Magazine

The Education Issue

First-year teachers on why they teach

Six first-timers talk about what made them want to join the profession.

Every year, about 7 percent of the state’s more than 70,000 public school teachers are first-year teachers. It’s “incredibly challenging,” says Ross Wilson, an assistant superintendent of Boston Public Schools. “You spend your first few months finding your voice and your rhythm as a teacher, but there’s really nothing more rewarding.”

What do schools get out of the deal? “There’s great value in having new teachers in the building,” Wilson says. “They add fresh perspectives and the latest thinking on educational research, curriculum, and instruction. They offer a lot of great ideas to school communities, and they usually have a lot of energy and a lot of good will.” These six first-year teachers abound in both.

LEAF ELHAI, 23

Foundations of Literacy, Fenway High School, Boston

BA, English, Carleton College; MEd, University of Massachusetts Boston

“For me, teaching means connection.”

9/8/14 - Boston, MA - Leaf Elhai, cq, teaches 9th and 10 grade foundations of special education at Fenway High School, a pilot school in Boston. Topic: 100514teachers - Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

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“I’m interested in contributing to social justice by helping young people become more thoughtful and kind and engaged. In high school, I took a class on the US Constitution and was really struck by how key public education was in creating the society we want. I saw schools and individual teachers as extremely powerful in that process. That was the abstract kernel of it, but also both of my parents are academics, so I grew up around lots of reading, questioning, thinking. It was part of what felt natural to me, and I want to be a supportive and positive figure in my students’ lives. That’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”

JENNY GARRITY, 22

Second grade, Harrington Elementary School, Lynn

BA, Education, Emmanuel College

“I know this is where I belong.”

9/5/14 - Lynn, MA - Jenny Garrity teaches second grade at the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, MA. Topic: 100514teachers - Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

“I always felt like I could connect with kids. My mom taught first grade and is now a principal in Lynn. Summers I used to go help her set up her classroom, and it was one of my favorite things to do. She’d bring home her teaching supplies and I would ‘teach’ my stuffed animals, so it’s always been there. I’ve always had a personality where I was able to connect with people. One of my professors at Emmanuel said a child only needs one positive role model in their life to maintain hope. It feels good to know I can be that person for them if they need it.”

SUSAN ROY, 53

Integrated pre-K, East Elementary School, Hingham

BSN, Pediatric Nursing, Fairfield University; currently working toward Master’s in Special Education With Moderate Disabilities, American International College, degree expected in 2015

“I want to right the world for another child.”

9/12/14 - Hingham, MA - Susan Roy, cq, is 53, formerly a nurse, teaches pre-K at East elementary school in Hingham. Topic: 100514teachers - Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

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“I have a 9-year-old son with autism, and when you have a child with special needs, your whole world is turned upside down. And the people who righted my world, Riley’s world, and my family’s, were his teachers. My son was mute till he was 4. He went into a preschool program with occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy, and now, in fourth grade, he’s very verbal and interacting with his peers. He has a real future, and it was the educators that did that. I started volunteering and then substituting as a para [a paraprofessional educator, or teacher’s aide] in special-needs classrooms, and a year later I was asked to long-term substitute, and I loved it. Nursing and teaching are not so far apart; it’s all about interacting with people, teaching families, and making an emotional connection.”

DINESH AYYAPPAN, 24

Physics, Charlestown High School, Boston

BS, Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University; Master’s in Secondary Education, University of Massachusetts Boston

“I believe in the greatness within young people.”

9/8/14 - Charlestown, MA - Dinesh Ayyappan is a physics teacher at Charlestown High School. Topic: 100514teachers - Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

“Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to help people. First I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I realized I liked physics and calculus better than biology, so that shifted me toward engineering, where I could help people by designing products that would improve their lives. But as a resident assistant sophomore year, I realized youth development was more rewarding and meaningful for me. Engineering is complicated, but teaching and working with people are even more complicated, so it’s much more challenging for me. Helping people grow really makes me happy.”

STEPHANIE CRAWFORD, 27

Second and third grade, Josiah Quincy Elementary School, Chinatown, Boston

BA, Early Childhood Education, Pine Manor College; currently working toward Master’s in Education, Teacher of Students With Moderate Disabilities, Lesley University, degree expected in 2015

“Because without a light, souls are lost.”

9/5/14 - Boston, MA - Josiah Quincy School - Stephanie Crawford has wanted to be a teacher ever since she can remember. She now teaches second graders at the Josiah Quincy School in Boston, MA. Topic: 100514teachers - Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

“My grandfather was a teacher, then a principal. He was actually my principal for a while, so he was a big motivator for me. I lived with him as a child and he was like a dad to me. He sometimes spoke Spanish for emphasis — ‘silencio’ instead of ‘be quiet’ — and I remember the response he got from the kids. I don’t speak Spanish well, but he taught me about making eye contact and using facial expressions, which is very helpful with autistic children. He also did lots of projects with the kids. Some teachers say, ‘We don’t make a mess in here.’ I don’t believe in that. He taught me how to make a mess and learn, then we’ll clean it up. Dig deep. With hands-on projects, kids are learning and sometimes they don’t even notice.”

AMANDA DODSON, 27

Kindergarten, Cabot Elementary School, Newton

BA, American Studies, Dickinson College; Master’s in Early Childhood Education, Lesley University

“I teach. I learn. I play.”

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

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“Out of all of my elementary school teachers, I remember Jani Cummings, my first- and second-grade teacher, the best. I just loved being in that room with her. I still talk to her to this day and see her when I go home [to Raymond, Maine]. When I was in high school, she told me, “Don’t be a teacher unless your passion for it is so great that you just can’t do anything else.” That stuck with me, and I realized in my sophomore year of college that there really was nothing else I wanted to do. When I got the job at Cabot, it was one of the happiest days of my life. It was my dream, and it came true.”

More coverage:

- STEM’s newest darling: Robotics

- Are teachers really ready for the Common Core?

- How parents make teachers miserable

- More from the Magazine

Elizabeth Gehrman is a freelance writer. Additional reporting by Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta. Interviews have been edited and condensed. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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