Laurie Parker joined the Early Childhood team this year as the roving assistant/Spanish teacher but transitioned to an Assistant Teacher in the EC3 class by November. Before a short stint at Educational Testing Service (ETS), Laurie spent eight years teaching French at Princeton Day School (PDS). She also spent seven years as an ESL teacher at the Princeton Adult School.
1) What drew you to a career in education - specifically world languages/ESL and then your transition to early childhood?
I have always been drawn to helping others, and teaching is the ultimate transformative experience. I saw it first-hand teaching ESL; I started a workplace ESL program at PDS teaching English to the custodial staff after school. I was able to help one of my students prepare for and pass the citizenship test. It was so rewarding to see her success. And that is what drives me -- to see all of my students succeed, even if it is as simple as writing their names or tying their shoes. I love working with all age groups, but the most fun has been teaching children. I taught French to children ages four to ten in the Lower School at PDS. I truly enjoyed teaching world languages and discovering with them the dozens of countries where French is spoken, but parenting my own two children opened my eyes to the joys of teaching everything else. I realized that I had much more to offer as a teacher in all of the content areas, such as math, science, literacy and the arts.
2) Who are/were your mentors?
My aunt Carmen was the first one in my family to graduate from college. She grew up in a rural town in Puerto Rico where education was not highly valued, but she saw education as the only way out. She went on to become a bilingual first grade teacher in Perth Amboy for over 30 years. I even went to the same elementary school for second and third grade, so I got to help out in her classroom from time to time. Her perseverance and success encouraged me, and while I wasn't always sure I would be a teacher, I saw the hard work she put into her teaching and the results of her efforts. She instilled the importance of education in me, and I became the second person in my family to graduate from college. And in 2020, I will also have earned a master's degree in education -- just like my aunt!
I had another incredible mentor at PDS - the Lower School Head, John Weaver. John was a teacher of teachers and an avid learner. He took the time to observe my work and give me relevant feedback on a regular basis. I learned so much from him about teaching and learning, but most importantly that the education of young children should be about nurturance - helping them understand themselves and their world around them, supporting and developing their curiosity in a safe space.
3) What do you enjoy about teaching Spanish to preschool-aged children, and what are the benefits of learning a language at such an early age?
I had the benefit of learning Spanish as a child through my family; it wasn't until high school that I learned French. Learning a language can be difficult as an adult, but children are like sponges. They are able to soak it all in and use the language fearlessly. We know from research that a child's developing brain allows for an easier acquisition of languages, and exposure to multiple languages has a positive impact on literacy, social development, cultural awareness, and tolerance. Besides, teaching Spanish to children is just plain fun! We sing, dance, act and play - all in Spanish!
4) I understand you have your brown belt in taekwondo? Can you talk about how long you've been doing that and what the belt tests are like? How has this interest carried over into your teaching style/philosophy?
I started taekwondo about two years ago, partly in an effort to improve my health, to find a meditative experience, and also to live out my dreams of being Bruce Lee! I have now earned by junior black belt and I am about a year away from earning my first degree black belt. It has been HARD physically and emotionally, but also one of my greatest achievements. Each week I am sparring with kids 25 years younger than me, and I'm keeping up! I have learned some incredible lessons from taekwondo - nothing is impossible, never give up, no complaints, have respect for others, always finish what I start, and have a plan to achieve my goals. I carry these lessons into my teaching and share them often with my students, to encourage them to have a growth mindset and believe that they can achieve anything if they set their minds to it.