Leaning on Others so Others Can Lean on Her

By Shannon Humphrey, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

Jun. 20–It’s been a tough year for Melissa Baldwin and her two children. This past summer after returning home from a deployment in Iraq, her husband, Dick Baldwin, suffered a heart attack on July 4 and died. Since then, she has relied heavily on her fellow teachers and staff at Gloucester High School for support. “Personally, they have made a tragic year more bearable for me and my children.

Baldwin has been an English teacher at Gloucester High School for 15 years. In addition to teaching, she co-chairs the English Department, heads the Senior Boards program, a research-based project and presentation required for all seniors to graduate, is one of two mentors for identified gifted sophomores and sits on the Gifted Advisory Board. She is currently in the final stages of her earning her master’s degree at the College of William and Mary in this field.

QUESTION: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

ANSWER: I really enjoy the company of the teenagers I teach. I love seeing certain awakenings take place.

Each class has its own collective personality. One class will like the book you’re teaching, and the next class will hate it or take certain parts of it differently. When they get it, though, you can see almost a wave go over the middle of the room, when they hear how something in the book was a symbol for something else. They have this look on their faces saying, “I didn’t even notice that was happening there.” You can detect wonder in them, and those are some of the happiest moments in teaching.

Q: What is the most challenging?

A: Trying to motivate students that really aren’t interested in learning, and are only in school because they have to be.

Q: How many hours do you put into your teaching each week?

A: Average 2-3 hours after I leave school for the day. We have to be at school by 7:20 a.m., and I usually leave around 4 p.m., so I would say 20 hours at home in addition to being here, per week.

Q: Do you have a most memorable experience or student as a teacher?

A: When I had new preps and classes I’d never taught before. I remember thinking at the end of the year, if I had done a good job and would the students be able to get something out of it that would do them well in the future. I grew a lot professionally that year. I received a letter in my mailbox from a student, telling me that at one point during the year she contemplated suicide. She told me that the only thing that stopped her, was the poem we’d discussed and read that day in class. She said as long as there were people in the world that would talk with her about things like that, then the world was worth living in. The poem was by Countee Cullen, a Harlem Renaissance poet. The poem dealt with not just equality between the races, but showed a white and black child who were able to play together, because they had never been taught prejudice.

Q: What was your favorite subject in school?

A: Journalism. I was the layout editor for my school paper, and I really enjoyed the balance, aesthetics and writing that was involved with it.

I also enjoyed chorus, specifically vocal performance, and English.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher and why?

A: Ms. Howland, my English teacher in tenth and twelfth grade. She taught journalism and was the drama coach as well. She was multitalented and had a sense of humor. My strongest teachers, I felt more of a kindred spirit with, and she was one of those.

Q: Who inspired you to become a teacher?

A: Ms. Howland and my cousin, whom I call my aunt, Gloria Callis. She was the head of the Business Department at West Point High School and won Regional Teacher of the Year. She was a mentor to me, and was inspiring me. We took similar paths in career choices, I was more like her than my mother at times. She was a tower of strength, and her career made other people proud to have worked with her.

Q: If you had to pick a grade to go back to in school, what would it be and why?

A: I really enjoyed my senior year in high school very much, enough that I was sad at graduation.

It was everything a person’s senior year should be. It came to a point of culmination, I reached goals that made me happy. Everything I cared about came to pinnacle that year. I made All-State Chorus (sung all through high school). I really enjoyed my friends and all the activities I’d been involved with during the year.

Q: Why do you think education is so important for the kids you teach?

A: Critical thinking and problem solving are the greatest things students can take away from their years at public school. The ability to operate with high level concepts separates school from an education. You may not remember all the material you learned in school, but you can remember how you learned how to think and be resourceful. In the end, that’s what will matter. School is both socially and academically the best place to learn how to do that.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to the 2008 high school graduates?

A: For their lives to be meaningful. To continue to search and learn, and to avoid stagnation and apathy, which is easy to become, if we don’t make the choice to continue to learn throughout out lives.

Melissa Baldwin

Lives in Gloucester with her two children: Stewart, son, 16; Caroline, daughter, 9

Teaches 10 Honors, 10 and 12 AP English at Gloucester High School


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