Iwona Langlois is a Music teacher at Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke Public Schools with over twenty years’ teaching experience. She was born and raised in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
GIVING BACK TO A COMMUNITY
At the age of five, I had the most amazing first-grade teacher, who inspired me with what I wanted to do with my life. I could see what a difference a teacher could make in her students’ lives because she really cared about us, which made me want to emulate that person. For me, teaching is an opportunity to give back to your community by providing young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make a positive impact on their city. I can’t think of a better way to make a difference in the lives of Holyoke’s young people than through teaching.
OUR CHALLENGES ARE OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
In life and in career, what is most important is the ability to use the challenges you face to learn and grow, to push you to become a better person and a better educator. You’re going to get that in Holyoke. All of our students need us, but some more than others. Based on circumstances beyond the child’s control, many require additional support before, during, and after school. Holyoke teachers provide this and more with a warm and welcoming attitude and atmosphere.
WORKING TOGETHER ON CONTINOUS IMPROVEMENT
The integrity and professionalism that you’ll find in Holyoke Public School teachers is among the best in the state. Our mentoring programs connect experienced teachers with first-year teachers to ensure they have the support and resources they need to be successful. Professional development is ongoing with input from administration, teachers, and outside sources always seeking opportunities for improvement.
Sarah Greany is a second grade teacher at Maurice A. Donahue School. She previously worked as a pre-K teacher and a paraprofessional.
WAY MORE TO TEACHING THAN READING AND MATH
Parents are sending me their children and entrusting me to care for them. There’s way more to teaching than reading and math. It’s always been a mentorship role for me. I look for the chance to share experiences from my own life and earn my students’ trust. Too often my students struggle to understand the importance of what happens in school, so I look for the chance to make those connections to their future. They might be interested in video games, so I’ll talk to them about what skills a video game designer needs or we’ll talk about the increased income that comes with a high school and college diploma.
DIVERSITY DEMANDS AN OPEN MIND
We value open-mindedness. Many of my colleagues weren’t born here, but come with a sense of respect for the reality our students are growing up with—whether it’s homelessness or immigrating from a country they’ve never been to. Our teachers need to have an open mind that will help those children feel included and trust them. That’s not something that they teach you in school, but it’s highly valued here and is making a difference in our community.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT WESTERN MASS
This is a community-oriented place and there’s so many opportunities to get involved. NYC, Boston, the Berkshires—you can hop in your car and drive to the beach in a couple hours. It always strikes me that we do lessons on weather that we’re lucky to be in a place that has four seasons. It may sound cheesy, but it doesn’t feel like the holidays when you don’t have beautiful snowfall and cold weather. There’s amazing hiking, skiing, running and biking trails. And beyond that, there’s always our great restaurants, shopping, and music venues!
Formerly a sales and business analyst, Kim O’Grady decided to change careers and follow in her father’s footsteps. She is a Master Teacher in math at Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership’s Forest Park Middle School.
PARENTS PLAY A CRITICAL ROLE
I believe that we are all in this together and that whatever is going on in school, should be continued at home. Students need to be getting consistent messages from teachers and their parents, so we look for ways to get parents involved. Too many parents only hear from a school when there’s a problem. I feel it’s our job to go above and beyond to make them feel welcome. My colleagues and I look for opportunities to connect with parents around positive things. Whether it’s “coffee time” with our principal or pizza nights, we’re looking for opportunities to help parents develop a positive relationship with our schools.
OUR TEACHERS GO THE EXTRA MILE
Our teachers are incredibly determined. We had one student who just didn’t want to be at school. He wouldn’t do homework and was acting out in class and at home. His teacher was really struggling to engage this student because she really cared and was determined to help. I admit I was skeptical when she recommended this student try out for our end-of-the-year school play. At first, he was hesitant, but the more she discussed it with him, the more interest he had in having a role. It was like night and day once he started doing it. He made friends, he started trying harder in school, things improved at home. It’s an example of our teachers’ determination to stick with a student no matter what. His mom recently signed him up for acting lessons. It reminds me of the importance of what we do.
THE CHANCE TO BE THE TEACHER THAT CHANGES A LIFE
You can always name that teacher in your life that has had an impact on you and your life. In Springfield, you have such an amazing opportunity to make a difference. Many of our kids come from difficult backgrounds. They’re not just coming to school for education; Many of them are looking for a connection, for mentorship. Having the ability to impact these students in a positive way—not only educationally, but emotionally too—is what makes my life here so rewarding.
