My application to grad school to get my state certification was denied because my gpa was 1/100 of a point too low. In order to submit my application for review to the exceptions committee, I had to write an essay and have others write letters of recommendation for me. (many thank yous to everyone's amazing letters!!!!) The following is my essay.
When I adopted my first child, who is now fourteen, I had to make the difficult decision to take a break from education because she suffers from severe mental illness and developmental delay. At that time, the founder and director of the school I had been teaching at for many years said to me, “You’ll be back. Once a teacher, always a teacher.” I smiled sweetly thinking I probably would not return and walked out of the building with a box of the few personal items I had in my classroom. I remember thinking to myself, am I a teacher?
Everyone has an educator or two from their time as a student that stands out. For me, those educators had an indelible impact on my life because they did more than teach a subject, they taught me as a person. Mrs. Watkins, my AP English teacher, taught me I was a strong writer with excellent thoughts to share. Mr. Badorf, my Algebra I and II teacher taught me to never surrender to the will of numbers. Mr. Pillion, my Calculus teacher, taught me that education is fun and exciting and even more so when the educator has fun too. Mr. Rissinger, my Geometry teacher, taught me I was an astute educator when he let me hold tutoring sessions in the back of the classroom for the students that struggled in his class. Mrs. Richardson, my second grade teacher, taught me that loving a student is the most profound thing an educator can do. Mrs. Johansen, my third grade teacher, showed me how to laugh through the trials. Mrs. Gainer, Physics and AP Physics, taught me that women in science are desirable, strong and vivacious. As I think upon it now, it is clear that I was learning what it meant to be an educator and that such a career would also be my calling.
When I applied to college, my intentions were to get a degree in pre-medicine and go on to medical school. I had set my sights on being a family practitioner. It was no small feat for me to be accepted into the program as a seventeen year old freshman at the main campus of Pennsylvania State University. In 1992, only the top performing students were accepted; the caliber of education provided by the College of Science was equal to the Ivy League schools of the time. Though I was a chronological year younger than my academic peers because I was accelerated a grade, I was confident I could master the coursework. What I hadn’t anticipated was the struggles I would have in learning in lecture halls of 800 students from professors that were more interested in their current scientific research than in educating. Consequently, my core science grades faltered, though I took no personal offense. An average grade at an Ivy League caliber program was still an amazing achievement!
Late in my college career, I attended a medical ethics course. The physician that taught the course was very clear in his intent of informing his potential professional colleagues that the future of medicine would change drastically as major insurance companies and politics would eventually control the way medicine would be practiced. That same semester, I took a Health Education course which plied me with the harsh realities of the then up-and-coming HMO programs. Coupled with my average grade point average, it became clear that continuing my pursuit of medicine as a career was not in my best interest.
In my junior year, I began my minor in Community Health Education. At the same time, I was carrying a course load of 400 level Biology classes. In a whirlwind of no less than 15 credits a semester, I managed to graduate on schedule with both a major in Biology and a minor in Community Health Education and an internship at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. I intended to pursue a career in health care management as an educator of preventative medicine for the patients and communities at large. I was excited and anticipated a bright future for myself. With my minor, my grade point average had risen significantly and I felt prepared for the work force.
As I wrapped up my senior year, anxiously anticipating my graduation, I helped host a final exam block party for my dormitory, my last hurrah as a Resident Assistant. There I taught the study-weary students how to make tie-dye t-shirts. One of the other RAs remarked, “Wow. You are a really good teacher. I think you missed your calling!” I remember how her thoughts stopped me dead in my tracks as though it was yesterday. I stood there, speechless and dumbfounded. I was about to be awarded my long coveted Bachelor’s of Science and in one lackadaisical comment, she had shifted my entire paradigm.
I tried hard to land a job in Community Health Education anyway; having moved to the Augusta, Georgia area shortly after my degree was conferred. I was greeted with only closed doors and no opportunity. Eight months post graduation, dejected and unemployed, my student loan repayment plan beginning; I had a conversation with the woman that became my long time employer and friend. She was starting a new private school and needed a science teacher. I smiled. Thus began my seventeen years of middle and secondary science and mathematics education.
In the private sector, a certificate is not required provided the instructor has a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in the field in which she is teaching. Though I took time off as I became a mother and raised my small children and then when my daughter’s care required that I take an emergency family medical leave, I have taught with glee, pride and excitement. I am a teacher, I was born to teach, it is my calling, it is my passion and it never feels like work. I get giddy talking about my time in the classroom with my students. My students will attest, I might get a little bit crazy when I get really involved demonstrating a science experiment or dissecting with students that have never seen the internal structure of an organism before. The best Christmas presents you can gift this science teacher are supplies to restock my chemistry cabinet!
In my career, I have worked with many challenged students. I have taught students on probation, students that were remanded to alternative school, students recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. Pregnant students, physically handicapped students, students with learning disabilities, developmental delay and mental health challenges have all sat in my room. I have taught them all in the same manner that I teach an able-bodied, intellectually capable student. It makes no difference to me. I differentiate instruction according to each student’s needs even if that means she needs to sit on the floor at the white board with a clip board in her lap instead of at the desk. I modify tests for dyslexic students that need colored paper and I orally read tests to students that have reading challenges but know the science content. I go out of my way to make sure that every student in my classroom has the same opportunity to absorb the material I am presenting. I consider it a personal challenge to be certain that every student passes on his own merit.
There are no losers in my classroom. There are no negative statements. If a student is down in the mouth about his performance, I tell him a minimum of six positive things about him. If a student tells me she hates science, I reply, “you haven’t had my class yet!” If a parent tells me his child has always struggled, I ask “what is her education history? When did you first notice her grades faltering?” If a student is disruptive and needs discipline, I talk to him privately and we set up a plan between the two of us. If my colleagues can’t handle a student, they know to send her to my classroom with her work and I will be sure it is completed. My students have always remarked that the favorite part of being in my room is the light bulb. When a student says something that is particularly astute, clever, asks a good question or solves a difficult problem, they get the light bulb. Then, I make sure that by the end of a school year, every one of my students has gotten the light bulb at least once. We have fun, we laugh, we tell jokes, we become family all while learning. It makes for a dynamic classroom that students love to return to, even if they are not fond of the subject matter.
Until recently, it was never a concern that I was not certified and teaching part time at a small private school. However, life changes and I have now found myself in the difficult situation of single parenting three children, two of which suffer from severe developmental delay and mental health issues. At this time, it has become necessary that I become certified so I can continue my career in the public schools, increase my income, receive benefits and hopefully advance my career to teaching future educators at the university level. There are many programs available to educators in situations like mine. I have chosen GRU for the MAT program because of the flexibility and location.
As you read through my recommendation letters from my colleagues, my former students and parents of my students, you will learn as I have, that some teachers are born to teach. You will discover that a certificate is just a piece to the puzzle for me. I am passionate about my content area but compassionate about all of my students. I am that rare educator that lives and breathes the essence of learning every day, in every way. At the beginning and end of every school year I affirm to my students that the day I die is the day I will stop learning. I tell them it is my hope, if I teach them nothing else that they learn to ask why because that is the true key to learning. I encourage them to be curious and skeptical, to think outside the box, to research and explore, to never stop learning. Then I let them teach me in return. I am Ms. J. S. I am 40 years old and have seventeen years of education experience. I am an educator with or without a certificate from the state of Georgia and the MAT program offered at this university.