Teachers of New Jersey: Katlyn Nielsen, Lauren Donovan Elementary School, Freehold
I saw what my teachers did for me in high school and the impact they had, and that inspired me to want to be a teacher. I really didn’t have the fun high school experience like others. I really didn’t enjoy high school at all. I have food allergies, so high school was very hard to navigate socially and I was isolated a lot because of my allergies, but my teachers were always the ones that were there for me in high school. They wanted to make sure my wellbeing was good, not only academically, but emotionally and mentally as well. They would check in with me and were my support system. Once I saw what they were able to do for me, I knew I wanted to be able to do that for my future students.
I had food allergies my whole entire life. But when you’re in elementary school and even middle school, it’s much more controlled because you’re in one classroom, and the teacher really gets to know you. I had my reactions every now and again, but they weren’t crazy. Once I got to high school, it was just a free-for-all in terms of like you’re switching classes, and people are eating in the classes, and I had issues with perfumes and colognes. I had issues in the cafeteria and it was to the point where I was having to take my medicine almost every single day of high school. I was taking Benadryl, and taking that while you’re trying to be a high school student was not fun at all, because it makes you so sleepy. I’ll never forget my junior year. I had to take Benadryl earlier in the day, and I have algebra for my last class. By the time I got to Algebra II, I fell asleep. I could not stay awake.
My teacher had another section during my lunch period. So I would go to her other class during my lunch so I could learn the lesson so that I could fall asleep in the last period like before the end of the day, because I also had work after school. She was incredible, and it was a teacher like that, that she knew the situation, and she was able to accommodate. She was the support I needed to make sure that I was keeping up so my grades didn’t slip. I wanted to make sure I got into a good college and I never wanted it to affect that. But sleeping in class does affect your academics. So that was the hardest part of navigating school – having allergic reactions, having to take my medicines, and trying to stay awake in school. And then also keeping up with the social aspect of wanting to make friends around me, but having to be so aware of having a reaction from one of them. Luckily I did have a core group of friends that were supportive and did help me out and kept an eye out for me, but it made me grow up much faster.
Interview and Photo by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore