Interviewer: Eli Gomez
Interviewee: Toby Kochenderfer
Date Interviewed: March 27, 2023
Edited By: Liam Larkin-Smith
Link to Youtube Upload: https://youtu.be/UrcgJue3vs0
Link to Sound Cloud Audio: https://on.soundcloud.com/qdUuh
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Eli: All right. It is a little bit before 05:00 p.m.. But it's Monday, around that time on KAMP student radio, which means it's time for another interview. My name is Eli Gomez, and today I'm interviewing Toby. Toby, my first question is, how do I pronounce your last name?
Toby: It's Toby. My first name is Toby, and my last name is Kochenderfer. Yeah. I don't know. I always hear people say they're like, oh, I was totally way more intimidated by how it actually was, but I don't know. Yeah, so it's a long one, but, yeah, that's my last name.
Eli: Awesome. How's your day been?
Toby: Pretty good. Pretty good. I don't know. Kind of just rolling back into the swing of things a little bit. I had a bit of a break from my work, so yeah, it's kind of nice to get the routines back because, I don't know, I think I'm someone who benefits a lot from a routine team.
Eli: Right? Definitely. So Toby was a former KAMPer when he was here at the University of Arizona. Tell me a little bit about your time in KAMP. I know you were here during the pandemic year, so all of our meetings were, like, on Zoom. Did you have a show while you were here in KAMP?
Toby: Yes, absolutely. And it's kind of funny. I'll go on, like, a little bit of an aside, if that's okay. I don't know. I'd always been interested in KAMP because, I don't know, I really like the process of discovering music, and I knew people who were in KAMP, but I was kind of a little embarrassed to join in the sort of way that I was kind of nervous to have a show. And I don't know. I don't think I was confident enough to kind of reach out and go out of my shell. But at the end of my college career, which was sort of as, like, COVID was still real, and, I mean, not that it's not real now, but, you know, like, everything was virtual, and I was like, you know what? Okay, I'm about to be done. Might as well come out of my shell, see if KAMP is still doing things. Because I know I had asked if it was still operable in fall of 2020, and I think it was a little bit disorganized just because everyone was and so I emailed again, reached out in January of 2021, and I got a response back, and it was like, entirely virtual, right. We would have meetings on Zoom. And I did end up having a show, which was actually, like, a really as someone who was, like, yeah, very anxious to have a show was a very nice way to ease me into kind of the social scene and stuff in a weird way. So I guess it was kind of like a blessing in disguise. So I did have a show. Yes. And that was my last semester of school, so I had that for just a semester, but it felt like a lot longer than that because it was a pretty impactful time of my college career, which was cool.
Eli: Yeah. It also took me a while to get out of my shell and actually have a show of my own. I didn't start that until, like, junior year of last year. Just until last year. But what was it like to have a show remotely?
Toby: It was funky because it was like a total piece-together set up. But I think that's what a lot of, specifically, community radio stations had been doing. I would log in onto a Zoom call with one of the music directors, and each of the music directors had, like, a different shift, and mine was Brody. So he would be on call hosting the Zoom, and I'd log in, and it was funny because Vic had the show right before me, and so he'd be finishing up his show, and he would screen share his screen, which was playing whatever he was playing. And it was funny because I could type in Zoom Chat, being like, Nice job. Oh, love this song. Like, blah, blah, blah, blah. I don't know, it's just kind of fun because Vic and I also shared a lot of similar music tastes too, so it was a fun experience. And then I think I had the last show of the night, too, so I'd be like, the one wrapping it up, and it'd be nice because I could type to Brody in the Zoom Chat, like, hey, can I play just one more song? I know it's a little bit of a hassle, and he's like, yeah, totally cool, whatever. But I don't know, it's just kind of funny. Like, there are so many. It's like, okay, there's one person who's got a Zoom call, and they're hosting, and they're the one who's connected to the actual what's getting broadcasted, like they're in the studio. And then I'm zoom calling them and screen sharing my screen, which is playing the music. So I'm like I'm not sure how high quality the music sounded when it was going through all those different layers, but it was just kind of funny. And I thought it was, like, a really creative and cool way to go about it, but it was nice because I was, like, in my little office, if you want to call it that, where I would do all my homework and then I'd have my little gosh, I can't even remember. I think I did have a mic because I took a photojournalism course that required me to get a mic. So I had that, which was kind of nice to have, and I'd just be, like, kind of plugged in, and all my roommates would kind of walk around and do their own thing, and they're like, oh, what's Toby doing? Oh, he's doing his radio show. Whatever. Yeah, it was a funny set up. Funny is, like, the best way I think I can put it.
Eli: Yeah, that's super interesting. I kind of wish I had had a show during that time just to see how that played out. Um, so tell me more about you being a student here at U of A. What did you major in?
Toby: Yeah, so I started off as a computer science major because I think I took, like, a coding course in high school. And that was, like, one of the things that really stuck with me. So I was like, yeah, I'm going to go along and do that. I don't know, it wasn't for me. I was like, oh, I'm going to be on, like, computers all day. I want to keep it a little bit more diverse. And at the time, I had to take a lab credit because all of the computer science and science majors have to take some sort of physical science with a lab, right. And I happened to take chemistry for whatever. Well, actually, I had an interest in chemistry in high school, but I saw that the only real path with that was biochem. For some reason. That was my impression, at least. And I was, like, a little intimidated by biology, so I didn't end up doing that firstly. But I was so enamored by the subject matter within my first two semesters, I had really good first two semesters of Gen Chem. And the professors were excellent, amazing, probably some of the best professors, at least for my learning style that I could have had. And so I was really fortunate. And it convinced me to take on a chem major, which didn't end up being really that much less computer work, because it's like, a lot of lab reports and all of that. But, yeah, that's what I majored in. And yeah, no, I did a bunch of different things with it. I kind of tried to explore everything I could do with that, but. Yeah, so I graduated in 2021, and I did a little bit of research while I was there, and then I did a little bit of teaching and stuff, too. But yeah, that's what my undergrad class experience, I think was like.
Eli: Very nice. What do you mean you explored everything you could do with it? Yeah, talking about trying research?
Toby: Trying a little bit of that and a little bit of all the little subgenres, if you want to call it that, of Chem, I felt because when I first got started, I've always thought the concept of renewable energy was really, really cool. So when I first started, I really wanted to be the person who's developing new batteries or new solar technology, I don't know, developing that sort of stuff. And I ended up getting into a research lab pretty early on. It was like my sophomore year, fall, sophomore year. And that was kind of such a strange experience that ended up being really serendipitous. I met so many people through there who are still super important in my life, but it ended up being a lot less like renewable energy stuff. And it was a polymer chemistry lab, so we were developing all sorts of plastics, and the whole sustainable lens of that was or flair of that was like, oh, we're making plastics from different feedstocks that aren't just like crude oil. And so one of the big ones that we did was sulfur. So we'd make these little sulfur plastics. And that was kind of cool. I didn't work specifically on that project. I was working on some sort of other stuff. But yeah, it was like organic chemistry applied to engineering, which is kind of cool. And then I did that for a while, but found out it wasn't for me. I didn't really love being in the lab because when you're in organic chemistry, you deal with some really gnarly chemicals. And it's kind of funny because of all the types of chemists, it so happens that organic chemists have a reputation for being like the cowboys of chemistry. As in they kind of just do whatever the heck they want. Just a dash of this and a dash of this and no awareness for any sort of safety, MSDS nonsense, stuff like that. At least in the research fields, that was like, kind of my experience. Like, obviously, you know, there was like, a lot of safety to be had, but like, you know, like, you you smell some certain things that you're like, this is this just took some years off my life on accident, you know?
Toby: So and then after I finished with that and then I moved on to work and this was summer 2020. So as COVID was going into effect, I got this internship at the University of Rhode Island, which basically kind of looked at the other side of, I guess, plastics. And the detection is like, when you're developing a lot of plastics, obviously there's a lot of waste and stuff. And a lot of that waste is super terrible for human health, animal health, like environmental health, everything. And that's called a big one of that is PFAS. Have you ever heard of PFAS?
Eli: I don't think so.
Toby: It's really interesting because they're what are called like, forever chemicals and it's basically like they're carbon chains that are substituted with a bunch of fluorines. And so they're using like, nonstick pans, a lot of rain repellent gear, so like outdoor gear. And these are the byproducts. And because they're so chemically resilient nonstick pans, nothing sticks to it. They're not going to degrade ever. And not to mention they're also like extraordinarily carcinogenic. So they're like all sorts of cancer causing stuff. And it's weirdly enough, Tucson is like, one of the places that has a large proportion of these chemicals, like latent in the like, you know, whether it be like, groundwater, soil, blah, blah, blah, blah, because of, you know, military practices. Um, which is kind of interesting. But it just so happened that I worked in Rhode Island, so total other side of the country. And because it was COVID, it was all remote, unfortunately. But yeah, that was cool. It was a chemical oceanography gig. So we were doing like, environmental sort of detection in waters, coastal waters. So I did that. And then while I was doing that, I did a little bit of preceptoring, which was kind of like the unsung hero of my undergrad experience. And I think that was maybe one of the as far as, like, academics go, that was the one that kind of stuck with me most. Yeah. And I think after I finished that, I was, like, a little researched out. And then I was a senior, so I was kind of ready to be out of college and the academic scene and all of that. Yeah. I ended up going from one side of the battery electrochemistry stuff to organic chemistry and then to analytical and environmental chemistry. I tried out geochemistry as, like, a course because that was kind of interesting. At least it sounded interesting. It was all right. But by the time that I was done, I had tried to take many different types of chemistry classes, so I knew what I really liked. Yeah.
Eli: What class did you preceptor?
