Teacher Stories: Kathleen DeVita, Lacey Township Middle School, English
I was the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college. My father went to technical school. My mother never even graduated high school. My sister didn’t go to college. My family was so proud of me, and so supportive. My parents were just thrilled when I graduated from college. My father would tell anyone who would listen. My parents never told me I needed to have straight A’s. My mom was one of eight children. I come from an Italian family where my grandfather was an immigrant, and he was one of four brothers and four sisters. The brothers got the education and the sisters did not, it’s just the way it was. Education for the girls was secondary. Or not even secondary.
My dad was not home a lot when I was younger growing up. My dad worked hard to pay the bills. He was a truck driver. My mom was always the one who was involved with school. My mom made sure I never really needed help with my school work. I figured it out no matter what it was that I had to do. If there was some sort of crazy project to do, my dad helped me. My parents – my mom specifically, she said, ‘I always want you to do your best, whatever your best is.’ That’s how I raised my own children, and that’s how I am as a teacher today. I have one son who hates school. As long as I know he’s doing his best. I don’t care if it’s a C or not. I had friends who had straight A’s. I’ve never had straight A’s. Maybe I had straight A’s once or twice. But the point is, if you’re giving it your best effort, if you’re trying your best, then I can’t ask for more than that from you.
I knew from a very early age (since I was six) that I wanted to be a teacher. My first grade teacher in room 102 at Fairmount School in Hackensack, Mrs. Svihra, had a tremendous impact on me. I told her, ‘I want to be just like you one day.’ She had her very first job in a Little House on the Prairie setting. She had kids in her classroom from 5 to 18 years of age, all in one classroom. She and I got together a lot. I would call her when I was in college and stressed out, and she would always say to me, ‘dear, if you make the difference in the life of one student, your entire career is worth it.’ And ‘you’re my one,’ she would say. She was at our wedding. She was at my baby shower. We were at their 50th wedding anniversary. She is the reason I’m a teacher. Sadly she has passed away, but not many days go by that I don’t have some kind of a thought of her.
About 12 years ago, I’m sitting on my couch. It’s New Year’s Day and I get this Facebook message: ‘Hi, Mrs. DeVita. I don’t know if you remember me, (of course I remembered her), but I just wanted to let you know that I’m studying to be a teacher at Stanford. And it’s all because of you.’ And I just got the invitation to her wedding shower, and I’ll be going to her wedding. After she shared with me the impact I had on her, I would say if I never teach another day in my whole life, it’s been worth it, just knowing that I made a difference.
Interview by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore