Key Elementary School, 4th Grade, Teacher for 39 years
Why did you become a teacher?
I wanted to help young people feel good about themselves and I wanted to give back what has been given to me from my family in past generations. All of us were either teachers or administrators, and I have been giving back for 39 years. I love children, I love everything about teaching.
When their eyes light up, it feels great to be a part of that. It is a joy to get up in the morning and head off to Key and know that every day the children will learn something new from me. They come into my classroom─[to interviewer]: you’d see what I mean if you visited, you should come visit─and they just love to learn.
I teach through the arts, so they are learning and having a great time. There is not a dull moment. Even the kids that some teachers warn me about—the challenges—they are the ones I look forward to. Without them, there’s no joy. In fact they are really not challenges, they are delightful, because they are the ones that come back later and say they had the best year of their life so far with you. Their parents come, they write little notes, you see it later.
Who was your favorite teacher (by name) and why?
My teachers were so good. But my favorite teacher was in junior high school, Ms. Summers. She took a personal interest in her students. For me, it made me stronger. It even made me decide to be a teacher myself.
As an adult, it was a principal, actually. Ms. Joyce Jamison in Washington, DC taught me so much about teaching children in the inner city. The children needed the academics, but more. She taught me how to reach them.
Three adjectives that describe your job:
Exciting, exhilarating, dynamic.
What is one thing that you wish someone had told you when you were a first year teacher?
Don’t yell. Don’t raise your voice. It’s unnecessary.
What's one thing your students have taught you about being a better teacher?
They have taught me patience. They come to school with so many challenges, and if you just wait on it, just be patient about it and keep going, and the children will get the skills they need. You have to repeat and keep at it, but it is all patience, taking your time to get there.
Sometimes you think that your children should get it all the first time. You think, “They didn’t get it, they don’t understand.” They will. Be patient, because it will come. There isn’t a rush and you can’t expect them to grasp it immediately. They taught me that. All my children are smart. Very bright children. They listen and respect me (thank goodness). I think it’s also age; I’m 60 years old.
Tell a little about a time when a student's accomplishments completely exceeded your expectations. Or, tell a little about a time when you were inspired by a student.
I have a lot that exceed and so many that inspire me. But I will always remember a student who had cancer when she came to me. She was taking her chemo and was sick every day, throwing up.
I said to her mom, “I don’t think she is going to be able to come to class each day, I don’t know if she can make it in school through the year.” But she did. She exceeded every expectation. I thought she would have to be home schooled. But this child was determined she was not going to stay home.
I would set up a flexible screen and cot for her, and I could not believe that she was able to come, almost every day. She would do her assignments, and this almost brought tears to my eyes—we had a personal dispenser—because you know she would throw up because of the chemo.
Our school was being expanded and we were in demountables, so all her mom had to do was bring what she needed to the back door—medicine, whatever. Her mom would come and go. The home school tutor would call me, although the student was coming every day, but the tutor called every night to make sure all her assignments were completed after school hours, so she could do all of the school hours and still do all of the homework.
She made straight A’s and wrote an essay that year for Global Harmony for Excellence. She won first prize. I could not believe that all of this happened, but it did because she just did not want to miss class, go home, or give up.
Whenever I would call her mother and say I don’t think she can make it through the day, and her mother would come, this child wouldn’t go because she wanted to stay in school. That baby just went on. I wasn’t sure if she would live, she was frail sick, no hair, the whole deal. I would go home crying about her and she just went and did it.
This year she is a senior at Wilson and her cancer is in remission. She is going to college next year. She exceeded my expectations. I have many others I could tell you about but none as close to my heart as her.
Why is teaching an incredibly important job?
Children are our future and will have to lead the way. It is so important, so important that we lead the way for them now. There is something about teaching children respect and empathy—I teach it. It is something that we have to be good role models about. We think, what is that, what does that mean?
Teachers most of the time think about the academics and—and Rhee may want to get me on this [laughs]—but I don’t think it is about academics first. If children come to school with a good attitude of caring, sharing and respecting others, they will want to excel.
To be truly well educated you need to learn the respect and other character traits they will need (How are you going to learn if you are sassing?). They need these lessons and when they learn them, that is why they succeed.
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