Toby: It was environmental chemistry. It was cross listed as an environmental science class and, like, a hydrology class, maybe? It was Envs 340. So it was environmental chemistry. And it's kind of funny because you would get a bunch of Chem students who took it as an elective and then a bunch of environmental science class students who had to take that as, like, their upper division Chem class. So all the Chem students were like, yeah, we're happy to be here. And all the environmental science students were like, we hate this. But yeah, that was the class that I precepted for. And that was also remote, which was kind of just like, I really like this. It's really cool to see students like an idea click, because I think I'm someone who my brain understands chemistry, doesn't understand math quite as well, or history is, like, my worst subject. But, like, for whatever reason, I guess chemistry kind of sticks. So I'm like, okay, maybe I'll try and get this to stick for other people, because I think it is pretty cool, I think. Bottom line.
Eli: Right. Okay. So coming out of college after graduation, what was your track like, to what you do now which is teaching?
Toby: Yes. So I'm a teacher now, so I worked directly out, man. Um, if I do say so, like, my- adjusting to postgraduate life, I think was like a total hurricane for me because the realization that, oh, my gosh. And I don't think I was one of the sort of people who treats college as, like, biding time. But I think everyone kind of does in a way because, I mean, you've got certain priorities and all of a sudden you graduate and those priorities are nonexistent unless you go to upper schooling and et cetera. And I just had all this information that I took in and I didn't really know what to do with it yet, so I worked. Fortunately. I had a long, long time friend of mine, one of her parents had a startup sort of thing. And it was a material science lab that developed windows that you could tune how opaque or not they were based on. It's basically like transition sunglasses. But you turn a knob on by where a light switch would be and it would change color. And that's useful in Tucson because you're like, I want it to be darker in here. And you have those big panel glass windows, maybe if you're up in the foothills and then you tune those down and then all of a sudden it's darker and you can go watch a movie or something like that. I don't know. And that was cool. And that was a really amazing opportunity. Again, I think that was like, kind of final straw. I was like, yeah, research environment. Not for me, maybe not super stimulating for me, but. It's really cool because it's like you can get excited with things. But I think I'm also not meticulous enough of a person to be a really great experimental scientist. So as I did that because I was working that and that wasn't paying exactly enough for me to live off of because it was totally, totally entry level. And I also ended up working as a fitness trainer for a bit. And that was a really cool and really good job, I think, for being postgrad because it was super flexible, right. And I could teach classes at all different times of the day. I had, like, a 05:00 a.m class and then I had a 05:30 p.m 05:45 p.m class. When those mixed, it was a little brutal, right? Because I think they call it clopening when you have a closed open shift and that's like pretty rough. But yeah, I did that. And all the while I also had I was starting with my oh, when I finished off. Because I only worked a summer in that startup, and what kind of signaled me to leave was another family friend. Best advice I have for postgraduates is talk to the family friends. They can help you out. But I had a family friend who was a teacher, and she was like, hey, I know you haven't swam, because I used to swim in high school for a really long time. But, hey, would you be interested in coaching for the team that I swam for? Because she was a teacher at that same school, and I was like, oh, yeah, that would be awesome, because it was such a formative experience for me and I think a very important part of just my social development. And I was like, yeah, I'd love to. That's something I think I'd be passionate about. So I did that, and as I was doing that, I was like, okay, I really enjoyed my preceptorship, and I really like teaching these kids how to swim and how to swim well. And then I was also coaching, doing a fitness trainer. It's all different forms of teaching. And so by the time that January 2022 came around, I started my certification process because all online, and I was also working another job as an Americorps. I had all these weird little jobs that kind of made ends meet, but it was kind of hard to make ends meet. I don't know. There was, like, a part where I was working, like, three different jobs, none of them super demanding on their own, but as a whole, it was kind of crazy, but just kind of whatever. I could support myself while being kind of a student because it wasn't, like, a super crazy thing. And then I did my student teaching, which, fortunately, the program that I went through offers you can be in the classroom and actually get paid as, like, a full time, like, teacher and get your certification. So I was, like, doing my student teaching. I was like, yeah, I think I'm ready for the main classroom because I had a lot of experiences there. Now I'm in the classroom, and it's great, and it's the hardest job ever, but it's also, like, the most satisfying job ever. And, yeah, it's really required a lot of me, but I think that's a good thing, and I think that's kind of what I needed a little bit. So, yeah.
Eli: Very nice. So how has it been teaching? You haven't gone a full school year with your own classroom yet, right?
