurry, I could hurry I could run I would see them as I passed by them and then I would get to say hi and talk to mom's other students in our classes. So I would like sprint with my little kindergarten bookbag you know, like bouncing all my bag all the way down to her room. And then I got to make like worry dolls in her class because she was a Spanish teacher at that time, and I loved you know, gluing the yarn down and making their dresses and all kinds of stuff and God's eyes as well. We got to make those too. So that's my earliest memory. A good one. My earliest bad memory. I have to that I have to share one. One would be the fact that she had these huge cabinets in her room and at that time, no one believed in screwing things into a wall. Maybe that's I'm the reason why IKEA makes you screw things to the wall. So I was, I think trying to get a book or I was climbing or something. I don't even know what I was doing. But I was in it, I was in the shelf. And it came down on me with all the books, everything else slammed. I'm trapped in this thing. Luckily, I was so tiny. Like, at that time, I fit in, like a free space of a shelf. So as soon as like someone would pick it up, I was just like, right there. You know, like, here I am. I was fine.

Katie Olmsted 10:26
I just imagined like a Jack in the Box popping out.

Calista Altenburger 10:29
Literally. Yeah, yeah. The other memory I have is, I might have been in first grade for this one, too. I was young, young, young. It was the old school building, which isn't there anymore. But Mom was working in her classroom, you know, ignoring me, I was seeking attention, I guess, as a psychologist would look at at this point. And I took a black permanent marker and I walked my happy little butt outside out on the front steps. And I wrote my name nice and big on the concrete steps of the building, right where everybody entered, and it is my name. It was nice and big, nice and big. I got in so much trouble.

Katie Olmsted 11:06
I feel like that's very appropriate because we're talking about leaving a legacy. That is truly a legacy right there.

Sandra Dowdy 11:15
I knew she was going to tell that one. I knew it.

Katie Olmsted 11:18
This is an audio only podcast. But if you could see Sandra right now she is laughing so hard. She's crying.

Sandra Dowdy 11:25
Oh my goodness. What a day. What a day. Why? But that's awesome to hear the stories, the good stories about, yeah, what you remember, what she remembers about coming to my room when she was little. And now her daughter is doing the same thing. It's so sweet. As we just saw her a little bit of go peek into the room. She comes down right from kindergarten and comes to Calista's room and it's, you know, it's heartwarming, you know that she can do that.

Calista Altenburger 11:59
Because I forget about the little benefits to of being like a teacher's daughter or kid. Like getting the snacks getting to sneak into the teacher lounge, you get a pop or like a doughnut if there's extra leftover in the morning, you know, and she's like eating my 10 pound bag of candies that I bought from Sam's Club for my kids. And I think she has eaten every single Whopper out of the bag.

Katie Olmsted 12:21
Okay, I think she has excellent taste throwing that out there. Um, let's talk about some of the other benefits of being a teacher's kid. Now that you're a teacher, are you able to pick your mom's brain and get off on a better foot than other early career educators you think?

Calista Altenburger 12:40
Um, I probably have more knowledge of teaching because of her and like, I graded her papers. I think even when I was like in elementary, maybe like, sixth seventh grade, I would, I would grade them, you know, for her. Lesson planning was different back then. They had this like green, like the green notebook with where you had to handwrite you know, your grades in.

Katie Olmsted 13:02
Oh, I remember this.

Calista Altenburger 13:03
Well, that lesson plan like those square thingies. And I remember like seeing like maybe four words written down. But like, a visible lesson plan that doesn't exist once you actually become a teacher. So that part yeah, a little bit. But I think I think now I kind of get on are a lot. Because we come from different worlds, we have different backgrounds now like I'm special ed and she's a gen ed teacher. So I'm getting on her she about like things she's doing for her sped kids or like, like not offering them, you know, these different things to how to take tests or whatever. And I'm like, Mom, they can really be doing this, like you can make this on the computer so that they can read have it read aloud and like making life a little bit easier for her and her intervention specialists. So I don't know. And I'm like teaching her these different game sites and stuff that I'm learning, like how to access like Bookit and, where you can create your own board game and flashcards and crossword puzzles, all kinds of stuff.

Sandra Dowdy 14:07
So, in other words, technology - I get a zero in technology.

Katie Olmsted 14:13
If we had to write that down in our little green book.

Sandra Dowdy 14:15
Yes, yes, yes, I'm still very old fashioned about the way that I approach things sometimes. And so that can be you know, a place where she really chimes in and gives me ideas for that. I think maybe early on when she was trying to think of ideas. When when she was starting to go through the schooling to be a teacher, that's maybe when she picked my brain a little bit, but if you know Calista, you know, she's off and running she's, you know, already got her own own path going so

Katie Olmsted 14:48
well. And it sounds like if you tried to give her advice, she'd do the opposite just to spite you

Sandra Dowdy 14:52
Right, right.

Calista Altenburger 14:55
That's just me I am and I mean, as a kid, I In college as an adult, Oh My poor husband. God love him. I don't know how he deals with me. Because I'm so bullheaded, I just do it my way. Just do it now.

Katie Olmsted 15:11
So let's think about the future. Do you want your grandkids to be teachers too?

Sandra Dowdy 15:17
If that's something that's going to bring them joy, I would definitely point them in that direction. I know sometimes I do hear people say that, that they would not point their children in the direction of teaching. However, each of us has to discover our own path. And I tell people, I truly do not refer to my job as the job. I don't call it work. I call it school. I need to go to school, you know. I laugh every day here with these students and with junior high students now. And there are times when they get me laughing because of something so silly. And I'll just look at them and say, Guys, can you believe it? Why don't people want to spend all day long with you? It's just so awesome. The other times when you're laughing, because the opposite you can't do. But yeah, I would definitely recommend it. I think there's still especially in our area. I think teaching is great. I do have a friend in Florida, who's a teacher, it's more challenging, you know where she is. But I love the area that we're in. And I think I would definitely love to love to see that. Yeah,

Katie Olmsted 16:41
Ohio has its own set of challenges. Some Florida style challenges with our don't say gays and don't say race bills and all sorts of other stuff making their way through the statehouse. How frustrating is that? For you, as a family to go through this together? Where I mean, maybe it's nice to have a support where you guys can talk about it together and face it together?

Calista Altenburger 17:06
Yeah, I our family's not super political. I will say that. We're up to date ish on because you anywhere you look, you're up to date on something, right. But again, like mom said, we're so we're so people focused and people helpful that our first priority is always to build relationships. It's never to just teach the content. It's never about I mean, I shouldn't say it's never about content, because it is per the state. But really, like, I'm not gonna walk into my class and tell them this is what we're going to learn today. And this is this what we're doing every day, you know, I'm not, that's not the first thing. I come in. And I say, Good morning, how are you? Do we have a good night? What did we have for breakfast? Like, I'm worried about them. The content will come. They will learn that content if you don't build that relationship with them first. So with all these bills and stuff, yeah, it's hectic, and it's always gonna be something, it really is. And then two years from now, it's probably going to change. So for me to say that it's frustrating. I mean, I don't use that language Anyway, like I address people by their names. I try to be respectful on, on like things they want to be called even even if it's not like what I believe, you know, I'm still respectful because they still care about people. As far as the race stuff going on, that was a heavy hitter. I was not in education when all the George Floyd and everything kind of exploded that year. I was working at the Board of DD at that time. But even then, it was rough. Like it was rough. I was afraid to go to work. And I had known and loved these people for a year and a half like i. So race is hard. But that that's part of the reason why I chose to work in a rural school versus in the city because I could have gone and taught in the city where there would have been multiple people that look like me, but I didn't choose that for a reason.

Katie Olmsted 18:57
What do you think your legacy will be with your students and maybe for future educators?

Calista Altenburger 19:04
That's a very deep question. My legacy that people first. People first. People first. That's it. Period.

Sandra Dowdy 19:14
As she was was describing the the last question as she was answering it, I thought to myself, I think that's probably what she picked up maybe the most from me is that she knows the students come first. I'm fortunate to be in a smaller school system. Some of them have been neighbors, you know, friends, children, I know a lot about the kids but some of them I don't know a lot about and when they come to me they come in they get a fresh you know slate to begin with. And then they learn. I hope fairly quickly that I want my room to be a safe room for them. I want to respect them, that I am somebody, I will hold out my hand to help you. Now you need to reach back and grab it. And I mean, there are some students that have done that. And I'm now referred to as grandma Sandy, by their children. You know, after 29 years of teaching, I've had second generations. And by the time I retire, I might have a third generation come through here of students. So I just, they know that they'll see me at their sporting events. They know that I'm a cheerleader for them. They also know that if I, if they come in my room, and I can tell this just happened this morning, that if I can tell they've been crying, I'm going to say, Hey, are you okay? Just like Calista said, I'm not just going to barrel ahead. I'm going to attend to that person's need at the time. And, you know, we can get subjects and predicates caught up in just a bit. But there's something above that. So each individual just knowing them learning them really, really loving on them,

Katie Olmsted 21:19
and bringing them into your family. Whether they're blood or not.

Calista Altenburger 21:23
Yeah, I do have a second brother now. He is my brother. He is uncle to my kids.

Katie Olmsted 21:29
And is he a teacher?

Sandra Dowdy 21:31
Not a teacher, but he was one of my former students.

Calista Altenburger 21:35
He did start school before he joined the service and in teaching, so he thought about it, he attempted

Katie Olmsted 21:41
An almost family business there. Well, I am so, so grateful to you both for sitting down and sharing your stories with me and our schools are better places because of people like you.

Sandra Dowdy 21:58
Aw, thank you.

Calista Altenburger 21:58
Thank you.

Katie Olmsted 21:58
Is education your family business, too? Do you want to share your family story on one of these Legacy of Education episodes? Or do you have any other ideas for upcoming episodes of the Education Matters podcast? Send me an email at New episodes drop every Thursday. Next week's episode features the 2023 Ohio Teacher of the Year. You don't want to miss it. Until next time, stay well.

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