Teachers of New Jersey: Laura Borelli, English Teacher, Jackson Liberty High School

I had cancer years ago. I was literally in a wheelchair for a year. I had what they called limb salvage surgery. They took out a big chunk of my tibia, and my fibula isn’t really there. It was this very extensive surgery. And I went from being a three sport coach, an advisor and everything, and kind of living at the school and doing all this stuff, to being thrown on the couch, and I couldn’t really do anything.  I was at a big point of transition in my life where I just had to be like, ‘Who am I?’ And I went through a process of learning not to be defined by being the athlete or being a teacher and just kind of get to the core of who I am and how I’m going to deal with things. And you know what? Since then, I have been on a journey of just hearing other people’s stories.

So I did the same thing with a new page I created, called ‘The Best in US.’ I post little things: sometimes it is just a ridiculous meme that just makes me laugh because I think we need to laugh. And then other times I would try to write about some perspective I gained from some experience I had. And then I started kind of looking at some of the people in the group and started thinking there are so many amazing people in this group that have incredible stories. I’m gonna just start highlighting some of these stories. And people started responding to some of them.

Everyone has a story that’s worth being told and it is up to us to listen. When we do we grow and help give light to others. Even when we disagree on fundamental points, the key to insight is understanding. We don’t need to view things the same way to find value in each other. Sometimes having our beliefs challenged is what strengthens them the most. Perspective can change far more than judgment or worry ever could. There is so much we can’t control and seeing people -especially young people- struggle with hardships really knocks at my spirit. But the reason it’ll never take hold of me is because of the resilience and optimism I see every day. Sometimes minor shifts in how we view things can make all the difference. Among the plethora of posters plastering my classroom wall, one reads, “Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day.” The same is true with people. Maybe we don’t all have our best moments every second of each day, but I truly believe everyone has something spectacular to offer if we give them the chance to be heard.

Finally, I tell my students in everything you do be your beautiful authentic self. I love diverse classes because there are so many different takes on things. Creativity and imagination go hand in hand with innovation. I know each of us is here for a reason. We will influence people far more than we realize, in number and depth. It is up to us what we do with that power. I think it is sad when people blend into the background, not wanting to be noticed. They often don’t realize that the words that they swallowed could have saved someone’s life or inspired an entire room. Love who you are and know it will always be enough.

Interview by Gregory Andrus, Portraits of the Jersey Shore



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