In the First Person
Katie Balthazar (’05) Austin, Texas
When I was looking at colleges I was unsure as to what major I would pursue. I knew it would either be education or social work, and I would want to work with kids. In Baylor’s School of Education I found exactly what I was looking for. It was a program that focused on the development of children as learners and also on my development as an educator. From the professors’ individual attention to the mentoring teachers I worked with (like Mrs. Denise McCall in 3rd grade), I got the sense that Baylor and Waco ISD were focused on growing me into the best teacher I could be.
Some special memories I have at Baylor will stay with me forever because they are the starting point for where I am now. One major change for me came my sophomore year when I took a class focusing on poverty in education. Living in the “Baylor Bubble” and coming from a similar background I was vaguely aware of the educational inequities in today’s society. Being led by Dr. (Mark) Bateman, I was pushed to explore what an equal and fair education for all students actually meant.
Through the readings and group discussions, I was able to start formulating a path in which I would like to take my early teaching career. For example, one of the required texts was Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. Reading this book opened my eyes for the first time, and I was able to see that some of our nation’s children are receiving a sub-par education and will continue to until changes are made. Ironically, now I am only teaching a few blocks away from both Public School 79 and PS 261 in the Bronx. Both schools are mentioned in the book.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to intern at Provident Heights Elementary both my junior and senior years. Under the supervision and leadership of Linda Cox and Betty Murphy (the principal at the time), I was able to explore urban education in a more tangible way. Both Linda and Betty had experiences working in these populations and the more work I did with them and my mentor teachers, the more certain I became about my future.
One lesson that will always stay with me from ProvidentHeights is the importance of involving the parents in the education of their children. By making the school a safe area and inviting parents to take part in different activities the community of the school and surrounding neighborhood becomes stronger.
When the time came for me to decide where I would like to teach I knew only one specific thing – it had to be an urban setting. I looked at graduate programs in urban education, but decided I would like to have some field experience before taking that route. The most obvious choice for me was a program called Teach for America. This program places teachers in the most high-need settings throughout the country. I chose to go to New York City.
One of the things I started having a passion for in my last year as an intern was students with special needs. The special educator at ProvidentHeights, (Ms. LaDonna Pebmleton), was a great example of a teacher with diligence and patience. When I got to New York I decided to get my master’s degree in special education. I am currently getting my master’s at Bank Street College of Education, and I attribute much of my success here to my undergrad education at Baylor.
I have just finished up my first year teaching an inclusion second grade classroom in the Bronx. Inclusion in New York is a co-teaching model in which half of the students are labeled as special education and the other half as general education students. This was a great experience for me because I was able to really focus on differentiating my instruction for the needs of all my students. I was also fortunate to have a colleague to share ideas with.
For this coming year I have decided to teach a self-contained special education class with 12 students who have learning and behavior difficulties. I know this will be a challenge and a somewhat new setting, but I feel as though my teaching “bag of tricks” is getting deeper always, and I have a strong foundation due to my education at Baylor.
To any student wishing to go into education I challenge you to think about all students and what it takes to educate all of them. Yes, teaching practices are universal in a sense, but the heart of a teacher cannot be taught. I dare you to look inside of yourself and see what impact you desire to have. From the students in WISD to the students around the country you have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. Take this with great responsibility, and allow Baylor to prepare you to your fullest potential.
“The heart of a teacher cannot be taught.”
Click on the Web Extra link to read comments from Mrs. Linda Cox, Katie’s University Supervisor at Provident Heights