Lori McKenna has been an educator with Holyoke Public Schools for 11 years, teaching grades 9-12. She has been an active part of her school community, serving as a member of the instructional leadership team, working as a tutor for students, and leading professional development for fellow teachers.
ENGAGEMENT IS KEY TO HELPING ALL STUDENTS SUCCEED
I love teaching because I believe teachers can have a tremendously positive influence on students—no matter their background. Our schools serve students who are still learning English, students with special education needs and IEPs, students who have experienced many difficult challenges in their lives, as well as students who are on task for successful academic achievement. I work to understand where each student is and how I can be most effective in helping all students succeed. I believe the best way to do that is to establish meaningful relationships with my students. If I can build connections with my students, create clear rituals and routines in my classroom, and show them that we have a relationship of respect, all of my students will be set up for academic success.
TAPPING OUR GREATEST PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT RESOURCE—OUR TEACHERS
Our district recently launched Holyoke University, an opportunity for educators across the district to teach classes to their peers and share their expertise and unique experiences. Whether it be using restorative justice or learning Spanish to better communicate with your students, Holyoke teachers possess a wealth of resources and Holyoke University taps into that. I’m currently teaching a class called Questioning and Engagement Strategies, which I hope will give teachers strategies to ensure that they are using higher order thinking skills in their lessons and that they are engaging all students in the classroom for these activities. Some of these strategies are ones that I’ve developed myself and some are ones that I’ve learned through my own professional development that I’m sharing because I’ve found success with them.
HOLYOKE TEACHERS LEAVE THEIR EGOS AT THE DOOR
Trying something new can be scary. What if I try something new and someone drops by my classroom and it looks like a failure? I’m proud that our teachers take risks and are comfortable trying out new strategies that will help their students learn. If you are open-minded and willing to try something new, that’s how we get better. That’s how we best help our students. We are intentional about collaboration and doing whatever it takes to see our students succeed. I had a student who was disengaged in my classroom, but because I speak regularly with her other teachers I learned that she was excelling in my colleague’s class. We worked together to figure out what it was that unlocked that student in her classroom. This ongoing collaboration makes us better—makes me a better teacher, makes us all better teachers. We leave our egos at the door for the sake of our students.
Mary Kay Brown
Mary Kay Brown has more than a decade of experience managing and administering magnet grants for schools and ten years of workforce development work with a focus on making the connection between school and career by providing career education, training, and opportunities for students.
OUR COMMUNITY SUPPORTS SPRINGFIELD STUDENTS
Through our school’s “enrichment block,” community organizations lead five-week learning programs designed to help our students by exposing them to activities and subjects that they might not normally have access to in a typical school day. Our partners, including the Jewish Community Center, the City of Springfield Public Health Department, Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services, Dakin Humane Society, Community Music School, Junior Achievement of Western MA, and many more, send professionals into our school to work with students to expose them to a variety of activities, interests, and social issues such as music, healthcare discrepancies, the ethical treatment of animals, and financial literacy. Students learn how the workplace readiness skills inherent in all these fields make them well-prepared students and are exactly the skills they’ll need to thrive in a twenty-first century workplace.
There’s nothing worse than having Peter not talking to Paul. Our teachers value communication, collaboration, and creativity in addressing challenges. Counselors, teachers, and parents meet as a team each week to make sure that no student here is falling behind. Together, we strategize ways we can help students with attendance, behavior issues, or academic challenges. Our school culture values out-of-the box thinking and supporting our kids no matter what. Our teachers also meet weekly in vertical- and grade-level teams to look at student work, practice instructional moves, look at student data, and strategize best practices to support student achievement and positive school culture. As a Magnet Expeditionary Learning School, our teachers work together to design curriculum units that integrate a social justice theme. Our Habits of Scholarship—respect, responsibility, quality, and perseverance—are critical components of Expeditionary Learning Schools and are as important to learning as academic content. Our teachers also strategize around ways to use these traits to support a positive school culture.
SMALL TOWN LIVING WITH BIG CITY ACCESS
I grew up outside of New York City and worked in Midtown Manhattan for a number of years, and I worried that I’d be missing out on all the culture by moving to western Massachusetts. I was wrong. Springfield is beautifully positioned because it’s an hour and a half from Boston, two hours from New York, down the road from Hartford, and Northampton and Amherst are right up the road. We enjoy the benefits of living in a small community, while still being able to get into a car and be in the middle of the action.