Chalk Talk with Jack Czajkowski: Seeing yourself in your teachers

  • Jack Czajkowski

For the Gazette
Published: 12/10/2021 11:46:10 AM
Modified: 12/10/2021 11:45:44 AM


According to the Boston Globe, only 34% of the teachers in the Boston Public Schools are Black or Latino, while 85% of their students are children of color.

Similar numbers hold true in the largest school districts in the Pioneer Valley, per the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website. Since 2017, a group of Valley educators and leaders from Five College Inc. founded an initiative called Paradigm Shift to help build a more diverse teacher workforce.

Actor John Leguizamo reminds us, “If you don’t see yourself represented outside of yourself, you just feel invisible.” EdWeek magazine reports that, “All students benefit from having teachers of color, research shows. A report by the Learning Policy Institute revealed that when taught by teachers of color, students of color have better academic performance, improved graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college.”

It matters mightily that our students see themselves in their teachers.

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of tutoring a number of educators who are working toward their teaching licenses with Paradigm Shift.

Ana Velez, Bev Mighty, Elsie Colon and Gail Joseph all teach in the Pioneer Valley and are working to pass the required teacher tests (MTELs) while taking graduate courses, working full time as teachers, and raising their own children.

Ana and Elsie have roots in Puerto Rico, Bev is from Savannah-La-Mar, Jamaica, and Gail is from Trinidad and Tobago. Their efforts to get licensed to teach to serve others are heroic, and here are their stories about why they are working so diligently to teach in local schools:

Ana Velez

“My mother, Norma, is my motivator. She is a firm believer in education and improving oneself, regardless of race, age, or gender. She would always stay up with my siblings and me and help us do our homework until midnight or 1 a.m. She would tell us to respect ourselves, dream big, and work hard to reach our goals. She will always be our number one fan, and we are hers.

“After graduating high school, I was still not sure what path to take. My choices were to become a flight attendant and fly around the world or help children in need. I was already the youngest student to work while attending high school. I loved helping my fellow peers with their homework. I love seeing the light bulb turn on when they understand the material I was teaching them.

“I knew becoming a teacher was something I wanted to do, but life wasn’t easy at the time. I knew if they could do it, I could too.”

Bev Mighty

“I am a special education teacher. I have been teaching for 16 years, and I love every moment. Teaching is my passion and I try to create a safe, caring, and loving environment for children to help them grow socially, emotionally, and creating a community for all students’ health and well-being.

“I became a special educator because one of my daughters was diagnosed with a hearing loss at the tender age of 3. My daughter’s teacher was so caring and she loved the job she did. I love working with children and knew that teaching was the career I wanted to pursue.”

Elsie Colon

“As a child I always dreamed about being a teacher and helping children learn. I became an elementary school teacher in Puerto Rico. I taught kindergarten through sixth grade. In 2008 I moved to Florida and started to work as a preschool teacher.

“Three years ago, I moved to Holyoke. I decided to give back to the community and accepted a position as a special education teacher. I have been taking the steps to be a better teacher to provide my students with the tools for them to progress in academics and also as human beings. I really don’t see myself doing anything else than teach.”

Gail Joseph

“I have taught for practically half of my lifetime, because I helped to educate my nephews and nieces, and when I had my own children I continued teaching. One notable mention would be the work I did with my son Joey, who learned to read with me before he was 5 years old when I still lived in Trinidad and Tobago.

“I simply wanted my kids to excel and exceed all expectations, and so did he when he arrived in the United States of America in 2009. Now, you may wonder why I chose the teaching career above other careers. Well I believe I have a calling to teach and transform lives through teaching. Additionally, after being given guidance by one of my big sisters, I focused for years on accomplishing this goal, and now I am a licensed teacher.

“The sky’s the limit for me and all of my students in the future.”

Jack Czajkowski teaches science to eighth graders from all over Massachusetts at the Greater Commonwealth Virtual Public School. He also tutors aspiring teachers for the Paradigm Shift program and is a teacher consultant for the Western Mass Writing Project.

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