Ms. Theresa Broomfield is a teacher who could light up any classroom upon her entrance. Her funny, direct and encouraging approach to teaching is what keeps her students motivated and eager to learn. Currently, Ms. Broomfield works as a middle school ELA teacher within a West Philadelphia school.
During my time interviewing Ms. Broomfield, it became evident how passionate she is about the teaching profession and how much of an influence she has on both her students and colleagues. An example of this was shown during our interview when Ms. Broomfield’s student teacher added remarks regarding Ms. Bloomfield’s ongoing positive influence during her teacher training. As a result of her dedication to improve the literacy skills of her students and her desire to empower students to reach for the stars, I am overjoyed to spotlight Ms. Broomfield as a Flowering Teacher.
What inspired you to be an English Teacher? More specifically in an urban school district?
“It was never a question of me teaching in an urban school district because I never thought of it like that. I never thought of Philadelphia as being distinct from any other district and I originally didn’t go to school to be a teacher. I went to school as an English major because I wanted to be a public relations consultant. But when I graduated it was 9/11 and nobody was hiring. So I thought this would be something that I would do for a year or two as I transitioned into another career. But to be perfectly honest with you I fell in love with it.”
How long have you been an English Teacher?
“I initially started teaching in 2001 and for two years I was a kindergarten teacher and I don’t particularly work well with small children. I talk to them like they’re older. I would say ‘it doesn’t matter about our feelings we have work to do’ and that isn’t the best mindset for kindergarten. I find that I work well with middle school students. It’s the right balance. They're malleable and old enough to take direction.”
What has been your hardest challenge as an English teacher of middle school students? What has been your greatest reward?
“My hardest challenge is I would say vocabulary acquisition. Because the vernacular of the mainstream culture is not necessarily the vernacular of my students and getting them to transition over and use those words in writing so that it flows effectively is challenging. The manner in which they pronounce words affects their syntax and the way they write. My greatest reward…I had a student maybe about 7 years ago and she was totally illiterate, and I taught her how to read after school. I tell you maybe her name and the words cat and dog may have been the only things that she knew how to read. I taught her how to read with a picture dictionary and flash cards. She used the flashcards to build sentences until she could read.”
You mention vocabulary as something that is challenging, more specifically vocabulary acquisition with students, would you say that vocabulary is also the hardest literacy skill to teach or is there a different skill you believe is harder to teach?
“The hardest thing to teach is writing. The reason I said vocabulary acquisition is a challenge because things like idioms lower they're comprehension because they don’t have the background knowledge for it. Things like ‘straight from a horse’s mouth' …they have no idea what that means. So, they read it in a story and their paralyzed back three paragraphs ago because they have no idea what they just read. Getting them to acquire that language comprehension and use it I find that to be a challenge. But the hardest skill for me to teach them hands down to do is writing, which goes back to vocabulary.”
Do you plan on staying in urban education as an English Teacher? What are your future goals?
“If I remain as a teacher I hope to teach high school students. Middle school is very rewarding but middle school is also very taxing on me emotionally. The students need a lot of love, a lot of counseling, and a lot of massaging, and I am finding that I am about half way through my career…about 16 years in and I am starting to get a little tired. I was thinking about coming out for a year or two as a coach before transitioning into high school. I also thought about teaching on the collegiate level, but I am very tired of being a student. I have two master’s degrees but I don’t have a doctorate. I didn’t know if I could find a position that would be suited toward my schedule. I’m always open to new opportunities but coming out of middle school is definitely a priority. If this is not my last year, next year will be.”
If you could have your students remember one thing that you taught them, what would it be?
“That’s so funny that you ask me that because I tell them the same thing every year since I have been a teacher. The thing I want them to remember most has nothing to do with education. One, I tell them to vote unless its against their religion because that has to do with their education too. I tell them this quote from Saturday night live ‘you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and people like you’. My student is in here he looked…he knows he is looking at me like yes (Broomfield laughs) … because they say well nobody likes me. Well, if you like you and I like you together we are people. I think with so many of these kids’ skills aren’t even their problem, I think its confidence. Boys that you think would have all this swagger and they run around and act like jerks, they hold books like they are bombs terrified of being wrong or terrified of trying. But if they know that they are good enough and that they are smart enough and that somebody out their likes them there is nothing they can’t do.”
What advice would you offer to novice literacy teachers?
Ms. Broomfield’s Student Teacher interjects “Yes, Ms. Broomfield I am listening. I can tell you what she tells me. With classroom management she knows when to step back and access the situation as a whole. She tells me just take a step back and reflect if this one thing is not going the way I want it to…it’s like having an experimental attitude. For example, there was this one day when I was like this is never going to work but it did and this other day things crashed and burned but I got over it. She has helped me to read them in terms of interest levels. There was something I was really excited about when I first started. She kind of had this look and told me to think about why you want to teach this…take your students as an audience.”
Broomfield responds “My class has 8 girls in it and almost 20 boys. Just because you find it interesting doesn’t mean these 20 boys are going to find it interesting. If I was going to give advice to a novice teacher I would say you have to love them even when they are not loveable and even when they don’t love themselves. Because kids know when you love them and when you love them they will work for you. That’s the best advice I can give any teacher. I’m not talking like you have to love them like your own kids, but you have to love them enough to give them something they don’t want.”