When I attended college in South Florida, I worked with a group of young students who had recently immigrated from Russia. There were seven of them, and I was primarily responsible for tutoring them in English. Truly, this is when I became very interested in international education. In college, I studied peace, conflict and resolution and was able to travel to eastern Europe. Essentially, I studied global education environments, what was going on politically and how that affected children, families and educational opportunities. Though my undergraduate degree was centered around politics, much of what I focused on was the education sector. During college, I worked for the U.S. State Department AID agency and the German- Marshall Fund where much of what we focused on was providing opportunities to enable individuals to get the education they deserved. I also spent a semester studying in Germany where I did research on the inequities between education for immigrant and native born students.
After this experience, I came back to my home college and worked with another refugee family from Afghanistan. All these experiences helped me achieve a Fulbright scholarship in Korea. For a year, I researched, studied and taught English in Korea. From this experience, I really began to learn how culture impacts the individual choices made to educate a child.
Shortly after I came back I joined the Americorp in South Florida and my position was at a Title 1 school. I ended up teaching English as a second language, students with exceptionalities as well as students with emotional difficulties. Ironically, I ended up getting hired at this very same school and stayed there for 13 years. I had the opportunity to complete three year loops (3rd 4th 5th) and (4th 5th 6th grade.) Many of the students had exceptionalities within my classroom.
After thirteen years, I made my way back to the very place where I graduated high school. I have taught fifth, third and now kindergarteners.
From the variety of opportunities I experienced, I really began to understand education expectations but also the diverse expectations that different parents/families want for their children. While I was in Korea, the parents very much wanted their child to think about future careers whereas when I was in Kosovo, they wanted their children to live to see the next day. As a teacher, I think it is incredibly valuable to respect those varying expectations in regards to education. Perspectives are different across families, states and cultures. This is what makes education so unique because the deeper purpose behind it changes with perspective.
The easiest answer is to continue to make a positive impact in the lives of all children and to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to feel successful. For me, it has never been a specific adult that has propelled me into this journey. Rather, it has been the children specifically. The children continue to propel me forward in new and unique ways.
One of the biggest takeaways I have realized over the years is the importance of recognizing differences in understanding. How people perceive and understand where others are coming from is difficult to navigate. Getting people to walk in other people’s shoes is essential. I think because my family was so well-traveled when I was growing up, I was able to not only go to different places, learn about different cultures, and develop empathy for the difference of experiences.
I hope one day that every child will receive the support they need in order to be successful (and in a much more efficient manner). I hope one day that we take the time to really trust educators and their understanding of the support a child needs to remain successful. In thinking about my own children, I want to make sure they are looking at the whole child. Having kids see themselves in other adults and also curriculum in general is important.
Lastly, an invaluable lesson I have learned is to not be afraid to form connections. Sometimes, the prospect of building deeper relationships with families or parents is daunting. Yet, building connections with families creates forever friendships. For instance, when we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday in Florida, many of the students I had taught were in attendance. Building connections outside builds connections within you. It is these relationships that are going to change the meaning behind what you do and change the way you perceive the beauty of the world.