Toby: No, yeah, I took over a class, a classroom. I teach at the secondary level, so I teach high school, and I teach all the different grade levels from, like, 9th grade, mainly 9th graders. But I do have a class that's got a mix of, like, mainly juniors and seniors. I think there might be a few sophomores. And I took it over in the end of November, early December, and previously they had a teacher quit a month in and had substitutes on days that they could get substitutes. And so it was chaos. Still is chaos a little bit, which I think is good for me because I think I do well with the organized chaos, and I kind of like the organized chaos because I know myself. I'm not an organized enough person or consistent, like, can I was saying with the experimental science, like, not precise enough, I kind of just like, being like, okay, let's see what sticks. Let's see what works. It's been a huge challenge and so taxing and frustrating at times, but it's sort of weird because every time you're like, I can't do this. This is terrible. I'm just hitting my head against a wall over and over again. Suddenly that wall budges, and you're like, I can see the light now. And then you're riding that high for a bit, and that high is pretty awesome, and then you get frustrated again. But then so far, it's been, like, kind of a cycle, and I don't have much to speak about because, again, it's been four months now, four months that I've been doing this. So it's pretty new, totally new, right? I'm formulating my opinion, but again, I have to remember that my opinion isn't fully formed because I haven't even done this for a full year. But so far, it's been, like, again, as far as jobs go, the one that I'm like, okay, I can actually motivate myself to really try my all. Not that I wasn't motivated, but the most motivated that I've had with a job, which is cool.
Eli: I totally understand that. I'm also pursuing teaching for similar reasons. Like, I tried out researching. Not great, just too rigid of an environment for me.
Toby: You're an interviewer, but I'm going to ask you a question. Ah, I remember when we met, like, you were like, you really, really liked the research stuff. Yeah. Let's compare notes.
Eli: Yeah. So when you had met me yeah, I was in my research lab for I think it had been at least a full semester by then. And I enjoyed being able to discuss science. I enjoyed being in the lab and having hands on experience with actually manipulating things in the lab. But well, first off, the environment that I was in was pretty suffocating. We had a lab manager there for a while, and he was great. I loved him so much. His name was Saul, and he was, like, probably the best mentor I've had in anything, like, career related in my life so far. And then he left to pursue a graduate opportunity that he had just been offered, like, on a silver platter. And, well, the first sign that it wasn't going to be great after that was that our PI when he left was. Just like, you're so selfish. You shouldn't be pursuing that. You have responsibilities to me in this lab here. And he was like, goodbye.
Toby: Yeah, it's like, peace out.
Eli: And so the PI did not hire a new lab manager, so it fell into chaos. And I also like, chaos, but you can't have a chaotic research lab. That's that's just not productive at all.
Toby: My theory, like, I think what it could have, like, fixed my research experience a little bit. It's fun. It's funny that you say that would have been a lab manager, because I think from my experience, what made I felt very, like, I think I was very naive when I came in, and I had this idea of like, okay, I'm going to conduct science, and I'm going to work my way up. Right. And I'm working with a graduate student, and if I am putting in all of this work and helping out with those experiments, I'm going to be able to have my own project one day. I think that's not the most unreasonable thing to expect out of that. And I don't think my graduate student that I was working with really knew what to do with me, so I kind of ended up doing a lot of grunt work, which I think a lot of people's experience with undergrad research is grunt work. And I understand that you kind of got to pay the toll before you get to do the cool stuff, but it was a little bit, I think, too much,
Eli: It was excessive.
Toby: Totally. And I think, like, a lab manager, someone in between who's, like, their job is to kind of mentor, because I can't blame the grad students either because it's like they don't know what to do. They've got so much on their plate, and they're getting paid, like, a crummy amount. That's interesting.
Eli: Yeah. I didn't even have a grad student that I was working with. There were grad students in the lab, but they weren't assigned to the different interns. The interns were just kind of let loose to do the grunt work, be the workhorses for the base part of the lab, and even that promise of, like, okay, well, then you'll be able to do your own project once you get more experience in the lab and just get more acquainted with everything. I was like, that's not going to be really fulfilling for me, because I don't care too much about this research. And it dawned on me that I don't think I would care about a lot of research going on. I don't mean that any sort of, like, bad way, but. It's just it's too drawn out of a process for me.
Toby: You got to literally be like obsessed. Like, can't sleep.
Eli: Yeah, I don't think I have anything like that going on. If that arises for me in the future, then I'll pursue that because I do think the process of research is fun. It's just got to be something that I'm motivated for throughout I've started since I've been teaching and when you go through college, you learn the topics that are good enough to get you an A or B or whatever you want to get and that's kind of it. But having to learn a topic so well that you can relate it and then dumb it down and pack it up into a nice little parcel and present it is like a whole nother skill. And I know everyone says that, but it is really challenging. And it's weird because in having to do my own research to make lessons and stuff like that, I found things and I'm like, oh, this is actually really cool. And it's almost one of those things that, yeah, maybe in the future when I'm like 30, 40, whatever, I'd be like, yeah, I want to go back into research and do that when I am. Can't sleep a little bit about certain topics. But I also think, again, I found. I like I found myself like, you know, when as I'm falling asleep, I think about like, oh, what am I going to do tomorrow? And I've never done that before ever in research, which is unique. I don't know.
Eli: That's a great feeling.
Toby: I'm so excited for you to feel that because I think you will too, because I could definitely see you being like a really excellent teacher. But the insane part, again, I'm going to tie this back into the daily life stuff. I'm like for every moment, I feel like I have an awesome teacher moment. It's like I'm like I'm the worst teacher in the world. But I think everyone feels like that, whether they are truly a good teacher. And then it's like, what does it even mean to be a good teacher? I don't know, but I think if you can, I think it probably is a good sign if you, like, are thinking about it a lot. I think that usually is like and I think feel like people can tell when you are passionate about something. I suppose. Yeah.
