As the new school year begins, we're pleased to share this reflection on teaching by Georgina P. Nelson, ABPC's Director of Professional Learning during 2011-12. Georgina (the mother of toddler twins!) is moving into school administration this fall, serving as assistant principal for Madison Elementary in the Madison City Schools. During the past year, Georgina's insights, vitality, and passion for the work energized us and we know she will energize the teachers and students in her new school as well.
by Georgina P. Nelson
It is so hard to believe that the new school year is upon us! Where has the time gone? During this time of scurrying to buy school supplies and clothes and listening to my teacher friends talk excitedly about beginning another year, I paused to reflect upon that infamous question that we often hear: “So why did you want to become a teacher?”
I've had the opportunity to work in a variety of education roles, but I'm most proud to have been a teacher. I've often heard colleagues say that they knew since early childhood they would someday become a teacher. But for me, becoming a teacher has been more of a journey, a long road that took many years to travel. This journey has been sometimes wearisome, many times exhilarating, but in the end, definitely gratifying.
Gaining a love of learning
Reflecting upon my early years, I realize I was a very fortunate child. My entire family showered me with more time, attention, and love than most children today have the opportunity to experience. Every night, without fail, my parents would tuck me into bed, lie down beside me, and read to me.
Although both my parents enjoyed sharing these special moments, my father always told the best stories. He did not merely read, he entertained; he was a master storyteller. He would speak the narration with tremendous expression and provide voices to characters that enabled me to visualize worlds of fantasy. Through these early literacy experiences, I gained the love of books and stories and the enjoyment of reading.
Throughout my formative years my parents and teachers encouraged and challenged me both academically and socially. School was always a fun-filled and safe place, and the memories I have are extremely positive. I remember an innovative first grade teacher who utilized manipulatives to make addition and subtraction instruction come alive for her students -- long before manipulatives were touted as “the way” to teach mathematics.
I remember a dedicated second grade teacher who spent many hours before and after school providing additional assistance when I moved to a new school and found myself behind my classmates for the first time in my life. I remember a literature-loving third grade teacher who read aloud books like James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web for the sole purpose of enjoyment. These and many other educators, along with my family, taught me a true love and appreciation for learning and a desire for knowledge.
The long road
In 1990 I graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in business administration. This was a monumental event because I was the first person in my family to earn a college degree. After graduation I worked in the field of human resources management and was successful by society’s standards. However, my professional life lacked fulfillment. I had a strong desire to make a positive mark on society, which the field of business was not providing.
During this time I began working with children through various volunteer projects, and it was through these experiences that I really heard the call to teach for the first time. For two years I worked full-time and attended college full-time to meet Alabama's certification requirements and earn my M.Ed. degree. For the next two years I was a part-time teacher, privileged to work with Title I students. I felt the great joy unique to teaching when many of them, for the first time in their lives, experienced success in school. To this day I treasure the time I had to work with these academically at-risk children. And dreams really do come true! In 1997 I interviewed for a full-time teaching position. I will be forever grateful to my principal who had confidence in my abilities and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.
A focus on literacy
Reflecting upon my career I believe my greatest contribution to the field of education has been in the area of improving literacy instruction, not only in my classroom, but in schools and classrooms across the state of Alabama. Participating in the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) as a teacher and leader expanded my understanding of effective instruction tremendously. I wholeheartedly embraced ARI's research based, best practices approach to reading instruction. It was very satisfying to work with educators at all levels across the state, finding ways to meet the needs of all children in our care.
That said, I believe my greatest accomplishments have occurred within the walls of my own classroom, promoting literacy and the love of reading and working with at-risk kids. I have been allowed to witness amazing progress in both students' academic and social lives. Many of these students just need the support of someone who believes in their abilities and encourages them to push themselves to the limit. Others needed specialized instruction to bridge the gaps, when they have not yet grasped certain skills.
I have watched so many children blossom from reluctant into independent readers. They are precious jewels in my life. Recently I received a thank-you letter from a former student who wrote, “People usually say to me (about school) that after the year is gone and the summer is over, you just forget it all, but you stored the information in my brain and locked it up.” Another student wrote a letter to a local newspaper nominating me for the Golden Apple Award, which read, “Now that I know how to read I enjoy reading as much as (Dr. Nelson) does…I actually made the A/B honor roll this year. I am so proud of myself and my grades.”
A new journey
So when someone asks, “Why did you want to become a teacher?” the answer resides all around me. I take pride in knowing that I am contributing in some small way to the promotion of high levels of learning for all students in the state of Alabama. Like all dedicated teachers, it's my hope that I have made a positive impact upon the lives of my students and -- in the process -- upon our society. I do not think I could ask for a more fulfilling legacy.
This year I am embarking on a new role – that of instructional assistant principal in my home school system. While I will not have a classroom of my own, I'm looking forward to working alongside the teachers in our school to support the highest levels of instruction and learning. It's what our students deserve.
Now I'm wondering….why is it that you wanted to be a teacher?
Georgina Pipes Nelson, a graduate of the University of Alabama, earned her doctorate in Elementary Education in 2004. She worked for 10 years with the Alabama Reading Initiative as a regional coach and program administrator at Alabama State Department of Education. This recent story in the Madison Record highlights her transition to the principalship.