Melissa Hailey – 5th Grade, Elms Elementary School, Jackson, NJ

I’m really big on inclusion. In every single classroom I’ve worked, I’ve been the in-class support teacher. It’s really important to me that the students in the classroom, whether they’re special ed. or not, can’t tell the difference between me and my co-teacher. They don’t know who’s the special ed. teacher, and who’s the agenda teacher, and I just think it’s really important. We start every morning with a morning meeting, and I try to make it really fun for them. We play games and make it an environment where everybody feels comfortable with each other, where everyone feels safe sharing things with each other. The fifth graders are very aware of what’s going on with the pandemic, and it’s interesting to hear a lot of them are actually vaccinated now, which is awesome. And if they are vaccinated, they’re very proud to share that they’re vaccinated. So it’s almost like they’re used to it at this point.

As a teacher, I can relate to the students that do not feel confident in class. I have had to grow in confidence in my life. One time in particular, I was trying out for the swim team at The College of New Jersey. I thought to myself, if I walk on its Division III. I’m not being recruited, I’m probably going to be the slowest one on the team. There is an awards ceremony at the end of each year, and in my sophomore year I got the Most Improved award. I began overcoming my mental blocks, and I grew in confidence. I wanted to push myself even further and move to the middle lane and when I did well there, I pushed myself even further to go to the fast lane. By the end of sophomore year, I wanted to be captain. And in my senior year I did. The reason why I became captain is because I had a lot of respect for my teammates, and I was a leader. Not necessarily in what I said, but in what I did. I’ve always been a lead by example type of person. I might be sometimes a little bit quieter. I’m not the one really going crazy cheering on the sidelines, but I’m there. Like I said, I push myself hard, working hard and I just lead by example. That’s why I was captain.

After making it on to the swim team, those were the best four years of my whole life. I made lifelong friends. I look back and I’m so happy that I actually followed my mom’s advice to go to TCNJ, and to join the swim team, because she could see it. She could see the path that I was supposed to go down. I was doubting it really hard. But I’m really glad that I I took that path that she was guiding me to go down. And now it is important for me to instill that same confidence in my kids at school.

Interview by Gregory Andrus

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