Eli: So what has been your favorite part about teaching and what is grinding your gears the most?
Toby: I'm going to let the grind my gears. I'm going to let myself think about that as I'm talking. I'm going to talk about the things that I am grateful for. I'm super grateful for the co teachers or not co teachers, but because I don't have any co teachers, it would be awesome to have co teachers. As I've started teaching, I'd be like, it'd be so nice to have someone in the classroom who's like the main teacher, and then I'm the supplementary teacher, and then we switch roles. That's something that they talk a lot about in teachers education, but I haven't really seen it in Arizona, which is kind of probably obvious why you don't really see it. But again, that would be kind of a dream. But yeah, the other teachers in my department are super, super supportive. And it's really nice because it's like at lunch sometimes it just feels like because I didn't start off eating because I was again a little shy. But as I've gotten to know the other teachers, it's a bit like teachers therapy session, which is really fun and useful. Like, again, decompress a little bit.
Toby: Another thing I'm grateful for is also, like, I think the school that the site that I'm teaching at is one that I really, really sought out and had in my head, because I think that it has so much potential. And in that potential, there's just a lot of stuff available. And I think that it is not allocated as it could be now. And I think it would be also like a real I thought it would be a really good place to start teaching. And again, it's very, very convenient for me, too, which is, again, another reason I taught there. So that's what's amazing. I do really like my kids. And there was a point where, as a whole, I didn't when I first started. And I think at first I was, like, a little, like, ashamed to admit it, but think that's okay because I'm not going to like them every day just because I don't like that's kind of human. But the. I have really grown to like them. And I think when I was comparing them a lot to my, like, the kids that I would coach and the kids that I could coach when I first started, I kind of forget that they were probably really frustrating, too. And here's the thing. When you're coaching a high school sports team, you obviously lose some students. But the students that started when they're freshmen, if they come back, you see them four years in a row. So the first year might be a little, like, rusty and usually is for the freshmen, but as they come back, it's like, whoa, there's so much to work on. It feels like they're so ready to work on those things. So I was a little bit frustrated because I think my expectation was to have kids that were already ready for me, but they weren't, and I wasn't ready for them. But there have been some you do have your favorites and the ones that you're like, I think I am making a difference for them, or they really fill my cup. So, yeah, I'm really grateful for my kids as a whole, because even when kids are frustrating on a certain day, they come around on another day. Like I was saying, it's like 50/50. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day, nothing in between. And even the kids that I'm like, oh, my gosh, you are destroying me. On the regular. Sometimes it'll click, and I'm like, oh, that's great. Things that are grind. Oh, go ahead.
Eli: I just said, what a relief.
Toby: Yeah, no, and it is such a relief. And then they get frustrating again, things that are frustrating and. I think that they're one thing that was, I guess less like, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, but more just like a little overwhelming, totally overwhelming is the amount of help that is available for new teachers. And I say help as in kind of like it's not a suggestion. It's a here's, help, take this help. So there's like new teacher mentors that are kind of in your classroom all the time, and they give you feedback. And that's so far been super helpful. And it's such a skill to learn how to take feedback and not take it personally, especially when it's like you're given your heart and soul, even when you are doing not the best job ever. And that's, I think, a form of the good help. But then there's also all sorts of other little seminars that you have to sit through. And then there are good ones. For example, like this Thursday with the district I'm in, once a quarter, they do a professional learning Thursday. That's something that, again, I'm going to go back to thankful now. Really thankful that my district values professional learning developments as much as they do. I didn't realize it would be they really value further learning. So you have your bachelor's degree. Okay, let's increase your knowledge or fill in the gaps of things that you feel like not so good about. And it's. Ah, these, like, Thursdays could be an opportunity to just kind of, like, sit back on a zoom call and then just, like, you know, play on your phone the entire time. But it's also an opportunity, if you want to seek it out, to really go to some cool things. Like, I went to this really cool garden workshop thing that was talking about developing a student's farmer's almanac, and that was an in person thing, and it was really amazing. And that was put on, actually, by the U of A. Again, another thing to be grateful on. U of A actually puts a lot, a lot of really cool opportunities for teachers to increase stuff. I've gotten a lot of free stuff like lab equipment from a sustainability grant over at ENR Two. So really great stuff that U of A reaching out to that, like, universities and high schools working together. Just any school working together is, like, such a really invaluable resource. But again, there are some things that sometimes you do get put on the zoom call where you're like, I know all of this. I learned all of this a million times, and it's not really useful, and you got to feel, like, a little bit bad for the people running it, because they probably do see that nobody's engaged, and it must not feel great. But again, there are things like that where I'm like, do I really have to spend my Monday evening doing this? Like, oh, my God, I just spent 8 hours in the classroom doing my job, really? And so that's something. And I do think some of the support that teachers get and I'll just say this in a blanket way, administration hasn't been all that helpful. It's actually been very unhelpful with a lot of things. Like, for example, I don't even have a key card for the building that I work in. I can't get into school unless someone lets me in.
