Public Education Matters

A passion for education seems to run in families, and it is not uncommon for Ohioans to follow their parent's footsteps into the education profession. In Part One of a new series on Education Matters, we're hearing from Vermillion High School teacher Rebecca Jessen and her daughter, James, who is in her first semester as an Art Education major at Ashland University.

Show Notes

A Legacy of Education: The Jessens - Season 3, Episode 10
A passion for education seems to run in families, and it is not uncommon for Ohioans to follow their parent's footsteps into the education profession. In Part One of a new series on Education Matters, we're hearing from Vermillion High School teacher Rebecca Jessen and her daughter, James, who is in her first semester as an Art Education major at Ashland University. 
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Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Rebecca Jessen, Vermillion High School teacher, Vermillion, Ohio
    • Rebecca Jessen is a career educator who has taught at both the high school and collegiate levels. Rebecca earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in biology from Bowling Green State University. She has been teaching biology at Vermilion High School for twenty years. Rebecca served as the president of Vermilion Teachers Association for over a decade and is currently a building representative, a member of the negotiating team and the building labor relations committee, and chair of the Lakeshore 58 leadership council. Rebecca resides on Catawba Island with her fiance David, her daughter James (when home from college), and their dog, Dolly.
  • James Jessen, Aspiring Educator, Ashland University
    • James Jessen is a 2022 graduate of Vermilion High School and is presently an art education major at Ashland University. She is a member of the Ashland University marching band and art club, a member of the National Honor Society and was a delegate to Buckeye Girls State. James is a portrait artist and owns her own business, James and the Giant Canvas. She is a member of the Greater Port Clinton Area Arts Council and NEA/OEA Aspiring Educators. James currently resides at Ashland University and she misses her dog, Dolly.
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 September 27, 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

Unknown Speaker 0:07
This is education matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Thank you for joining us for this edition of education matters. And part one in a new series of special episodes that we're calling a legacy of education. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association. And I come from a family of educators. My mom was a teacher for 40 years. Both of my sisters are teachers now. I have a brother in law who was a teacher too. And although I'm the odd one out in my family because I'm not a teacher, my family is certainly not unique. A passion for education seems to run in families. And it's not that uncommon to hear about educators who have followed in a parent's footsteps into the education profession. It truly is a family legacy. We'll be talking to several different families throughout the rest of this season of education matters, all with different stories to tell; all at different places in their careers. And up first, a conversation with James and Rebecca Jessen. Rebecca Jessen has taught at Vermillion High School for 20 years, and has been a leader in her local association for decades. Her daughter, James, is an aspiring educator getting started in the education profession. When we spoke to the Jessens, James was only about a month into her first semester at Ashland University where she's studying art education. But even if she's just starting out in her college courses, teaching and unionism have been in James's blood her entire life. Let's take a listen. Rebecca, and James, thank you so much for coming together with me. Through the magic of zoom, we're all in the same place, at least virtually to have this important conversation. It sounds like the educator lifestyle is something that was really strong in your family.

Rebecca Jessen 2:14
Absolutely. This is Rebecca. And absolutely, I have no fewer than six aunts and uncles that are teachers. And I always wanted to be a teacher. And I taught at the university level before the High School. But once I got to the high school, I've been teaching high school for 20 years. And in my very first year, another member of the Union, local union leadership said to me, you would be really good building wrap. And 20 years later, I was president for over a decade. And I have bargained contracts and done pretty much everything there is to do. And it's been really an integral part of my career, being in the union leadership.

Katie Olmsted 3:01
And James, you're an aspiring educator at Ashland University now, but your mom says that you have basically been a union member for 18 years now.

James Jessen 3:11
Yeah, that's true. I have basically been to so many union meetings, just you know, sitting in the background with my mom growing up as she's leading a whole discussion about something or other while I'm, you know, reading a book or doing homework or something like that.

Katie Olmsted 3:35
So which came first, your desire to enter into that union family as an adult, or your desire to become an educator?

