May 08, 2018

For Teacher Appreciation Week, NYSUT staff members recall their favorite educators

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Bernice Rivera, NYSUT assistant in education services and seminar coordinator, is a former seventh-grade Social Studies teacher. Photos on this page by Liza Frenette.

Some of NYSUT’s professional staff — who devote their work lives to working with teachers, school health-care professionals, and School-Related Professionals — are former teachers themselves.

So for National Teacher Appreciation Week we asked them: who was your favorite teacher, and why?

Susan LaFond, NYSUT assistant in education services, former foreign language and ENL teacher, National Board Certified Teacher

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My favorite teacher was my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Post, at Monroe-Woodbury Elementary. We had moved from Pennsylvania and it was really hard for me. I was very quiet, very shy. She was loving, caring, a grandmother type — so soft-spoken and accepting. She gave us think time and response time. She was very, very patient. This woman opened me up to learning.

There were a lot of opportunities for us to engage in learning. She used open thinking, problem solving, and creativity. We had a kid-sized kitchen set up. We had construction paper books projects. Geography was one, and we’d use a pearl for the capital of the country. She brought in rice and we ate with chopsticks. We’d put on skits and our parents would come in. I was Peter Rabbit’s mother.

Bernice Rivera, NYSUT assistant in education services and seminar coordinator, former seventh-grade Social Studies teacher

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My favorite teacher was my second-grade teacher, Miss Wolf, at Windermere Elementary School in Buffalo. It was awesome; kids from all over the world went there. China. Egypt. My mom was in dental school at Buffalo U, and a lot of the kids who went to my school had parents who were in that grad school. My parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and they’d send me there every two years for a while to learn Spanish, and then I’d forget my English. This teacher helped me with reading, language and spelling. She spent a lot of time with me reading after school.  She took time out of her schedule. She dedicated a lot to me. This was before English Language Learners and English for New Learners. This teacher used differentiation — a word we use now — designing different lessons for different abilities, preferences and learning styles. We didn’t have it back then but she just knew how to do it. Because of her, my skills were honed and then I didn’t need extra assistance.

If you get children when they are young, you can provide them with skills and with the confidence to be able to succeed and realize they’re okay.

Tom Sheraw, NYSUT Labor Relations Specialist, former English teacher

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I am a 1985 graduate of Albany High School, where my favorite teacher was Dave Peterson. He taught Sociology in a unique way. We had a textbook, and were expected to read it, but it was never used in the classroom. Instead, Mr. Peterson covered the curriculum by telling stories about "the game of life." He taught us about things we might encounter with workplace scenarios, and college scenarios. The upshot of the class was that if you learned how to play "the game" correctly, your chances of success in life would increase greatly. It was a clever way to engage a class full of second- semester seniors who had one foot out the door.

When I became a middle school English teacher in East Greenbush some years later, I used some of the same techniques to engage my students. I told stories, and focused on helping my students to develop independent critical thinking skills.

Terry McSweeney, NYSUT assistant in education services, former math and science teacher

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I attended Marcellus Central Schools, where I ended up teaching. I’m certified in math, biology and general science so my favorite teachers were my science and math teachers — but also an English teacher. I loved Mrs. Mary Booth, biology, and Mrs. Mary Ann Baner, chemistry, for making science interesting, fun and hands-on. They always made me think about the scientific process and really taught critical thinking skills. Mr. Will Hoyt was my algebra teacher. He instilled in us confidence in our abilities. He was patient and willing to give extra help. I got a 100 on my Regents exam in Algebra. He helped me to find my love for math.

My other favorite teacher was Mr. Ted Wright who taught English. He taught me how to persevere and to keep rewriting and editing and reworking until every writing piece was better. I didn’t like English or writing, but he was patient and believed all of his students would — not could — become better writers. Those writing skills I learned in high school were some of the most important skills that influenced me throughout various phases of my life.

Jennifer Romer, NYSUT labor relations specialist, former elementary teacher

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My favorite teacher was Mr. Jeff Campbell, world history. I went to high school in Grants Pass, Oregon. In Oregon, specifically county school, we relied heavily on property taxes and our school budget was regularly defeated. I went through high school under a contingency budget. But Mr. Campbell was a miracle worker to keep students engaged in learning. He genuinely cared about me as a person, not just how well I performed on tests. It was the first time I was introduced to project-based learning, student-driven learning. One project I remember was how we divided the class into countries we were studying at the time, and their roles in WWI. Long-term projects we did were tied into the curriculum and our efforts and outcomes were reflected in our country’s “power.” He correlated the country’s industry and abilities to success in the war. I also remember he was the first teacher who taught me how to study. He coached, and he was involved in the student/school activities, so his presence was everywhere. He was one of about six teachers who ate in the common area for lunch, not the teacher’s lounge. He was approachable and was highly respected for his dedication to the school and its students. He communicated with me in a way that let me know he expected me to live up to my potential.

Professionally, I emulated much of what I remember about his classes. I wanted to create a safe environment for all students. I always tried to make sure each and every one of my students felt that I cared just as much about them as any other student, and that I expected they would always give their best effort. I invested in the school community and was present for everything. Mr. Campbell would do this crazy belly slide across the gym floor at pep rallies as the “Miami Knight,” making himself vulnerable, and I learned to let students see me a little vulnerable as well — performing in the teachers “no talent show.”

John Strom, NYSUT assistant in education services overseeing the graduate program, former sixth-grade math teacher

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My favorite teacher was my fourth-grade teacher Linda DeLuca. She would read out loud to us. My favorite book was “Half Magic” by Edward Eager. She made reading come alive; she acted out the characters.

When I became a teacher I worked in the same building with her, and she became local union president. She and Lynn Eckert were involved with NYSUT’s Education and Learning Trust, and invited me to be an instructor in Endicott. I offered graduate coursework on teaching strategies. Then I applied for a job at NYSUT, and now I’m back with graduate work.

Leah Lembo, assistant in research and education, former professor of education

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My favorite teacher was Miss Foley from second grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Queens. She taught us dances from around the world and instilled a love of music, which I still enjoy today.

My favorite teacher in grad school was Barbara Curry, who became my advisor for my dissertation. She made a very significant impact on my life.  She taught qualitative research methods, and she was brave and unconventional. She encouraged me to use my voice and to speak with confidence and conviction. She was also a fantastic listener. She was pulling our ideas out of us instead of smothering the air with her own verbiage.

All of the NYSUT staff interviewed are members of the Professional Staff Association local union.

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