Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

Throughout my teaching career, I have been so fortunate as to have people who helped me along the way in every school to which I was assigned.

My first position was as a part-time Pre-Kindergarten teacher. I shared a classroom with Mrs. L, who was notorious for being a witch with a B. She was, indeed a pain in my butt all year long. I taught 20 3 and 4 year olds in the afternoon as my first real job. Believe me, I learned a lot in that year. One of the things I learned was how to keep Mrs. L. happy. She was not my friend, but I worked at being hers.

The following year, I was teaching Pre-K fulltime in another building. What a wonderful staff we had! Well, with a couple exceptions. The Kindergarten teacher took me under her wing. Esther Stern was a maiden lady who was the daughter of a famous local costumer. She lived in a HUGE house in Media, where I often sat and talked with her. As laid back as I am, she was driven. Despite dealing with situations in opposite manners, we struck up a good friendship. She showed me little teaching techniques and I used the ones that worked for me.

I spent 7 years in that school, laid off every June for lack of enrollment, only to be hired back in September. I never knew what I would be teaching from year to year, and held the positions of Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Science teachers during my tenure there, When I taught Science, there was a steep learning curve which I climbed with the assistance of Cheryl Robinson, Rosalind Johnson, Cathy Sweeney, Paula DiJoseph, and Juanita Glenn. We did a lot of things together, even giving birth! Twice, 5 out of the 6 of us delivered babies within the same 6 months! these women were invaluable to me, teaching me how to teach 4th, 5th and 6th graders. By my third year as Science teacher I was doing pretty well because of their tutelage.

Long story short, I was transferred to another school  to teach Grade 2 in my 8th year teaching. I had not taught reading groups since student teaching days and was very rusty. The two teachers on either side of me helped me out a lot in giving me examples of good activities and behavior strategies. I was not hired back until November and my class consisted of the rejects from the other 5 second grade classes. It was quite the year. The best friend I had that year, however, was the principal. Dr. Matteo was the consummate great principal who kept his finger on the pulse of the 1200 student school and all of his teachers. He showed me how to take care of the troubles I was having and really was a great support.

I was only there one year when I was again forced-transferred to the school where I would spend the next 28 years. At B. School, I found an instant friend in Gwen Harris, who was my right hand when I was a Title 1 Elementary Math Resource Teacher (EMRT). She was like a sister I never had. We became so close we could read each others minds after a while. And it seemed that whenever someone on my family was seriously ill, it was the same in hers. If someone gave birth or died in her family, it was certain to happen in mine. She was a friend, helper, confidante, just a wonderful person. She helped me become a good math teacher.

What a surprise one September when Juanita G was assigned as our Special Ed teacher! Juanita would eventually become our union-rep-for-life at the B. school. She is great at negotiations and diplomacy. I looked to her for calmness. What fun to see her again after so many years!

In the meantime, three very special people came into my school life, Judy, Sue and Eileen.  Judy Schwartz arrived from high school, knowing nothing about little kids, and was assigned to the computer lab, which she knew nothing about either. LOL! I helped her through the year, and we became fast friends. eventually, she was appointed as the Title 1 Reading Teacher and we were a remedial learning machine, the two of us. We planned book fairs, ran good behavior programs for the school, dressed up in turkey costumes or as ice cream sundaes to announce contests. We cried, laughed and plotted together. I discovered that she had been on several of my classes at Beaver College although I didn't know her then.

Sue Slade was a fixture at B. School before I came, but was transferred out for a few years and came back to finish out her career. I found out that I had indeed met Sue at Dr. Matteo's school where she subbed for the kindergarten teacher. Small world. Sue was worldly and creative, with a huge extended family that I got to know. She even babysat after school for my youngest daughter when I had to go to meetings. Sue does everything in her classroom with creativity and dedication and is a consummate professional. I felt at home in her house and her classroom like it was my own.

Eileen arrived ten years into my stint at B. School. She would turn out to be a best friend. It was like we were sisters from different parents. We became fast friends and she is the person I miss the most from school, now that I have retired. Her hubby and mine even were alike! Another excellent teacher, I could always bounce ideas off Eileen and knew she would be honest in her assessment. If I had young children I would not hesitate to have either Sue, Eileen or Juanita be their teachers.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the counselors who made a difference for the kids and teachers, Linda Liebowitz and Nina Miller. Both Linda and Nina took their positions seriously and gave the job their all. I could not have gotten through several "classes from Hell" without them.

Last but not least, Dr. Christina Spink, our principal for 12 years, was a great friend at school. Don't be fooled by the phrase friend though, as she was a principal who was not afraid to check you if you needed it. (Yeah, I needed it a few times!) You felt safe as a teacher at Chris's school, knowing that she was there to support you if you were right and to give you the benefit of the doubt. She also had no problem calling you out if you were wrong. I do believe many of the teachers at the school considered her a friend as well as a principal. She was always there for you.

Teaching should not be a solitary activity. You need good friends on whom you can rely to support you and also to tell you when you're wrong. I am most grateful for so many of those friends at work. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

Still learning!

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