March 16, 2021

'I finally made it.' After 28 years of working toward becoming an educator, he's now a full-time teacher in the Bronx

Author: Matt Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
calvin edwards
Caption: FILE PHOTO: Calvin Edwards in 2018, shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in education. Today he teaches middle school science in the Bronx. Photo by Jonathan Fickies.

There’s determination. There’s persistence. And then there’s Calvin Edwards.

The man who NYSUT President Andy Pallotta calls a “gentle giant who never gives up on kids,” is also a man who refused to give up on himself. And after 28 years spent working toward becoming an educator, Calvin Edwards — at age 51 — is now a full-time, full-fledged middle school science teacher in the Bronx.

“I truly believe it is a gift from God,” Edwards said of his hallmark persistence. “If I am not happy with something in my life, I will work until I change it. I will do this ‘til the day that I die. I also believe it is never too late to improve and enrich your life.”

Edwards, who completed certification requirements in December, is teaching at P186X Walter J. Damrosch School where he was hired in February. His journey, however, began in 1992, when he entered community college with the goal of becoming a teacher.

But then life happened. There were kids. Health issues. Family obligations that required him to work extra jobs. After finally graduating in 2000, Edwards began pursuing his bachelor’s. And then there were more hurdles. The courses he needed were not being offered by CUNY, leaving him stuck. So, for the next 17 years, Edwards took courses whenever he could whenever they became available.

It was slow going, but thanks to a UFT benefit that paid for six credits per semester, Edwards — a UFT member and veteran paraprofessional — was able to continue and complete his bachelor’s degree in May 2018 and then his graduate work. And when he finally completed his certification and landed his job, he called Pallotta — his close friend and mentor, whom he assisted in the classroom back when the NYSUT president was teaching in New York City.

“It was a good feeling to tell a close friend that I accomplished a lifelong goal,” Edwards said. “It was exciting to tell someone who was invested in my journey that I finally made it.”

“When he called to tell me,” said Pallotta, “we both screamed like little kids. It was just fantastic to hear that news, and knowing how long it took for him to get there made it doubly
exciting. This is truly the journey of a lifetime.”

So, after three decades of pursuing his dream, what was it finally like to realize it?

“I was a little nervous the first week,” Edwards said, “but the nerves went away pretty quickly… Teaching is pretty close to what I envisioned, and the years of experience (as a paraprofessional) helped me immensely with behavior management.”

Of course, what he did not envision was beginning his career during a pandemic.

“One unexpected challenge that I faced,” he said, “is the difficulty of speaking with the mask on for two or three back-to-back periods. The closing of the school and working online is a real challenge. It is difficult to engage the students online.”

Nonetheless, Edwards said, his goal remains the same as it was when he began this journey back in 1992: “To be the best teacher that I can be and make a difference in the lives of as many students as possible.”

Pallotta, for one, has no doubt that will happen.

“Calvin has the heart of a teacher. He genuinely cares about every person that he comes in contact with, whether it’s a student, a fellow educator or someone he just has a chance encounter with. He will be a blessing to each and every student that he has in his classroom.”