Eli: Oh, my Gosh.
Toby: So I'm going on like, I think the record, from what I've heard from other teachers, is six months, and that's the longest someone's gone without a key card. I'm getting there. I'm shooting for the record. Ah, so so, yeah, like and again, like, it's not like, I'm just like, I'll deal with that later. No, like, I've asked a lot of times. Yeah, yeah. But again, like, I think, like, positive mindset sort of nonsense. Like, I look at, like, some of the annoying administrative stuff as, like, an opportunity for me to, like, learn how to speak out and kind to stand my ground, because I'm definitely not a person to sort of do that. And when I first started, I did let them step on me a lot and kind of just be like, you're doing this wrong, you're doing this wrong, you're doing this wrong. And I know I wasn't or I was like, that's kind of annoying and obnoxious. So it's been a really good opportunity for me to learn how to be a little bit more assertive, which is super hard in the workplace, I think, because it's like you're essentially living with these people, so you got to kind of get along on one half, but on the other half, it's like you can't let them just run all over you either. So yeah, that's, like, a lowdown of my positive and negatives on the day to day, though. It's exhausting, but I do love it.
Eli: It's fulfilling work.
Toby: Yeah, totally. And I guess there's, like, part of the thing that ailed me a bit with research was that I kind of was asking the same question, and I was like, who cares a little bit. And I guess that's, like, the point of research is, like, it wouldn't be research if, like, everyone cared because everyone would know it. Right.
It's, like, finding the things that people don't know, and that's, like, the nature of it. But, like, you know, teaching, I guess, in like, a broaden, like, abstract sense is like, something that's been around for, like, a long, long time. Like, that's like a trade. It's a trade. And so there's a reason why it's survived that long is because it's fulfilling work and it's honest work, whatever that means, but super fulfilled by it. I'm going to date myself because this is getting recorded, and I'll hear this later, but being that I'm new and probably still and definitely still naive about it, when you hear other teachers talking to young folks who are like, I want to be a teacher when I grow up, then they're like, don't do it. I don't feel that way. I think it's worth pursuing, and I hope that ages well. For me, absolutely.
Eli: There's a greenhouse on top of your school, right?
Eli: Are you involved with that yet, or do you want to be?
Toby: Yes. And there are a few things. If anyone would love to throw me some money, it's in dire straits right now. Don't throw me money. It's okay. But it works from September up until around, like, April, May, what I've heard. I haven't experienced any of that stretch yet, but it supposedly gets, like, insanely unlivable. Like you can't grow anything. There is an aquaponic system up there, so the Tilapia do somehow survive despite the crazy 120 degree plus temperatures that go on in there. The thing is, it's just old, and there hasn't been anyone who has known how to take care of it for a while. And I'll be honest, I don't know the ins and outs of greenhouse management. I know how to grow the stuff in it, but not taking care of it. So I'm kind of waiting for someone who unfortunately, there actually is. At my site, there is a special education teacher who has worked a lot in greenhouses and seems super, like he's like, we need this, this and this. And I was like, yes. So, yeah, another thing to be grateful about my site, I think there are a lot of really passionate teachers about it and people who are full on like, this is it. This is what I want to be doing, which I think is really, really cool. And there are a lot of young teachers, too, which, again, is really good as a young teacher myself, to be surrounded by people I can relate to more. Not that I can't relate to old people, but it does make a difference. So, yeah, I do use the greenhouse, though. In one of my classes, I teach a plant science class, and I try to prioritize once a week a day that we're working either in the greenhouse or there is also a school garden. As things have warmed up, we've been able to do more stuff in the school garden because we were planting a lot of starts. And what I'd do was kind of fun is I'd talk about a plant family of the week. So we talked about Asters, so the Asteraceae family. So we got our sunflowers, lettuce, anything with like a compound flower. So it's got like the seeds in the middle that were little flowers before their seeds and then the radial flowers on the outside. And we'd talk about that and talk about how you identify them, some different types a term. I didn't learn it until I was having to teach myself. A lot of this stuff was ethnobotany, which is a really cool word.
Eli: I'm not familiar.
