A few years back, scientists identified what they called a “reward molecule” — essentially, higher levels of dopamine — as the link in individuals who develop positive lifelong habits, such as the ability to persevere.
Should budding biology teacher Calvin Edwards ever work this discovery into his classroom curriculum somewhere down the road, he might consider using himself as Exhibit A.
Edwards, a veteran paraprofessional in New York City’s public schools who has long dreamed of becoming a science teacher himself, worked on obtaining his degree — for 26 years.
And finally, at age 48, Calvin Edwards graduated in May with his bachelor’s in biology and a minor in education. He went on to pass the edTPA. And soon, he’ll be tackling his other certification requirements.
“A colleague said to me, ‘Time’s going to keep passing, so you might as well do the things that will make you a better person,’” said Edwards, a teaching assistant at PS 32 in the Bronx and a UFT member, explaining his refusal to quit. “I just felt like I didn’t fulfill my goal. I knew that I could do it.”
So, too, did NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, who Edwards assisted in the classroom back when the statewide union president was teaching in New York City.
“The kids loved him,” Pallotta said of Edwards, who works with students with special needs. “They looked up to him. He’s a role model. Really, he’s a gentle giant.”
As Edwards would tell you, it was never his plan to take nearly 30 years to earn his degree when he first entered community college in 1992. But, as often happens in life, he encountered obstacles along the way.
There were kids. Health issues. Family obligations that required him to take on extra jobs. Then, after finally graduating in 2000, Edwards began pursuing his bachelor’s. But he encountered more hurdles, this time on the academic end.
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“The CUNY system, didn’t have the courses I needed at night, so I got stuck,” he said. So, for the next 17 years, Edwards would take the courses he needed whenever they would be offered. It was slow going, but thanks to a UFT benefit that paid for 6 credits per semester, Edwards was able to continue and complete his education.
“I got an education pretty much for free. I had that benefit available to me, why let it go to waste? I always considered it part of my salary. So, I made use of it.”
Pallotta said the perseverance that Edwards displayed in the long pursuit of his degree is the very attribute that makes him an effective educator.
“Calvin’s a person of faith who’s always seen education as the pathway to a brighter future,” said Pallotta. “He is someone who never gives up on kids. And he’s a person of integrity who always does what’s right for his students, his school and his community.”
Edwards said his relationship with Pallotta — whom he said has been a friend for 20 years — helped keep him going.
“When I finally told him I graduated, he was so proud of me,” said Edwards, choking up. “He’s like a brother.”
By this time next year, Edwards said he expects to be in the classroom, teaching biology to students in either junior high or high school. Credit his perseverance; his union benefits; the encouragement of his colleagues. Credit his “reward molecule.”
Credit, too, a good, old-fashion dose of motherly guilt.
“I had a conversation with my mom,” Edwards laughed. “She said, ‘What’s going on? Are you going to wait ‘til you’re 50 to graduate?’ So, that was motivation also.”