Linda Darling Hammond
Interview With Aurora Fleming
Aurora Fleming is a retired middle school science teacher who lives in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Q: Why did you become a teacher?
Well, what was I really going to be able to do? What was I really going to be trained for? You always heard as a child, you know, that one day the doors are going to open and you can be something beyond the teacher, the attorney or anything else. But still you have to remember, not even just for African-American females, just for women in general, the doors were not open. So there really wasn't anything that you could really anticipate becoming except a teacher--- housewife. So I think that more than anything else.
Q: Do you have a particular role as a female science teacher?
I'm dealing with a lot of baggage from girls when you're teaching science because they think they can't do it. Science and math are those subjects that someone told them that they can't do it. And they can. And I think they're finding that they really can. Too often you get parents who come and say, "You know, I never liked science. So I don't expect her to really be good in science." But they can. All you have to do is just realize, wait a minute, this is a new day, a new time. I guess, you know, when they see me do it that means that they to can do it. And I keep stressing to them that the jobs in the future are going to be very scientific and technology oriented. So it's going to be far better for them to be able to get these skills. And to be unafraid of them, really.
Q: Beyond teaching science, what is your role as a teacher?
My personal philosophy always I believe would be to make sure that students understand that there some options out there in life. And that if they are exposed to those they can make these choices themselves. So I think what I would really want each student to come away with is knowing that, wait a minute. If I have this skill, if I have that skill, then I'm not relegated to any particular one position. But perhaps that I too can have the choice of becoming a technician, the choice of becoming and doing something else. And that I have the obligation to make my corner of the world just a little better than before.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face as teacher?
Society has changed so that students come now with baggage beyond belief, situations and problems that I never even heard of before. You have children who are crack babies showing up in the classroom, children who have AIDS that are showing up in the classroom. And thankfully we don't even know who they really are because you protect their privacy and their right to it and I certainly respect that. You have children who are coming from single parent homes who just, you know, it's mind-boggling for the parent just to try to cope. We have younger teenage parents. We have so many problems just in society in general. And naturally it's got to come into the classroom because that's the product of our society. So those are the problems that they bring. When children come to school with baggage that really weighs them down, it means that you have to be a little more of a mother than you would like to be and less of a teacher some days. It means that you have to be far more patient than you would like to be. It doesn't mean that your expectations have to be lowered. And I think they can rise always to the level of your expectations. It just takes a little longer than it did years past.
Q: Does society ask too much of its teachers?
I think society has always asked too much of its teachers. And I think the old phrase is, "education has always been the whipping boy..." for any problems that we've had in society. Well you see them for 6 hours a day. Surely you can become mother, father do every single thing else. We have breakfast in school. We have lunch. And as some say, now when do we start serving dinner? But the realties are with the way women are working now, single parent homes and other conditions and it takes two just to make ends meet, these are the problems I believe that are not going to go away. And I think somehow we're just going to have to adjust to them. So from that standpoint I would say yeah, society does ask a lot more than it did years ago.
Q: How do you keep going day to day despite these many obstacles?
There are days when it seems as though everything just breaks apart. And you've planned something that you think is fairly exciting and something interrupts that for the class. Or a problem pops up with a student and a parent that you'd like to be able to smooth over very quickly and maybe go on and it just doesn't happen. You say, do I really need this? And you'd like to go home and close the door and just let that be the end of it, but you know better. You'd feel unhappy. I know I would feel unhappy. I enjoy the job. So that's one of those times you can pull out one of those letters that I referred to before. You can say, wait a minute, it does work. You can do this. So you soothe it over. And then it goes away. And you come back the next day. And then it's nice to have teaching partners, we work in teams, and it's nice to know that you can go in and vent with another partner. And they prop you up. Never are we all down at the same time. So we take turns helping the other.