Toby: It is essentially like how humans so, like, ethno, like. Like, think of, like, an ethnocenter, like an ethno religion or whatever. So it's like how certain groups of humans used crops. So botany plants, historically. So, again, like rubber, it's a very ethnobotanical product. Food, any culinary stuff that's a valid ethnobotanical use. Medicines, stuff like that. So for any given family, right, because they're a bunch of stuff in one family, depending on the family, there's a lot of different ethno botanical uses. And for any given plant, they're probably, like, tons. And depending on the culture that you look at, so you can get some of those kind of cross-cultural topics, which is really cool. Anyway, we did this family of the week, and we got to plant some of the seeds of the family. I would just order a bunch of little seed packets. I'd try to prioritize native stuff a, because it would grow better, and B, because I think it's important for people to understand what's around them a little bit better. Because growing up here, because I grew up here, I knew what lettuce was, but I didn't know what the plants around me were. And that you could eat a lot of the plants, I don't know Palo Verde trees, which are the ones with the green trunks and then the amazing yellow blossoms that are about to go like crazy, probably in the next week. And you'll see them everywhere. Once those flowers go to seed, it'll be like a green bean, because it's a bean, it's a legume. It's in that family, you can steam or blanch the bean pods and salt them and eat them like edamame.
Toby: Yeah, and they don't and it doesn't taste exactly like it. They've got they're a little bit more bitter, in my opinion, than, like, your typical soybean, but you can eat them the same way, and, like, you'll see a million of them before they get all brown and crispy like, so just pick some and yeah, that's something that like. Is totally removed from our local knowledge, I feel like.
Eli: Yeah, I'm absolutely going to be doing that this year.
Toby: Recommend it. And there are all sorts of other things, like, everyone does, like the Mesquite bean flour thing, which, I'll be honest, I don't really love Mesquite flour that much. It's a little like Mesquite bean flour pancakes. I don't know. Yeah. So we are using the greenhouse because I like the hands-on stuff. It's not perfect, though. I think this plant science is my juniors and seniors and it's a tough crowd because half of them are a little bit checked out, right, because they're ready to graduate. And they're also a little bit, like, shy and self conscious, right. Because they're not the silly freshmen who are all over the place. They're becoming poised adults and they're a little bit more quiet, so it's a little harder to impress them. And I need to figure out what tricks I need to have up my sleeve. So, yeah, it's not perfect, but I do like to have the greenhouse because it also makes my day more fun, too. Oh, yeah.
Eli: Can I ask how you got into plants and gardening? Because I know you have a wonderful, wonderful garden at your home.
Toby: Thank you. Yeah. I think actually, my freshman year of college, there was, like, one of those little dorm. You know how, like, the RAs always try to do, like, the little things, and I was always like, I'm never going to go to one of those. But I went to one and it was like our RA just had little sunflower packets. Her name was Zoskia. Never going to listen but shout out there, but she had these little sunflower packets and she added us, like, planting them in little pots. And I had that in my dorm window and it was just yeah, so it started off with sunflowers, and unfortunately, I was out of town over the summer and I left that to my parents and my dogs ate the sunflower so that sunflower did not survive, but during the pandemic. And I had always been like, I want to do that, but I don't know where to start because it's, like, so daunting to start. But over the pandemic, everyone's really bored. And I built myself a little planter out of bricks in my south facing window at my old house and put in some garden soil and planted a bunch of sunflowers. And I had sunflowers growing. And I didn't know how to garden in the summer. And I didn't know anything about seasonality, like when to water or how you could keep crops alive in 110, 120 degree weather. Plus, they were faced right against a white brick wall, so they were getting all that reflected heat, and yeah, they didn't survive. Yeah, but yeah, I started off trying gardening in terracotta pots. Turns out, like, terracotta pots are not user friendly because container gardening is kind of hard. And I still don't really love container gardening, but I don't know, I just tried a lot, and there are a lot of cool resources for free plants and seeds in Tucson. Like, the Pima County Library has a seed library, which
Eli: I just rented my first pair of seeds.
Toby: What did you get?
Eli: little pack of seeds? I don't remember. I got a flower. I don't remember what the flower is. I actually have the packet in my backpack, though, with a few left, and I'm hoping they didn't germinate because I had kind of wet hands when I was like them back in, and I haven't checked them since then. Although the ones that I did plant in this little pot that held up bromeliad that I had gotten last semester, bloom died without any daughter. Yeah, but I reused the soil for this, and they've germinated and they've started sprouting out. And I'm excited to see these flowers. Yeah, this is the first thing that I've planted. Exactly. I'm so grateful to the Pima County for just, like, letting you rent.
Toby: It's an insane resource, and I wish I knew more about this because when I first got started, I was buying seeds. And I wish I knew about this, because the cool thing, too, is that they've been grown locally. So all the seeds have gone through one generation or more of hot summers or, like, things. So there's actual epigenetic information within the seeds that every generation, they get a little bit better at surviving the hot summer or the colder than usual winter that we had this winter, stuff like that. It's, like, a totally invaluable resource. That everyone should at least visit.
Eli: Yeah, at least know about, too. I just did not know about it until I just seen it at the library when I was there last month.
Toby: The Himmel Park one?
Eli: This is the Douglas something library. I didn't know south by, like, the Costco.
