Ronald Heitmann, Lake Riviera Middle School, Brick, 7th Grade English and Science
24 years ago, I got my job here in Brick at Lake Riviera. I coach track, I advise the school newspaper, and I run the drama club, too. I love it. I actually used to be a manager at Macy’s, but it just wasn’t fulfilling. I was asked if I would teach CCD. Within a month of teaching it, I knew that I had to change my career goals, because I absolutely fell in love with working with kids. It was an epiphany. I went back to school full-time while I was working full-time, with the support of my wonderful wife. I felt relief when I was able to give my notice at Macy’s and finally start my career as a teacher.
In the business world it is all about facts and numbers, and it was all about getting products out and selling products, and there was no personal satisfaction in that. The interpersonal skills were missing. And that was what my teaching career brought to me. Every child is a person, and I was able to inspire the students in my classroom, which meant so much to me.
Being an English teacher, it is, of course, very important to me that they become good writers. But the thing I want from them personally is for them to be good people. My goal is for them to take all of the experiences we have had together, the novels we have read, the poetry that we have written together: I want them to leave my classroom as good people who are academically prepared. The ‘good people’ has to come first.
I will never tell a child what to do. I will just simply suggest what I would want if they were my child. It is incredibly satisfying as over the years I see them make good choices in my classroom, and beyond. Just this year, I had a dad get in contact with me. His son is in high school, but used to be in my class back in the 7th grade. He asked me if I would speak to his son because of the direction he was taking. Of course I said ‘yes’ and did. That was such an honor.
Kids are feeling so disconnected in today’s world, and that is producing a lot of apathy. Technology is causing some of that for sure. Kids are so into social media and video games that they are losing their social skills. I think that today one of the things that need to be addressed is having to understand that they need to develop empathy, sympathy, understanding, compassion for others.
I know that the kids are growing up in a much different world than I grew up in. But there are still universal truths that hold up even today. These kids want to be loved and accepted and treated with respect just like when I was their age.
-Article and photo by Gregory Andrus. You can find more of Gregory’s work at www.portraitsofthejerseyshore.com