Jackie Duda, Kenilworth, NJ at Harding Elementary School, 3rd Grade
I love Kenilworth, and it was an honor to get a job here where I grew up. I went to elementary school at Harding where I teach now. It is a small town where everyone knows each other. A lot of people say they don’t know if they could teach where they live, but you just have to have the right personality for it. Because wherever you go, you are going to run into someone you know. You just have to embrace it, really. I am really close to my family, too, so it is great.
We have a number of students in our class with special needs, and I co-teach with another teacher, Jaime Monesmith, which allows them to stay in the classroom all day with their peers.
Jaime Monesmith, my co-teacher, has a strong background with special needs kids, and even worked at the same developmental center I did, but at different locations. The bond we have created: we are like sisters. We have been teaching together for seven years.
One of the main goals of a mixed classroom is for someone to walk into the room and not be able to tell which the general education teacher is and who the special education teacher is. We take a lot pride in that. And our number one thing is to make our kids feel comfortable and have an environment where everyone is kind, comfortable and safe.
We got a transfer student at the end of November this year. She was new in our district, and was put in our classroom when we found out she had an IEP. Before she came to our classroom, we had a guessing game with the kids. I said, ‘Here we have a sticker chart… here is a name tag for a desk…. here is a book box.’ And we asked, ‘Can you put the pieces together and tell us what this all means?’ And the kids were ecstatic: ‘Are we getting a new student??’
So we said to our students: ‘Think about how she will feel coming into a new classroom, and meeting new classmates. She will be scared and feel lonely. In her first day in our class, we have to make sure she feels welcomed and that we help her and show her things around the classroom.’ And the kids totally understood, and have helped her feel much more comfortable in our classroom.
One special memory for me was when a little girl had a little truck in her pocket. We don’t allow toys in our classroom or during recess or anything and so I asked her, ‘Is that a toy? You are not allowed to have toys.’ And she said, ‘Ms. Duda, every day Alex just digs in the dirt with his hands, and I brought him the truck because I thought he would like it.’ I could cry thinking about it. And I knew she had to bring that to him. That she even thought to bring him that toy to give to a special ed. student was so special.
(TONJ Note: Jackie Duda showed me the accompanying photo, and shared a special story with me: “This photo is very special to me. It was taken by a parent of a child in my class. It was on the last day of my very first year teaching 3rd grade. The principal came over the loudspeaker and was wishing everyone a good summer and right before we lined up to leave. The kids said to each other, excitedly: ‘Are you ready?’ Then they counted 3…2… 1 and they all ran over to me and gave me this huge hug. I am so grateful that the parent was there to capture this special moment. I will have it forever and I keep it in my bedroom at home.”)