Toby: I didn't know that they because to my knowledge, I thought they only had it at the downtown library in the We'll Park One. But that's excellent that they've moved it around. Yeah. Actually, I give my kids extra credit if they check out Seeds of the Seed Library. I'm like, you have to do this. You have to do this, or at least visit it because yeah, of course, no high school kids going to be able to afford that. But maybe they'll plant a seed and I don't know. I think that's a skill that everyone should do, because it is very satisfying to take care of something and see it thrive like that. That's so cool. You got some flowers and that's so amazing. Yeah. And so you've got things sprouted, and you said you had a bromeliad before. Have you seen any of the photos of where bromeliads will thrive? Because they're native I don't know if they're all native to South America, but they're a lot thrive there and are originally from there. And they'll be growing on, like, telephone wires and stuff like that. Yeah, because they I'm trying to remember. I think they don't have botanically, they don't have roots. Like, and so, like, every plant typically has, you know, like, the roots leave stem and sometimes flowers, depending on the plant, some sort of reproductive like mechanism. Right. So it has those four things, but for every, like, rule, there's an exception. Right. Like, certain plants don't have leaves, and, like, orchids, for example, don't really have stems. They have the flowers and they have the leaves and the roots, but not that. And I think bromeliads don't have roots because they usually grow in places where they don't need to go very far in order to get moisture and nutrients and stuff. So they'll just be, like, tumbleweeds on a beach in some places.
Toby: Yeah, that's kind of kind of a fun thing. And also, pineapples are in the same family as bromeliads, which makes sense if you see, like, the spikiness of the little top. That's kind of funky. Yeah.
Eli: Very strange. What's your favorite thing that you've grown in your garden?
Toby: Something that I am. Knock on wood. Like, hope it works. That I'm growing now is I got two types of indigo. One's a native indigo, and it's in the legume family, and it sits a perennial. So it'll come back each year and not like an annual crop that dies off. And then you get the seeds, and then next year you have the children of that plant or whatever. And then I got that, and then an indigo plant. That's an annual. And it's native to Japan. I guess indigo is super huge in Japan formerly, and I guess currently it's like a huge export of Japan. And so it's due to this one plant, and I forget what its name is, aside from Japanese indigo, its common name, but yeah, it kind of grows like basil, and I'm hoping those work out. As far as plants that I've grown before that I really, really like, I do still love sunflowers. I think, like, one of my favorite plants to grow just because they get so huge and it's kind of wild that they can they're just the stalk themselves, like, can get so massive. It's crazy that just, like, soil and the nutrients in the soil and the seed itself can make something that large. Right now. I got a bunch of wildflowers and they're all coming up right now. And one that I just got a bloom of and I'll show you a photo after. It's a golden columbine and they look like shooting stars.
Eli: Oh, wow.
Toby: And they're native to here. And I think that's my favorite one. And I didn't expect it to actually work because usually everything that I expect to work doesn't work. And everything that I kind of just cast aside and just randomly haphazardly throw will work. I totally under the motto of be a lazy gardener. And whatever the path of least resistance is, the ideas that I have meticulously planned and together never work out. But again, it's always like the little sprouts that are in the compost heap that you didn't expect to grow. They grow and they thrive. And then that's what you're eating. That's the squash that you're eating next year. That gross compost pile. Yeah. But right now I think it's the columbine, the golden columbine, which is the Buttercup family. It's kind of cool. You see them a bunch on Mount Lemmon, especially near once you get over the once it starts to get more pine trees closer to the top. Probably like winter Haven area or sorry, summer Haven area. You'll see a bunch of those kind of in, like, the early summer, and they just pop out amongst the ferns and they're really pretty. Yes. That's my favorite thing that I've grown.
Eli: That's wonderful. And we are coming up on being actually, wait, is that
Toby: Are we past time?
Eli: Yeah. So let's go ahead and wrap up. I don't think I had any other big questions I wanted to ask you. Is there anything else you wanted to share?
Toby: I don't know. I guess tie it back around to my experience at KAMP. If there is ever a chance of anyone who's, like, a U of A student coming in, I think this is, like, a really invaluable source. Again, we talked about, like, invaluable sources in, like, the Pima County Seed Library. I think KAMP is, like, one of those things that really, really made my experience at the U of A. I felt like I met the college friends through KAMP, which was really cool because I hadn't met all that. Like, I had people within my major, but, like, this is, like, an insane social opportunity. And just, like, there's so many knowledgeable people about who know so much about so many varieties of music, fashion, art, movies, everything culturally related. And, I mean, there are tons of science majors and stuff, too, so it's like, just super knowledgeable people and open minded. And I think the open minded is, like, I think the key part that makes it really, really special.
Eli: Yeah, I'd say the same thing. This has been my group throughout all of college, and as I'm getting ready to graduate here, I've just been so thankful for being able to interact with such a diverse group of students throughout these four years. It's fantastic. It has given me exactly what you're saying, my college friends, and I'm very happy with the people that I'll be in contact with after I graduate college. It'll be fun.
Eli: Well, thank you so much for coming here.
Toby: Thank you so much for having me.
Eli: This has been delightful, and yeah, I think we'll end it off there. So thank you all. If you were listening and you can catch this on KAMP student radio when the recording goes live, that'll be in about a few days to a week. So thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful night.
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