James Jessen 3:46
Um, I'd say that throughout high school, and towards the end of middle school, I was starting to think about a career choice. And I immediately knew I have to do something in the arts, I have to do visual art. There's nothing else that I can do as a career, that will make me happy. Like, I feel as though I should be able to do that regularly in a career. And so I started thinking of career paths with my mom, like, as the years went on, and we were talking about it and talking about it. I thought about going into library sciences working at museums or something like that. And I just I kept thinking about it. And nothing really actually appealed to me very much. And then around 10th grade, I'd say, I You said to my mom, at some point, we were driving the car, I was like, Wouldn't it be so great if I could just be a teacher, being our teacher, and she was like, Why can't you? And I guess I kind of just assumed that I wouldn't get a job. But I feel like Thinking about it. It's the only thing that I'd ever really want to do. I'd say my desire to be an educator really came first. I think the union stuff is really, really important. But I think that my passion to be an educator really came in high school. And towards the end of that,

Katie Olmsted 5:22
and Rebecca, what was it like for you, when you heard her say, Well, why can't I? Or wouldn't it be great if I were an art teacher?

Rebecca Jessen 5:31
I guess I had never heard that before. And I distinctly remember this conversation. James and I live 45 minutes away from school. So we spend a lot of time in the car together. And it's funny, because

Katie Olmsted 5:43
it's an audio only podcast, but James just rolled her eyes so far back in her head about that.

Rebecca Jessen 5:47
A lot of car time. And James stayed a lot in late nights at school through executive meetings and board meetings and everything else. And, you know, I said, What do you mean, why can't you be a teacher? And she said, well, there won't be any jobs for art teachers. And I think, you know, the pandemic, and our current political situation has really expanded opportunities for young people to get into education really, in any field. And I said to her, let's do that. If that's what's going to make you, you know, happy. I haven't heard this from you yet. And that was a great moment for us, because we could move forward with that in mind in planning her future.

Katie Olmsted 6:31
Do you think James is going to be a great teacher?

Rebecca Jessen 6:34
I think James is already a great teacher. I get asked an awful lot. Why do you do all these things with the union? It takes so much time? And why would you want to do that? And it's exhausting and phone calls come at midnight, and things like that? And I reflect on that question often. And my answer to that is always, I cannot stand to see people with power step on those who don't have it. And that's my driving force always. And I will say this James Jessen is not the person that needs to be on the center of the stage, she has never wanted to be right out front. But when someone who is marginalized or has lacks privilege, or is on the sidelines, is stepped on, James Johnson becomes 10 feet tall, and she will rage. In defense of that person, she will ride into battle, swinging her sword. And it is awesome to behold, it really is. And I know that she is going to champion her students just that way. And setting aside the art, which she is an incredible artist. She really just makes a huge connection with young people, and has spent a lot of time volunteering and younger classrooms. And just I like to say that, as a teacher, you really need to have what I call with fitness, you need to be able to run the room. And James has it. And I've seen it and my colleagues have seen it and just told me she's going to be incredible. I just know it. I believe that

Katie Olmsted 8:31
I love hearing how proud you are of James and how much you believe in James. James is the feeling mutual. I mean, what's it like for you seeing what your mom has accomplished over her career?

James Jessen 8:44
Um, well, I'd say that in general. Having a teacher mom was like, this is definitely an experience that few really have especially having Becky Jessen as their teacher mom. You know, lots of lots of awkwardness being in the classroom. But um, you know, and you know, just just who she is lots of lots of lots of mom slash daughter fights and whatnot, but you know, we get along okay. I think that regardless of any of that awkwardness, I think it's been a great opportunity and experience watching one of the pros, I'm I'm a very right brain person, and I don't really I haven't growing up been very good at managing tasks and getting things done. It's been hard for me but because I had such a good, influential type A personality left brained person managing me You know, it was good to watch her do what she did, just the way that she teaches and the way she interacts with her colleagues and her, her bosses and all of that. I'd say that me and my mom are really different people fundamentally. But I think I've learned a lot of stuff from her. And I think she's even learned a few things for me. So, overall, really good experience growing up with a teacher, parent, and I really appreciate her.

Rebecca Jessen 10:33
Thanks, kid.

Katie Olmsted 10:35
It sounds like your personalities complement each other very well. James has rolled her eyes again. So it sounds like you got some yin yang things going on here. Very different people who come together in a way that I think is, is really beautiful, at least as an outsider looking in on it. Would you want to emulate your mom's style as a teacher? Or is this something where you're looking at the way she teaches? And saying, I got this my own way?

James Jessen 11:08
I'd say that, you know, a lot of wouldn't be being asking, ask questions that kind of like that. I feel like there's never a yes or no answer to that. The especially because me and my mom are so different. I mean, she's teaching biology, and I'm teaching, you know, art. But I'd say that there are a lot of things and a lot of styles that my mom kind of has, and methods that she uses that are really important and really strong. And overall, she's a really good teacher. I mean, I'll come out and say it. I mean, like, there are teachers that I mean, don't do a whole lot. But my mom does a lot like she's never sitting down in class. She's like, always up running around the classroom. And I think that's something that I want to emulate. There are a lot of lessons that she's taught that she's just good at it. On the other hand, I'm teaching like art and stuff. So I think, I mean, I can't think of anything specifically. But there things that I won't do exactly the way she does. But I think there are lots of things that she does that I do want to emulate some mixture.

