Teachers of New Jersey: Kayla Velicky, 1st Grade Teacher, Clara B Worth Elementary School, Bayville
I really, really like first grade. They’re so silly and I’m very silly, and they’re fun, and I feel like teaching is an art form. I was inspired by my fourth-grade teacher, Sister Paula. I was going through a really hard time in my life as a kid. My mom was going through a deep depression, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. So, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself or my abilities. I didn’t know what my talents were or things that I could be good at. But I was writing in fourth grade, and she just had this thing where if you said or wrote something that she thought was really good, she would tell you. She would encourage you by saying things like, “Whoa, you knocked my socks off!” and she would just really play it up. I just remember how she would be so encouraging to me and inspire me to believe in myself and my abilities. It was just the fact that she saw you through that writing to give me the strength that I needed to keep going.
So now I try to do the same thing with my students. Sometimes they have behaviors, and they are acting out, but not because they’re bad kids, but because there are things going on in their home life that they can’t control. They don’t have a way to express themselves at that age. I try to help them to use their words and help them to express themselves through that.
What I experienced as a child has helped me relate to the children I teach. There was one student who had a lot of anxiety because she had things going on in her home life. So, every day she would come into school, saying that her belly hurts because she’d want to go home with her mom. But I’ve just been trying to love her and teach her how to breathe, reminding her that she’s loved and encouraging her so that she enjoys being in school. As soon as I see her, I tell her, “I love your smile,” and just give her some extra love.
Interview by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore