Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Decision to Become a Teacher

I have been asking myself this a lot lately, why did I become a teacher, and more importantly, why do I stay? My story starts in the third grade. I went to three different schools that year. My family was in turmoil, but school, any school, was a constant. I was always the quiet kid who liked to play "school" teaching my stuffed animals my spelling words, or giving my cousin "homework", but the decision to BE a teacher was made in the third grade. This did not sit well with my father, who to this day thinks I should have been an architect. I thought being in school was great. I loved learning new things and sharing it with others.

It was the kind of off the cuff decision kids make like "I want to be a police man." You actually don't hear too many kids walking around saying, "I want to be a banker." They may say "millionaire"or "rock star", but in the classrooms where I've worked teachers, police officers and firefighters are always the favored professions among kids. I had wonderful teachers throughout my school career; Ms. Winkleman who taught me to read, Ms. Heartman who expected more of me, Ms. Farrel who treated me like a person and asked about my family, Ms. Schliefer who treated me like a friend and mentored me, and they were all from different schools, different districts and vastly different communities. For me the idea of being a teacher became an actual career goal in the 8th grade.  We have a saying in the teaching profession that "all it takes is one person who cares to save a child." Kathy saved me. My career is an homage to Ms. Kathleen Donovan, 7th-8th grade Language Arts, Private Nicholas Minue Elementary School Carteret, NJ. All of us have our cute stickers and bumper stickers that say 2 teach is to 2 touch lives 4 ever, and she touched mine.

I was a very awkward child. I was too tall, I had really bad acne topped off with a REALLY bad haircut, hand-me down clothes and a decent amount of social awkwardness. I may have as well walked around with a target on my chest for bullies far and near. I was abused mercilessly by older kids at my school, so much so where my mother had to contact administration and have an entire group of children suspended. It was a happy day when my class, who were more inclined to ignore me than abuse me, became the tough 7th and 8th graders.

It was also around this time that the ugly duckling began to become the swan. The acne cleared up, I started seeing my own beautician and buying my own clothes thanks to babysitting money, but I couldn't see it in the mirror. Kathy reached out. She made me stop and see how wonderful I am and how beautiful I had become as well as the beauty of the written word.  She also saw me as intelligent and thought my writing was quite good. I found strength in my pen and in her encouragement. She found organizations who published student work and had me write a collection of short stories. When I won awards for high achievement in writing from the state, she made it a point to recognize the accomplishment in a way that earned me the respect of my classmates for the first time. All of a sudden everybody wanted to be my partner and have me edit their work. For the first time in my life I felt pride in myself, my abilities and my accomplishments. I was a straight A student from the third grade on, but there was never any pride in it, it was just how things were. School was easy for me, the learning part anyway. She inspired me to want to write as a profession, something I had never even considered, but even more she inspired me teach others how to write. As I helped edit my classmates' work I realized, "Hey, I'm pretty good at teaching people this stuff." I asked her 100 questions about where she went to school, why did she become a teacher, what do I need study, what should I do to become a teacher like you? I made the decision that if I can impact just one student the way she impacted me, my career will have been worth it.

We'll talk about the reality of that decision later. For now I just want to take a minute to thank Ms. Donovan, and all of the other teachers who helped me become the person I am along the way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Women's Health Issues Under Attack!

Today, as I sit here with my sick child by my side sleeping peacefully, I wonder what kind of world he will inherit as an adult.  I am mad! I am mad not as a mother or a teacher, but as a WOMAN! Why aren't more of you mad? The new federal budget has seriously cut funding to Planned Parenthood and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This after trying to change the definition of rape so that they could cut funding to abortions, and even have tried to end a woman's ability to get an abortion even when her life is in danger.

The GOP, and other supporters of this budget and legislation, are attacking women's rights from an ideology stand point, not a fiscal or legal one.  It is as if religious law is taking over our land originally founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. This is an effort to take a woman's right to choose, but it will hurt society overall in so many ways. Planned Parenthood, which is operating at a profit so it can't possible be a drain on the federal budget, provides so much more to America's women than a means to ending unwanted pregnancies. They provide birth control to those who never want to be faced with having to make the decision between giving birth and having an abortion. Their goal is to PREVENT unwanted pregnancies.  In fact you can walk in and they will just hand you more condoms than you can ever possibly need. They also provide primary health care to women. There is a huge segment of the population who are STILL without health care.  They charge on a sliding scale so any woman can be serviced and cared for, screened for cancer and treated for maladies. They educate young women on how to care for their bodies, educate them as to how their bodies work, and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. They provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases. They even provide prenatal care to women who would have none otherwise. WIC in turn makes it possible for women who do have babies, provide proper nutrition and health care for them.

Now that I am a mother, I know that if faced with the decision, I could never personally choose abortion, but I would NEVER deny someone else that choice.  I know many who have and have had to live with the demons of their decision. All of the what ifs and could have beens, the general regret, but they knew it was the right decision at the time for them. I know others who gave their babies up in adoption and have had to live with exactly the same regrets.  Still others kept their babies. Some ended up in abusive relationships with men they never loved in the first place subjecting their children to a life surrounded by hate and regret. Then there are the brave single mothers who somehow do it all. Some struggle while others do a phenomenal job. Wouldn't it just be easier to avoid the situation all together through effective education and planning?

Planned Parenthood provided me with medical care and birth control as a struggling uninsured, college student. See I was already married by then, so by whatever moral or religious law you follow I was "allowed" to have sex. Planned Parenthood made it possible for me to finish school, get my degree and start me career and PLAN my family. Growing up fairly poor made my husband and I want "to do things right" and make sure we could provide the best life possible for our children. "Family planning"was a big factor in that. Now that we feel our family is complete, "family planning" still plays a major factor in our lives. More than that, they cared for me and made it possible for me to be taken care of medically when I found a breast lump at the age of 21. I will always be eternally grateful to the organization.

Here is the harsh reality. Cutting these programs may lead to more abortions, not less. Let's face it, teenagers have been having premarital sex since the dawn of time, and I seriously doubt that the young adults who have put off marriage and serious relationships until they are entrenched in their careers, will lead celibate lives. Without access to birth control and sexual education, that many parents feel reluctant to give their children, there will be a rise in unwanted pregnancies. More babies having babies with NO means to care for them and without the much needed prenatal care to ensure the health of the babies at birth and in their infancy. There will be more children born with physical and mental disabilities, the biggest expenses to school budgets, do to improper prenatal and infant care. What about the children themselves? Many times mothers, some meaning to and most who don't, push their regret onto their children letting them know they weren't planned and never wanted. This type of psychological abuse can be as damaging as a fist or a belt.  (This is NOT a generalization, but it does happen.) Moreover, as a teacher we see these children everyday in our classroom. It is proven fact the biggest factor in the success of children is their family life and socioeconomic level. More poor children being born to poor mothers  who cannot or will provide the best foundation for their children before coming to school. As a society, we will see these children as a drain on tax dollars and resources, but my concern is the children themselves. What hope will they have in the world? Add that to what will surely lead to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, and what hope do we have as a society?

My proposal is for women to come together. Unite against these travesties against our gender and protect our nation's future starting with a national call to all representatives. Here is the number to the switchboard 877-762-8762. Ask for you representatives by name or they can connect you by zip code. Call today! Call Now!  I just did.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who am I? Why am I doing this?

Why am I writing this Blog?

I am a teacher. I am also a parent of two small children entering the school system. My eldest is in first grade. My youngest is Preschool. The issues in today's world regarding education effect me both as a professional and as a parent. I must make my voice heard both for the sake of my students and the sake of the my own. My purpose is to be a voice of both teachers and parents. We need more voices because ours are being silenced in the debate. I hope to start an honest discourse sharing information and ideas, and maybe starting a few lively debates. I also, want to give the public a glimpse into the life of an ordinary everyday teacher. Perhaps some will realize teachers don't really have it all that easy, and the grass is rarely greener.

Who am I?

I am the daughter of a single, working-class mother and an absentee, alcoholic father. We didn't have much, but we never went without. I grew up in Middlesex county, New Jersey in some of the semi-urban areas. I say I am from the county because we moved quite a bit. For some strange reason people find it amazing, even people in my own family, that I was able to make something of myself. I have a successful marriage, two AMAZING children, and I've had my masters degree for the last 10 years, thanks to some very hard work and $50,000 in student loans. My loan officer cringed when I told him what field I was going into he said, "You'll never earn it back." I honestly didn't believe him. Alas, he was right.

At the age of 17, I started my career as a teacher's assistant in one of the more posh daycare center chains. Average tuition was $1,000 per month, per child. Now it's $1,200. I figured if I wanted to be a teacher, no better way to go about it than to teach, work with children, get in on the ground floor. I made minimum wage for five years at this school. I can honestly say that most of what I know about children, planning, and classroom management, I learned at that preschool. If you manage 12 toddlers, you can mange ANYBODY. I've always received rave reviews, even from supervisors who didn't like all that much, for my classroom management hanks to those little tikes.

I completed an accelerated program and earned my BA in History with a concentration on American History, and a Masters degree in early childhood/elementary education in five years. The program I attended, the only program I even applied to, required a BA in a content area versus other universities that consider education to be your content area. It also required 5 semesters of field work versus other universities that only require 2. I completed my student-teaching internship at a suburban school in a real "melting pot" community. It was a title 1 school including a number of "economically challenged" students, poor kids, and a number of well-to-do children. There were children from every ethnic background. I loved the diversity of my classes. I taught there for two more years. (Why I am no longer there is another long story for another time.)

Currently, I teach in a primary school in one of the biggest urban districts in New Jersey. (Another long story about how I came to be here). 98% of the students in our building qualify for free lunch and breakfast. Only 2% of our student population is Caucasian while the other 98% are predominantly African-American, some Hispanic, or a combination of both. We have a very large special education population, and a small English Language Learner population. Most of our students who qualify as ELL attend an in-district bi-lingual school. Very different environment from where I was trained and started my career, and full of very different experiences. I'll be sharing some of those experiences here.

So now that you know who I am, I hope you will follow me and read along. It should be an interesting journey for all of us.