Katie Olmsted 12:35
Rebecca, do you have advice for James?

Rebecca Jessen 12:39
Um, gosh, I feel some days, I feel like she's already got it all figured out. I think as a teacher, you just have to be really open to the reality. And I think she's already kind of touched on this, that it takes all kinds. There's not one good way to be a teacher. And we all like our own way. But there's lots of different kinds of kids. And so there have to be lots of different kinds of teachers. And I think she knows that. I think she's going to be terrific. And I think that my only advice would be stay organized.

James Jessen 13:20
I've got I try.

Katie Olmsted 13:25
Is there a level of resilience that you think is required, especially for early career educators, and especially right now, with our political climate where our public schools are sort of in the crossfire for culture wars that have nothing to do with our kids? There's a lot of scapegoating, for educators and a lot of accusations about things that are just not happening in our schools. What would you tell James, about how to survive that into thrive? For her students?

Rebecca Jessen 13:56
I would say that you really have to see your union membership as your family and your team. And you need to surround yourself with those people and rely on them. You need to participate in the process. It is much too easy for teachers and every other profession to stand on the sidelines and say, This isn't right. That isn't right. We have to participate. We have to vote. We have to be involved at the ground level and on up. And when we do that we have a voice in the situation. Yeah, there's a lot going on out there. But like everything else, there's a flavor of the month. And what is hard right now will be different next year. And there's always another school year and there's always another set of students and you will make it through this one. And then it'll be something different. It never is boring. That is for sure.

Katie Olmsted 15:00
James, do you have any hesitation about entering this workforce? Knowing the situation?

James Jessen 15:07
Clearly, a lot of a lot of people are saying what you guys are saying, you know, the political climate is crazy, everything's crazy. But something that one of my professors said pretty recently, that I really think is important to keep in mind is that education goes hand in hand with society. And it always will. I think that it's always crazy. There's always something going on. I mean, I'm gonna do like what I want to do, regardless of what's going on, I think, politically, and socially, I think I should be able to choose the career I want to do. Even if things are weird. You know, I think that's that's my basic opinion on that. I think that methods and education, and what we do is going to have to change a lot and has changed a lot through hundreds of years, depending on what society looks like. And if I'm right or wrong with that, but I feel like it's pretty Correct.

Katie Olmsted 16:29
Rebecca, do you want James to be an educator in this environment? Do you wish you could change that for her?

Rebecca Jessen 16:40
Well, a whole heck of a lot has happened in the last couple of years. And really, at the speed of light, you know, there's something to be said, for trial by fire. I am hoping that, you know, James just started her program and education four weeks ago. She's a freshman. And I'm hoping in the next four years that things will smooth out a bit. But the reality is that children will always need to be educated. And James has a passion for art. And she's already a great teacher. And I think she has a lot of growth, of course to do and a lot of things to learn. But I have a lot to learn best for sure. I would never say to my child, don't seek your passion and don't do what you're good at, because it's too scary. Because I have never met stronger, scarier people than teachers. And I think that we can take on anything I truly do. And I think if she surrounds herself with colleagues, and really makes those connections, and this is true, as an undergrad as well, right, surrounding ourselves with people who will be her colleagues and will be her mentors. She is going to really have a soft landing as any new teacher can.

Katie Olmsted 18:07
That workforce is one person stronger with James in there. Just one more voice standing up to do what's right for our students.

Rebecca Jessen 18:17
Very true.

Katie Olmsted 18:18
Rebecca, James, thank you so much for sitting down with me and sharing your stories.

Rebecca Jessen 18:24
Thank you for having us.

James Jessen 18:25
Yeah, thanks a lot.

Katie Olmsted 18:29
Do you have a story you'd like to share here on education matters? Please send us an email at You can connect with the Ohio Education Association anytime on social media to we're @OhioEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We'll share more Legacy of Education episodes over the next several weeks and months here on education matters, as well as conversations on a huge variety of other topics. New episodes drop every Thursday. And you are welcome to subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts. We're on Apple, Google Spotify, Pandora, you name it. We're there. You just have to find us and hit that subscribe button so you don't miss an episode in the future. Until next time, stay well.

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