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Educator for a Day

Given my very full professional plate, these days I’m hard pressed to commit to many “extracurricular” events. But when the National Education Association asked me to participate in their American Education Week Educator for a Day event at Parlin K-8 in Everett, Massachusetts, I immediately said yes. Because I believe in public school education with all my heart. Here’s why:

I grew up sixth in a family of seven children; we were low-income somehow residing in an affluent Boston suburb. It was challenging to be so plainly different -- socioeconomically and racially -- in this community. Not to mention the fact that I was a woefully subpar student in this high-achieving town.

Yet despite my mediocre grades, my teachers saw me as a human being, not just a deliverable on a report. They didn’t treat me differently because I was Asian. They didn’t treat me differently because I often wore the same shirt to school three days in a row. They didn’t treat me with disdain or frustration because I struggled in the classroom. Instead, they celebrated the areas in which I showed natural talent (music) and potential (writing). That faith propelled me forward: to college, where I finally found academic success in the small seminar format; to a Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellowship in music and brain science; to a new career as a multimedia creative.

Suffice to say, last week when I walked in to Beth Barrett’s fourth-grade class at Parlin, many feelings washed over me. The diverse sea of young faces no doubt included challenging and complicated stories like mine from childhood. The creaking of the 100-year-old wood planks under my feet as I bounced along to the musical lesson on area and perimeter told the tale of the many students who had crossed that classroom’s doorstep. Ms. Barrett’s supportive enthusiasm to student responses spanning tentative to confident reflected that same unconditional faith I felt so many years ago from my teachers.

And I felt the reaches of that unconditional faith just last month. I gave a talk in Beverly, Massachusetts, about my book, Minimalist Parenting. And who should show up but my high school English teacher from 22 years ago. Lucy Myers saw a flyer around the event and came to show her support and hear me speak. To give a talk about a book I wrote, in the presence of this beloved high school English teacher was, well, completely mindblowing.

I’m grateful to the National Education Association for inviting me to honor and celebrate public school teachers. In particular, thank you to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (who, by the way, is a natural at delivering math lessons), Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner, Everett Education Association President Kim Auger, Parlin Principal Michelle Massa, fourth-grade Parlin teacher Beth Barrett, and the educators who helped propel me forward during a time of immense and sometimes intense uncertainty.

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Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned author, speaker, designer, and consultant. Her work has been featured in Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, Woman’s Day, Parents, Redbook, the New York Times, National Public Radio, ABC News, Fox & Friends, FOX 25, and other fine media outlets. Christine lives in the Boston area with her husband Jonathan and daughters Laurel and Violet. She tweets about it all at @bostonmamas.

Educator for a Day Program Participants Share Their Experiences