I am a father, teacher, traveler and student, among many other roles I play.
My teaching career started in New Haven in 1987 after graduating from Southern Connecticut State University. I taught for three years in an integrated-day magnet school. During this time I received monthly professional development from Bank Street College, including regular visits to their school in New York City. My colleagues helped me navigate through my first years of teaching. The advice and instruction I received from Bank Street, colleagues and my middle school students in New Haven shaped me into the teacher I am today.
My first time overseas was when I traveled to England to complete my senior student teaching in the spring of 1987. This experience left me with a desire to travel and experience other cultures. After three years teaching in New Haven I had the opportunity to teach in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. After confirming Bolivia’s location on the map I gladly accepted the offer of a two-year contract to teach sixth grade to students at an international school. I was happy to go to a place I knew little about so that I could learn as much as possible. I was not disappointed as Bolivia turned out to be a giant museum for me. My time in Bolivia included many trips to snow-covered mountains, steamy jungles, ancient ruins, tin mines, open-air markets as well as more mundane places like the phone company where I would wait in “line” on Saturday mornings to pay my bill. I was one of the lucky few who had a phone at that time, but it happened to be shared with the local movie theater which was located below my apartment. I became adept at providing movie times (in Spanish) to confused callers. Oh, yes, I did also teach in Bolivia. The school consisted of mostly Bolivian students from wealthy families who wanted their children to learn English and earn a U.S. diploma. All of the teaching was in English and I taught subject matter as if I were teaching at a U.S. school. I loved the students, but couldn’t help notice the great contrast in privileges and opportunities between these students and my former inner-city students in New Haven.
Although I worked for children of bank presidents, politicians, drug lords and DEA agents, I was drawn to learn more about the lives of street children and their families in Bolivia. They were everywhere – selling sticks of gum and anything else you might need on the minibus I rode to school (and at every stop along the way), outside the entrance to the movie theater downstairs from my apartment, watching cars in the street, outside every restaurant begging for a few scraps of food, and shining shoes in the main plaza a few blocks from where I lived. Over time, I developed relationships with these children and got to know their families. I learned Spanish from them and learned much about the lives of the poor. Today I am still in touch with two “kids” from the streets of Santa Cruz. Miguel and Yuri are now in their 30s and have children of their own. I visited them several years ago and am grateful for their friendship.
At the end of my contract in Bolivia I made the decision to try one more adventure overseas and moved to Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although they are neighbors, I felt just as much culture shock moving to Brazil as I did to Bolivia. The language, food, infrastructure, music and all aspects of the culture are very different. I taught grades 5-8 in a small school which again consisted of mostly wealthy families, but only about half were Brazilian. The rest came from all over the world. It was exciting to work in such an environment, but I was still drawn to the stark contrast between my students’ lives and the lives of the children working in the streets. During my three years in Brazil I developed relationships with these children and their families, some of which continue to this day. While in Brazil, I earned my Master’s degree through a program offered by Framingham State College.
In 1995 I returned to Connecticut and found a job teaching at Pawcatuck Middle School in the Stonington school district. I have been there ever since and have taught all subjects in grades five, six and seven. I currently teach seventh grade language arts. I never intended to stay at this school for as long as I have, but I have for several reasons. First, I love my school. It is a small 5-8 neighborhood school with approximately 350 students. I have enjoyed working with the families in the community and have been supported in being able to learn new ideas and try them out in the classroom. My colleagues are innovative and supportive of each other. It is simply a great place to work.
Shortly after arriving in Pawcatuck I decided to become a foster parent. This was definitely a result of the experiences I had had with children overseas. I wanted to continue that experience and thought foster care would be a good option. Brandon was my first first child and stayed with me for a year before moving on to a more permanent foster home. Still, he has been a part of my family ever since, always had a room at my house as he spent weekends with me, considers me to be his father, and has even lived with me off and on through the years. He is now 28, lives in Florida, is an Army veteran who is going to school, and had a baby boy last fall (my first grandchild).
My experience as a foster parent eventually led me to decide to adopt children. In 2000, I traveled to Brazil to adopt my sons, Ricardo and Edson, who were nine and ten at the time. Being a single parent has been one of the greatest challenges and most rewarding experiences of my life. I could write several books about this, but for now I’ll just say that Ricardo is in the Army, stationed in Hawaii. Edson lives in Westerly and is about to have a baby girl in August, making me a grandfather for the second time.
Since Ricardo and Edson have moved out of the house, I have tried foster parenting again and I have two children visit every summer through the Fresh Air Fund. Antoine and Daviell spend a month with me each year, even though they recently moved to Orlando from The Bronx. I can’t help but connect all of these experiences with children to my first experiences with street children in Bolivia.
In school I have been active in promoting a safe school for all students regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. At some point in my career I realized that as a gay man I was not doing my students any service to remain closeted at school. I did not want to inadvertently send a message to students that being gay is shameful and something to hide. So, after coming out as a gay teacher I started a study group of colleagues who research and promote activities for teachers of all levels that promote safe schools for all students. We have conducted surveys and made presentations to the Board of Education. Many of our resources come from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). We have received positive feedback from administrators, colleagues and parents. I am proud to have initiated this conversation in my school district.
Besides school, family, travel and learning, I have just enough time for an occasional nap every few months. I am excited and a little nervous about starting the Instructional Technology and Digital Media Literacies program at the University of New Haven. I look forward to learning a lot (I have already learned so much in just one week) and to getting to know my fellow students in the program. I welcome your comments and questions, particularly if you would like to would like to discuss or know more about adoption, foster care, the Fresh Air Fund, places I’ve traveled (I’ve only listed a few), LGBT issues at school and teaching middle school language arts.