Once a teacher... (February/March 2016)

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By Mauteen McDermott<

As a child, my favorite toy was a doll whose name was Suzy Smart. She came in a large box that included a desk, a blackboard and a pointer for her "teacher." That teacher was me - a first grader from the Phineas Bates School in Boston, Massachusetts.
In second grade, all I ever wanted was to sit at the Miss Campbell's desk. One day, Miss Campbell, announced she had to leave the room and chose me to sit at her desk and be in charge of the classroom. She asked me to write down the names of any students who misbehaved.; After the teacher left, I gave the students a warning that I would write their names down if they didn't stay in their seats, but they did not take me seriously and so I dutifully wrote their names down. When Miss Campbell returned, she thanked me and said, "Some day, you will be a great teacher!" I felt like I was flying!
After I was accepted into Girls' Latin School for grades 7-12, the memories of elementary school faded among the translations of Ovid, Virgil and Homer. Studying history and English, learning to speak German, and preparing for college became my goals. During this time, I also witnessed the Boston Busing crisis and was a victim of violence when bricks were thrown at our bus going through Dorchester. I recall coming home crying and asking my parents, "Why are people throwing rocks at our bus?" I couldn't understand what had happened because I was a native Bostonian who had been taking the same bus on the same route from West Roxbury to Dorchester for five years without any incidence of violence. Fortunately, the crisis ended, schools were integrated.
While attending Suffolk University, I visited the law school and became interested in law. I applied for a part-time secretarial job in a small firm and was hired. This was to be the beginning of a long legal career. I moved on to a job in a large Boston firm that paid for me to attend Northeastern University where I obtained a Certificate in Paralegal Studies. The thoughts of Suzy Smart and Miss Campbell's class by now had disappeared from my memory, but when I lost my job at the firm after 9/11, I had to reconsider my career path.
One night as I was home filled with uncertainty and fear, wondering what I should do, First Lady Barbara Bush spoke on television asking people to consider a career in teaching. Though I initially convinced myself that, at 43, I was too old to go back to my childhood dream, I realized this was only because I was afraid of the challenges I might face.; The more I thought about Mrs. Bush's words, not only did it seem to be the perfect time to make a change, but also I thought that this might be my last chance.
In January 2003, I was accepted into University of Massachusetts School Masters of Education Program with a concentration in Special Education. My UMass adviser told me that it would take at least two years for me to obtain certification and a Masters Degree, never mind finding a job, which may take longer. Determined to achieve my goals sooner, I attended a Boston Public Schools Job Fair in February of 2004 and was hired that day to begin teaching in September. BPS Hiring personnel sent a Letter of Reasonable Assurance that meant I was eligible for a position because I had been successful in their testing and interviews. Over the summer of 2004, I became a licensed Special Educator and received my Masters Degree in Special Education. That September, I began teaching. Today I am also certified as a Special Education Administrator, a Teacher of English as a Second Language, and a Teacher of English.
My career path has been filled with potholes and detours, much like the City itself. I have often found myself working before and after school, nights and weekends. The only friends I had were the teachers in my school and I thanked God for them!
After a brief time teaching in Medfield, I was rehired by BPS as a special education humanities teacher in the Hyde Park Education Complex. This was the best position I had ever had as a teacher! My colleagues were my friends and my friends were my colleagues. I was voted "Miss Congeniality" by the staff. As the school was close to my home, I even had time for outside interests. Most importantly, my students made progress on MCAS and my principal, Mr. Cox, made me feel as if everything I touched turned to gold. One day, he gave me chocolates with a note saying how happy he was that I had joined the community. I had never been thanked or acknowledged like that by a principal or staff before. I had taken on a leadership role that I loved!
In December of 2010, the Boston School Committee voted to close Hyde Park. Mr. Cox resigned and I ended up in the infamous "excess pool" where teachers who became unassigned through school closure are placed on a seniority list and provided with positions to bid for (most of which are not matched with their qualifications and experience). As I did not get my first choice of placement, I ended up in mismatched position that almost led to the end of my teaching career, had it not been for the Boston Teachers Union. I was informed by Executive Vice President Pat Connolly and Field Representative, Caren Carew that The Collective Bargaining Agreement provided me the opportunity to excess myself. In 2012, I excessed myself from Dorchester Academy, a school that closed last year. The move saved my career and my dreams of teaching and I owe the BTU a world of thanks. Had it not been for them, I may have left teaching permanently and not by own choice.
While waiting for the excess list choices to be provided, I applied for a transfer position at the Community Academy of Science and Health and was called for an interview by the Headmaster Tanya Freeman Wisdom. Four years later, I am still a teacher at CASH. Ms. Wisdom's faith in me and her guidance have made me a better teacher and brought me back to the little girl whose favorite doll was Suzy Smart.

Mo McDermott is a Special Educator and ESL Teacher in Boston.