Written and submitted by Point Pleasant Boro schools:
POINT PLEASANT, NJ (June 2, 2014) — According to an old Native American aphorism, one must never criticize a man without first walking a mile in his moccasins.
What, at first glance can seem a simple pronouncement to discourage presumption, is, under further examination, a profound call for empathy and understanding when dealing with others.
And although the exact origins of the saying are unknown, its themes have frequently been adapted and integrated into countless iterations throughout history, and appear in proverbs, fables and literature. Regardless of individual context, however, the moral remains consistent, and that is, we should not judge another without firsthand knowledge of their experiences and perspectives.
This concept, however, continues to prove elusive to some, specifically those who publicly engage in damaging rhetoric and make sweeping generalizations, openly deriding certain groups of people based solely upon the targeted groups’ profession. The most common targets of this discourse are those in service-oriented professions, the very professions that rely on public support to function effectively.
In an effort to address the negativity and clarify the misperceptions directed specifically toward the teaching profession, the Point Pleasant Borough School District joined districts across the state recently, by hosting a Teacher for a Day program at the district’s four schools. Developed by the New Jersey Education Association, the Teacher for a Day program helps raise awareness about the teaching profession by inviting community members to “walk a mile’ in an educator’s shoes. Members of the Point Pleasant Education Association, or PPEA, coordinated the district’s Teacher for A Day program.
“The Teacher for a Day program provides an excellent opportunity for members to see what today’s students and schools are all about,” said Lorraine Griffin, PPEA President. “Education has changed greatly over the last decade, and it is important for the community to understand those changes in order to plan effectively for meeting the future needs of Point Pleasant students.”
A total of nine community members, from diverse backgrounds that included local business, law enforcement, politics and school-related associations, accepted the PPEA’s invitation and on Wednesday, May 28th they experienced a day in the life of a Point Pleasant Borough teacher.
And the experience was an authentic one, according to Ms. Griffin, who said, “One of the most common misconceptions surrounding teaching is that the workday ends with the final school bell, when nothing could be further from the truth.
“For our Teacher for a Day participants to truly appreciate what it means to be a teacher today, they had to experience the extensive prep work teachers do everyday,” she said. “And prepare they did, designing the day’s lesson plan and classroom activities in consultation with their cooperating teacher.”
Through a combination of face-to-face meetings, phone calls and emails, the pairs of guest- and cooperating- teachers worked together to develop engaging lesson plans and activities for their classes. Some participants, specifically the guest teachers at the middle and high schools, designed lessons that reflected their own professional expertise; like, sixth grade Social Studies teacher Sara Martorana’s guest teacher, Joe Introna – more commonly known as Joe Leone – who drew on his experience as a gourmet Italian chef and proprietor of Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties, to turn a discussion about ancient Rome into a lesson about the food native to various Italian regions. The experiences of State Assemblyman David Wolfe also helped to enhance a lesson on immigration and the history of Ellis Island in Point Pleasant Borough High School teacher Mary Ann Billerman’s US History classes. Assemblyman Wolfe and Mrs. Billerman utilized a tag-team approach, contrasting current events with American history.
Other participants, however, seemed to prefer a more supportive role in the classroom, taking the opportunity to experience a typical school day – as was the case for Town Council Member and local businessman Robert Sabosik, known during Teacher for a Day as “First Mate,” to Ocean Road Elementary School first grade teacher, “Captain” Pam Dease.
“May 28th, in addition to being the Teacher for a Day date was also “Pirate Day” in Ms. Dease’s class, a day that celebrates the “ar” sound in phonics,” said Memorial Middle School teacher Courtney Fisher, lead organizer of the Teacher for a Day program.
All day in Ocean Road classroom 133, students participated in a series of pirate-themed educational activities framed around the “ar” sound, rotating through stations like Pirate Message in a Bottle, where students composed letters to their parents, integrating words with the “ar” sound, and Vocabulary Word Treasure Hunts, for which the students used miniature periscopes to find the target words, among others as ‘Captain’ Dease and ‘First Mate’ Sabosik observed, offering assistance whenever necessary. By the end of the day, it was hard to tell who was enjoying the day more – the students or their guest teacher - when Mr. Sabosik, donning a pirate eye patch and bandana, read the students a pirate-themed story before distributing special pirate stickers and hats that he had purchased for the students the day before.
“It’s incredible what she [Ms. Dease] does everyday to transform the learning experience into fun for the kids,” said Councilman Sabosik, who described the day as his own personal learning experience. “I would challenge any detractors of education to come in this classroom for a day. This is not an eight to two job; Ms. Dease and I met here yesterday at four o’clock to prepare the classroom for today’s activities, and she was still working hard when I left two hours later. It’s an incredible amount of work and preparation and it’s clear that the kids are benefiting."
Mr. Sabosik said he was also struck by the level of student engagement, saying, “I couldn’t believe that these students are five and six- years old. They listened. They stayed on task and they were clearly engrossed in the lesson.”
Councilman Sabosik’s neighbor on the Council dais, Councilman Chris Leitner expressed similar statements working with teacher Kathleen Lohnes’s fourth grade class at Ocean Road School, saying, “I was very impressed by the students respectfulness and by how engaged they were in the lessons.”
Like Councilman Sabosik, Mr. Leitner had participated in the district’s inaugural Teacher for a Day program in 2012, when they were both partnered with high school teachers.
“I was a bit apprehensive, switching from high school students to elementary students, but it was a great experience,” he said.
Ocean Road’s final guest teacher was Point Pleasant Borough Police Officer Jeff Johnson, who was stationed in Alicia Scalabrini’s second grade class.
Serving as Guest Teacher brought Point Pleasant Board of Education member, Peter Hetzel to his knees, literally, as the six-foot-plus tall Board member traded the boardroom for the classroom, to work on arts and crafts and other fun activities in Mrs. Deanne Glenn’s kindergarten class at Nellie Bennett Elementary School.
Memorial Middle School welcomed a total of three guest teachers, who in addition to Joe Leone, included, Point Pleasant Borough Mayor, and district alum, Bill Schroeder, who was paired with sixth grade math teacher Liz Stupar and Assemblyman David Rible, who worked with Mrs. Stupar’s fellow sixth grade math teacher Jennifer Moramarco.
Local Chiropractor Timothy Warner rounded out the district’s Teacher for a Day participants, working with eleventh grade English teacher Susan Kuper at Point Pleasant Borough High School, an experience that had various classroom observers, including high school Principal Kurt Karcich wondering if Dr. Warner had perhaps missed his calling.
“He was a natural,” said Principal Karcich, after sitting in one of Mr. Warner’s class periods. “Not only did he have the students’ undivided attention but he also had every student actively participating in the discussion. Dr. Warner was inspiring and engaging and if he ever decides that he no longer wants to be a chiropractor, I sincerely hope he pursues an alternate route to teaching.”
The sentiment was shared by cooperating teacher Susan Kuper, who said, that although she and Mr. Warner discussed lesson plan ideas, that the lesson was ultimately his design.
“I told Dr. Warner that my classes were reading to Kill A Mockingbird and we discussed some different ideas for related activities,” she said. “From there, he devised this comprehensive lesson plan centered around the poetry of Maya Angelou.”
Maya Angelou’s famed poems Caged Bird and Still I Rise served as the inspiration for discussions about literal and interpretive meaning that had the students completely engaged. Using examples and imagery from both poems, Mr. Warner guided the students through the discovery of the underlying messages in the poems while encouraging them to use their own voices to inspire others, reflecting on Ms. Angelou’s life and struggles, a lesson that took on a deeper significance as the teachers learned that Ms. Angelou had passed away earlier that same day.
“The lesson plan was completed, and we had already made it through a couple class periods before we heard about Ms. Angelou’s passing,” said Mrs. Kuper. “But I think it definitely added a different perspective to the discussion as we were able to consider one of the most profound and influential voices of our time.”
At the end of the day, the guest teachers and their cooperating teachers attended a special reception in the high school’s Media Center where they were presented with some special gifts from the PPEA, commemorating their participation in the Teacher for a Day program.
“While the Point Pleasant Borough School District has historically enjoyed an excellent relationship with community and local leaders, we recognized that the Teacher for a Day program would provide a unique perspective into the everyday educational experience within our schools,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith.
“Through Teacher for a Day, we were able to help broaden understanding of the educational process in Point Pleasant Schools with nine public figures and community leaders, effectively creating our district’s new ambassadors, who can share with their fellow community members, what happens in our schools everyday,” he said. “I’m very grateful to our guest teachers as well as the members of the Point Pleasant Education Association, who were the architects of this program, for creating a successful reciprocal learning experience.”
For more information about Point Pleasant Borough Schools, visit www.pointpleasant.k12.nj.us.