“This is not a job for the faint of heart,” said Jeanne DelColle, 2011-12 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, to members of the Future Teachers Academy at Secaucus High School on March 28. “This is going to require a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”
The Future Teachers Academy is made up of high school students that have an interest in pursuing a career in education. Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Randina, who welcomed the audience, introduced the program into the district when she came first came on board.
DelColle was chosen from among 21 County Teachers of the Year for the state title, which is part of a program that recognizes outstanding classroom teachers who are leaders and inspire their students to love learning.
Kathy Kuchar, coordinator of the academy, and 2011-12 County Teacher of the Year, introduced DelColle to about sixty people comprised of educators, administrators, board trustees, students and their family members, who listened to DelColle as she described what it takes to be a successful teacher.
She drew from her experience as an educator of 16 years and shared stories about her students from the Burlington County Institute of Technology where she has taught United States and world history since 2003. DelColle gave examples of students she taught that faced considerable challenges in the home, such as going without heat or being moved from foster home to foster home, but that despite those challenges they still went on to attend college.
She spoke about the importance of building relationships with students and getting to know their stories.
“You are in for the ride of your life,” said DelColle. “But the moment that light bulb goes on behind a student’s eyes and they get it…[or] the moment one calls and says I want to be a teacher just like you…it gets no better than that.”
Success as an educator
While DelColle said that there is no real secret to teaching other than hard work, she did provide students with a list of the top five things they need to do in order to achieve success in their careers.
She said the first step is to develop an alter ego. DelColle said that outside the classroom she is shy but that in the classroom her alter ego “Ms. D” is a cross between Wonder Woman and Indiana Jones.
“My hero when I was little was Wonder Woman…never a hair out of place, [she] kicked the butt of bad guys all the time and never had a wardrobe malfunction…She was one bad chick.”
Her desire to step outside of her element has led her to pursue her ‘Indiana Jones-like’ character by traveling to all five continents and visiting places like Jordan, Egypt, and Belize.
Among the other items on the list, DelColle said to ‘learn your stuff,’ ‘be prepared to fail,’ ‘you can’t teach them until you reach them,’ and ‘believe that your students can fly.’
“Your job is to find the gifts in your students. Figure out what they are good at, what their dreams are, what their passions are and push them in that direction,” said DelColle. “You need to figure out what inspires them. You have to have high expectations for your kids.”
“You are in for the ride of your life.” – Jeanne DelColle
Among the 30 students that are part of the Future Teachers Academy, only four are young men. One of the males asked DelColle why more men haven’t pursued education.
“We need to start breaking down some of the stereotypes,” said DelColle. “And we need to look at people as people, and not as genders, and races, and ethnicities.”
“We have a tremendous need in the field of education today to have positive male role models,” said Randina. “I would encourage young males out there that are of good character and good intellect to join the profession.”
The young men gathered at the event had different reasons for wanting to pursue a career in education.
“I knew ever since I was a little boy that I love teaching,” said William Wolf, 16, a junior. Wolf is president of the Future Educators Association, which is part of the Academy. He said he wants to teach American literature.
“I always wanted to be a music teacher,” said Xavier Diaz, 16, a sophomore who plays the saxophone. He said that people don’t consider music as important as English or science but he believes the subject is just as important.
Some of the young women gathered also broke with stereotypes in their pursuits. Bryonna McClure, a sixteen-year-old sophomore plays basketball, softball, soccer, and volleyball and became interested in teaching through her experience teaching younger children sports.
“I love seeing smiles on little kids faces,” said McClure.
Adriana Rambay Fernández can be reached at email@example.com.