Teachers are my heroes.
Teaching is something that I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I assisted my classmates, tutored younger kids, and, of course, imparted much wisdom to my younger siblings (even if they didn’t want it, the ingrates!).
When I got older, and questions about the nature of my future plans came up, the profession tempted me. But I resisted. It seemed too much like babysitting, and of course there was the low pay to consider. And, if I’m being honest, it seemed too much like a lady job, and I had no interest in that. So I did a variety of other jobs, which were not lady jobs and didn’t resemble babysitting, but still didn’t pay very well. Additionally, these jobs did not contribute anything of worth to the world and could have been done by a turtle. In order to “give back,” I started volunteering with kids again, and it was then that the truth smacked me between the eyes: I really should be a teacher.
I got my Master’s of Art in Teaching at Brown University. The program is three semesters long. First, the twelve or so grad students in the elementary education cohort plan and implement a summer school program with help from expert teachers. Then, grad students spend the two subsequent semesters gaining practicum work at a Providence, RI school while taking courses in art, science, math, literacy, and educational practice/theory from wonderful professors, many of whom still teach in elementary classrooms themselves. The program was challenging and intense, but worth every single moment. I adored my professors and fellow grad students, and felt well prepared (or, as well prepared as one could be!) for the classroom.
With my degree in hand, I moved back to Brooklyn, NY where I was beyond fortunate to get a job teaching at PS 321, one of the most highly regarded and sought after schools in all of New York City. I taught there for five years, and learned the secret of its success, which is brilliant in its simplicity and obviousness. The secret is: dedication. Administration, teachers, and parents at the school are all dedicated to students’ growth and achievement, and – get this! – they are willing to cooperate, put in long hours, and think creatively in order to make those things happen. Now, if we could only duplicate those circumstances and attitudes for every school in the world…
Then, along came Winnie. You might say she is my ultimate student, and I her ultimate teacher. But I try not to think of things that way. In fact, I’m more likely to say that she is my ultimate teacher because in the past two years I have gained more patience, insight, and empathy than in all the thirty years previous, and what have I really taught her other than using a fork? After the little one was born, I left the classroom but have been able to find other ways to stay connected to teaching. For example, I write curriculum as a freelancer for a variety of clients. Currently, I work for the Girls Leadership Institute, which is based in Berkeley, CA. I’m proud to be connected with this wonderful organization, whose ambitious goals include teaching girls to be leaders in their families, communities, and the world; teaching girls to speak their minds and navigate conflict; and helping girls nurture healthy, strong, authentic relationships. Whew. Again, if we could only duplicate those attitudes. GLI runs camps for girls over the summer and during school breaks, as well as during after school hours. They also facilitate workshops for girls and their parents, so whole families can support their daughters’ learning. If you’re interested in a GLI program, click here. If you’re just interested in knowing more about GLI and what it’s all about, check out the community page.
Another way that I stay connected to my teacher self is by obsessively reading Young Adult literature. I sometimes mutter something about doing so in order to stay abreast of the genre… but that is a lie. I read YA books because I love them, pure and simple. I wrote up a little ditty about my reading habits and why I can’t get enough of reading about vampires in this post.
My opinion of teaching has changed radically since those early I-won’t-do-a-lady-job days. I know now, firsthand, that teachers (and, by that, I mean good teachers) are some of the hardest workers on the planet. They take up causes with the zeal of activists, except that teachers’ causes have names like Steven and Alyssa, instead of global warming. Actually, teachers often also take up causes with names like global warming… and animal rights and civil justice and free speech, too. And when a teacher is passionate about her subject, that is an incredibly powerful learning experience for the learners in her class. Teachers work to educate and encourage the future grown-ups of our world. Teachers are my heroes. And they should be yours, too.
These are the NYC-based organizations with which I volunteered, but if these don’t appeal to you or you aren’t in the area, you can always find a volunteer opportunity by searching a site like Volunteer Match.