Teacher connects with students
Arizona Republic
Dec. 4, 2005

Patty Henry

Lowell Elementary School, Mesa

Patty Henry didn't want to be a teacher when she came to Arizona from New Jersey more than 20 years ago. As an Arizona State student, Henry took her father's advice and pursued a degree in computer science, but there was one problem.

"I absolutely hated it," Henry said.

Her dad wasn't too enthused about her back-up plan, either.

"He said, 'There's no way I'm paying out-of-state tuition for you to be a cruise director,' " Henry recalled her father saying.

So Henry and her father settled on a career in education, and it's a decision she never regretted.

In her 20 years at Lowell Elementary in Mesa, she's seen the school change from one with predominately Anglo students who spoke English at home into a school where more than 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, and many are learning English as a second language. Henry, who grew up translating for her Spanish-speaking mother, can relate.

Salt River Project partnered with Rodel to sponsor this teacher.

What is the most important thing about educating children that parents just don't understand?

At our school in particular, I think we underestimate how much the parents want to help with their kids. We think that they don't care, but they really do care a lot.

If you tell them what you want them to do, I think the majority is willing to help. They do need to realize that their kids need to come to school every day, they need to realize there needs to be communication between them and their teachers, they have to realize that there's a reason for what we do and they have to support us. But we need to work as a team.

My mother didn't speak English when I was growing up, she spoke Spanish. But it was her job to get us to do our homework. She couldn't speak English or read English or write English, but boy when it was time to get homework done we sat at the kitchen table and stayed there until it was done.

She was very supportive of our teachers. I think the parents at our school are the same, but I think we underestimate them because they don't speak English and think that they just don't care and that's not the case at all.
They care about their kids a lot, but you have to get that initial communication going and tell them we need to work together.

What is the most common mistake veteran teachers make in the classroom?

Not setting high expectations. We need to set high expectations for these kids. If we tell their parents, "This is where they need to be at the end of the year. This is how many words per minute they need to be reading," if parents know where they need to be, they'll do it. You have to set those expectations from the beginning. I think it's real easy to let kids slip into low expectations, like "Oh, they can't speak English, they can't do it." They can do it, it's just a lot of work.

What is the most common mistake rookie teachers make in the classroom?

Not being prepared for all the work involved. Especially for someone going into a school like ours. I'm lucky, because I speak Spanish, but if you don't, you have to get a translator when you want to talk to the parents or call the parents.

It's a lot of work; that's what someone going into a school like ours has to be prepared to handle, otherwise it will totally overwhelm them. If you're not prepared and don't know what you're getting into, it can really overwhelm you.

What would you want to do if you weren't doing this?

I would probably end up volunteering with kids. I'd have to do something dealing with kids, other than working with kids, I don't know what I would do. I just love those kids. I know a lot of those families real well. You have the brothers and the sisters and you just form a bond with these families.

They know you. I've been to birthday parties and Quinceañeras. When you've been there that long, you just become this figure on campus. You get connected. And I've thought of transferring, I really have. But when I've thought about it, you know, I'm needed there.

I could go to another school where I'm really not needed and that just doesn't make sense. I'm at home there. My mother still, to this day, will not speak to us in English, so I can relate to these parents, and I can relate to the kids. For my mother, absolutely, we had to translate for her all the time, and I wasn't always honest, either. I got called to the principal's office for chewing gum. The nun called me right in there and said, "Call your mother and tell her what you've done." So I called my mom and said, "Oh, I just called to say 'Hi, I had time.' "