PATERSON, NJ- Calling it an opportunity for community members to “see what today’s students and schools are all about,” Paterson Education Association (PEA) President John McEntee, issued an invitation to several local leaders to participate in the union’s “Teacher for a Day” program. More than two dozen accepted and on Tuesday spent the day in classrooms across the city “to learn first-hand about the job of teaching.”

The guest teachers, including Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, Board of Education President Oshin Castillo, Superintendent Eileen Shafer, and City Council President Ruby Cotton spent the entire school day in classrooms, teaching and shadowing their host from the morning bell until dismissal. The guests, according to McEntee, had the option of following the existing lesson plan or working with the cooperating teacher to develop their own.

“I am hoping they can see some of the real-world scenarios that happen in the schools,” School 2 Kindergarten teacher Debra DiPrima, who welcomed Board of Education Vice President Nakima Redmon to her classroom, told TAPinto Paterson. “Normally they see data, numbers, and reports.  But there is the human factor, kids get sick, have little arguments,” she added.

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When asked, Redmon articulated that not only was DiPrima “wonderful and amazing,” but that she found the students to be “engaging” thanks to the efforts their teacher put forth. While for her the “students and teachers always come first” Redmon acknowledged that she was happy to be “inside the classroom” as often the Board of Education members are only presented with “line items.”

With the countdown on to meet her commitment to reach a contract settlement with the Paterson Education Association within 100 days of assuming the position permanently, Superintendent Eileen Shafer taught Physical Education at School 28. 

Saying that the day “embraced the ‘together we can’ spirit,” Shafer believed it was an opportunity for leaders to see firsthand that “education has changed” and for those who took time to be in the classrooms “to understand those changes in order to plan effectively for meeting the future needs of Paterson students.”

Following the academic day many of the guest teachers joined their classroom teachers and PEA officials at the union’s office to discuss their experiences and share insights that they had gained during the exercise.

One of the items mentioned several times during the after-school gathering was faulty or lacking technology in the classrooms. “Sometimes our technology doesn’t work,” DiPrima said. This, she said, forces teachers to change lesson plans and adjust.

For her part, Passaic County Freeholder Director Sandi Lazzara, a former education of 25 years, was struck by the lack of smartboards in Mildred Montalvo’s 4th grade classroom at School 8. “Smartboards are a necessity today,” she said. Especially, she suggested, in that classroom where math and science is being taught.

Asked about her favorite part of the day Lazzara wasted no time responding, “the kids, as always.”

Dr. Jonathan Hodges, the longest serving member of the Paterson Board of Education also spent part of his day teaching at School 2. Saying that he “saw some of the challenges,” that come with the lack of resources, Hodges noted the impact of the large class size in the room he was in. “There were some students clearly at a disadvantage by having such a large class size,” he suggested.

While McEntee, on behalf of the 3100 members of the PEA, thanked all of the “Teacher for a Day” participants for demonstrating “their commitment to the teachers and students of this community,” it was his 2nd Vice President, Lakrehsa Hodge that wrapped it up by offering her hope that, above all, the guest teachers focused on the “good things that go on in classrooms” as well as “the bond between students and teachers.”