Berger’s Burg: Writer relates a tale of two Middle Village teachers

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Some kids want to know why teachers get paid when it’s the students who do all the work. A doctor, reviewing a patient’s chest X-ray, explains: “We see that your heart is slightly bigger than the average human heart, but that is because you are a teacher.”

According to a study by the American Association of University Women, 2.8 percent of all college-educated American women become elementary school teachers. As the husband of one of them, I can’t help but notice Gloria’s constant fortitude, devotion and love for her profession as she tackles the daily chores of an early childhood educator.

I watch as Gloria copes with the many hours of home preparation, parent-teacher meetings and other pedagogical requirements she performs willingly, conscientiously and smilingly. I especially look forward to hearing all the wonderful classroom stories she brings home every day. My favorite was the day 5-year-old Eduardo tearfully sobbed, “Susan broke my heart.”

“How did she break your heart?” Gloria asked.

“She took my crayon.”

And then there was the day she took her class to the Queens Botanical Gardens. As they walked in, Kimberly told Danielle, “Don’t look at too much. If you do, we’ll have to talk about it in class later.”

Could there be other teachers like her?

Gloria is testing youngsters for a gifted children’s program (beacon program) at PS 87 in Middle Village. I asked if she knew teachers with her same dedication and she rolled her eyes.

“There are hundreds,” Gloria said.

“Name me one,” I challenged.

“Karen Coletti, the science teacher, who runs the beacon program,” she replied. My investigative skills quickly came into play.

I learned that Mrs. Coletti, who lives in Middle Village, is married to Anthony and has four children: Victor, 24; Cassandra, 23; Ashley, 14; and Katrina, 12. She attended St. Margaret’s School in Middle Village, Forest Hills High School and Queens College. She began teaching in 1978 and was a substitute teacher at PS 153 in Maspeth and was appointed as a regular teacher in 1996 at PS 87 in Middle Village.

“Why did you enter the teaching profession, and why science?” I asked her. “I owed it to my mother, who always wanted me to learn, and to my wonderful teachers who recognized my potential and encouraged me. They helped build my self-esteem and confidence. I wanted to do the same.

“In addition, I like to be around children, who are like sponges and are so eager to learn. As a naturalist and an environmentalist, I enjoy introducing them to the many wondrous things that surround them. Science is a never-ending field, and it makes them aware that the world is a miracle. I introduce fun subjects with hands-on experiences that allow children to be discoverers on their own.”

Mrs. Coletti says that she shares an overcrowded classroom (stocked with science reference books and supplies) with another science teacher, a reading teacher, a huge turtle, guppies and growing plants. But she takes it all in stride and manages. Her reward is when the children learn and tell her that they love her.

“I would never give up the joy of teaching. Never!” she said. If, as Gloria said, hundreds of teachers are like Mrs. Coletti, our children are in good hands.

There is major concern, however, about the growing shortage of teachers. As is well-known to parents and educators, of all the ingredients necessary for schools to turn out well-educated and adjusted students, a sufficient quantity of talented teachers (such as Gloria and Mrs. Coletti) is most basic. We are losing too many of them and no longer can afford to allow the trend to continue.

Today’s 80,000 New York City public school teachers are better educated and more experienced than at any time in history.

Yet with this level of education and experience comes these troublesome facts, as reported in a City Council survey: “Over 70 percent of teachers with at least 25 years of experience expect to retire within two years; 29 percent of new teachers with less than five years’ experience are likely to quit within three years; and 26 percent of mid-career teachers are likely to leave within two years — glaring evidence that teachers are leaving in droves and new graduates are not entering the teaching field to replace them.”

No other professional field touches so many lives in such a lasting way. What is the answer? Support and thank our teachers for caring for you when you were a student and for caring for your children today.

In conclusion, I must tell this anonymous fable, submitted to the magazine “Teachers First” by a former school superintendent: “On the sixth day, God created men and women. On the seventh, he rested — not so much to recuperate but rather to prepare himself for the work he was going to do on the next day. For it was on that day, the eighth day, that God created the first teacher.

“When God finished creating the teacher, he stepped back and admired the work of his hands. And God saw that the teacher was good. ... And God smiled, for when he looked at the teacher, he saw into the future. He knew that the future is in the hands of the teachers.

“And because God loves teachers so much, on the ninth day, God created snow days.”

Yes, readers, I know about the teacher who was asked to give two reasons for entering the teaching profession and said, “July and August,” as well as another who was confronted with a crying little boy who just found out that he had to attend school until he was 18.

“Don’t worry,” she comforted, “I have to stay until I am 65!”

Teachers’ uncommon dedication and diligence are certainly common virtues. Teachers are an indispensable natural resource.

Reach columnist Alex Berger at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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