My journey first began when I started teaching swim lessons at the local high school swim team. My head coach gave me the opportunity to conduct swim lessons, and I ended up really enjoying this experience. I taught at the Woodland Hills Aquatic Team and then in the Penn Hills YMCA. Before I knew it, I became an aquatic supervisor and this is where my teaching journey began.
I had one amazing teacher during my time in High School. Prior to this, I did not experience a strong sense of self nor did I feel confident and valued as a learner. This particular teacher was energetic and enthusiastic. He put students at the center of learning and created a Chemistry class that ignited a passion for learning while instilling confidence in his learners. Upon graduation, I entered into the Carlow Secondary Teaching program specifically with the intentions of becoming a chemistry teacher. However, my journey pivoted when I began working at a preschool. There was one particular student with Spina Bifida, and I became very close to her family. It was this intimate familial experience that caused me to change my degree from chemistry to a degree in early childhood and special education. I realized my calling had shifted. I actually still keep in touch with this particular family, and she is a daily reminder of why I do what I do.
Besides teaching in a variety of classrooms, I have had various coaching experiences that have inspired my heart and educator journey. I continue to work as a volunteer through various YMCA camps. I have also designed a curriculum whilst putting together a learner swim program for local schools in Monroeville and Penn Hills.
The world is a very big place, and I desire a purpose in this world. I’ve always wanted to make a difference, and I believe that my calling was always to become and remain a teacher. When I was growing up, I had a reading and math discrepancy and also a speech impediment. Because of these discrepancies, I find my story to be incredibly relatable. I succeeded because of hard work, dedication and the teachers that were in my corner. My swim coach really helped me in regards to confidence, and I realized that I could take the lessons I learned from the water and place them in my future classroom. I want my present and future students to know that they can indeed overcome anything. I am incredibly proud of the impact I have made and the people I have helped. In fact, I had a student with dyslexia whom I was tutoring and through mentoring her, she was able to get into college. The mentoring aspect of teaching and the ability to thread empathy inside and outside the walls of a classroom reminds me why I do this work.
As a substitute educator, I really get to see the strengths and needs of various students. It has been very interesting seeing educational systems through Pittsburgh and how they vary based on zip code. For example, I have seen some teachers completely write a student off before they even succeed. Educators are truly always looking for opportunities and in some districts, these opportunities are not offered. In other school districts with greater funding, these opportunities for leadership and curricular development appear limitless. There are also internal biases amongst teachers that are important to bring to light. In schools where there were greater percentages of students of color, I noticed that the more diverse teachers or teachers of color had higher expectations for their students of color versus the white teachers in that particular school. I have also noticed internal biases when it comes to socioeconomic class as well. I have often heard this statement thrown around: “the parents don’t care so why should we?” The expectations are simply lowered without getting to know the student nor the family. Internal biases are a huge problem. Instead of ignoring that they exist, we should be reflecting upon them and then checking them at the door.
Having a safe environment is important. Students should be able to move freely and express themselves freely. Knowing my background and how hard it was for me, I find student-teacher relationships to be incredibly important. I want them to have someone they can rely on. I know I can be this person. One Day I hope that there is a standard for everyone and you don’t look at the color of their skin, their name or where they come from. As a whole, we need to be open and united and welcoming to everyone and continue to educate in a way that challenges our learners, fosters inclusion of familial and neighborhood communities and places the students at the center.