Spotlight: Jayda Pugliese (PA '16)December 22, 2016
Fifth-grade science and math teacher Jayda Pugliese (PA '16) refused to listen when adults told her that her hearing impairment would limit her success. She reminds her students that with hard work, determination and a little bit of luck, they can achieve anything. She received Pennsylvania's 2016-17 Milken Educator Award at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in Philadelphia on October 5, 2016.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Jayda Pugliese: When I look back on why I decided to become a teacher, I usually say that it was because I was inspired to become a teacher. My first inspiration is my mother, Tammy. She is a very calm and patient woman who has always displayed a love for children. When I was growing up, my house was always open to the local neighborhood kids to eat, play and be safe. Next were the teachers I had in elementary school, high school and college, many of whom were innovative in their teaching methods and really helped me develop a love for learning. I enjoy learning so much that I honestly wanted to share that love for learning with others.
My last inspiration to become an educator was and still is my disability. I am hearing impaired. I struggled with being bullied a lot in school because of my disability. Adults have told me that I would never amount to anything of great importance because my disability would limit my ability to excel. I believe that being told that could destroy a person's motivation and desire for success. But I never listened. I always believed that if I worked hard at what I wanted in life, good things would always come my way. I know there are many students in today's society who are bullied for a variety of reasons, and I always tell my students, I used to be one of you. I do character education lessons every month with my students and always highlight the importance of kindness and tolerance.
I didn't have an "aha" moment about teaching. In high school I tutored classmates, worked at a local recreation center as an after-school counselor and gymnastics teacher, and babysat. People always reminded me how good I was with children and helping others. I think all of that encouragement led me to teaching.
MEA: Why did you decide to teach fifth grade?
Jayda: I started as a fifth- through eighth-grade special education teacher. I really enjoyed working with this age group. After several years I began working with kindergarten through high school students in special education, ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] and mathematics. When I saw the Andrew Jackson School posting for a fifth-grade teacher, I applied immediately. Not only was I excited to work with this grade again, but the school is in the neighborhood where I grew up. I know and understand the culture of the neighborhood and appreciate its diversity. After I was hired, my grade partner, Kevin Konya, and I decided that we would operate as subject-area-specific teachers: I became the fifth-grade math and science teacher, and he handled literacy and social studies.
The most frustrating thing about fifth-graders is that they can be extremely immature at the beginning of the school year. My role is important: I'm their bridge to middle school. All of my students grow up so much over the course of the school year — you can see a major difference in their behaviors and attitudes.
MEA: Who was your most memorable teacher?
Jayda: All of my teachers were memorable, but one that stands out is my eighth-grade homeroom teacher, Ms. Judy Crossan-Sanicky. At that time, she was also my math and social studies teacher. I use some of the same strategies with my class that she used in hers: a "Do Now" activity when students begin the lesson, tiered instruction and project-based learning. She made learning enjoyable and relatable, while also building my confidence and self-esteem.
MEA: What was your favorite subject?
Jayda: My favorite subject in school was technology/computers. My least favorite was mathematics until I was a senior in high school — ironic, since now I teach math. My teacher helped me with basic mathematics skills, and then I began to realize how much I really enjoy math. The hardest subject for me was social studies because I always had trouble remembering significant years in history. I tackled all of my learning issues the same way: with music. I would create songs or find songs to help me remember information. Sometimes you can still catch me singing my times tables.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Jayda: I was a middle school special education teacher and would pull out small groups of students to work at their instructional level in mathematics and literacy. I also taught one seventh-grade humanities class. I was nervous and always worried I would do something wrong. I froze in the middle of lessons if an administrator walked into the room. I was honestly overwhelmed. After a long conversation and coaching by my assistant principal at the time, David Robinson, I began to get more comfortable.
I was surprised that even though I struggled my first year, I really enjoyed teaching. I built some amazing relationships with students, some that endure today. Actually, one of those students was at my surprise Milken Educator Award notification — she is now a student teacher for my fifth-grade mathematics and science classes.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Jayda: I think that it allows them to see that through hard work and determination, good things can happen to them. I was in the same position as many of the students that I teach. I did not have a lot growing up, but my parents did the best they could for me. If they were not able to help me, they found someone who could. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am glad to be part of the village that helped shape me into the person that I am today.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time in your class?
Jayda: I say three things to my students. One: A simple act of kindness creates an endless ripple that finds its way back to you. Two: Anything in life can be achieved with a lot of hard work, determination and a little bit of luck. And three: Failure is okay. It shows you that you still have more to explore and learn. I emphasize these ideas all year in my classroom and truly believe them.
MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?
Jayda: I have my own classroom website and use ClassDojo, a smartphone app, for behavior management. I also have classroom Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts on which I post pictures of students learning and classroom highlights each week. Parents can contact me at any time via email or cellphone. Using different technologies helps keep all parents involved as much as possible. I do have some parents that don't have access to computers, tablets or smartphones, so I also send home paper-based classroom newsletters.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Jayda: My science classes. I really enjoy doing science labs with my students and I think that passion and excitement are contagious. They are always so amazed when they make an interesting observation or learn how to use a new piece of scientific equipment. I love watching them explore.
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?
Jayda: Being underfunded. In my school and district, we sometimes lack the money or resources to do projects or activities I'd love to plan. That is why I raise money for resources on DonorsChoose.org. I was able to raise over $10,000 for supplies for my classroom, including a 3-D printer, 3-D scanner, 3-D printing supplies, microscopes, snap circuits and a document camera.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Jayda: I would make major physical updates to our school. I would redesign each classroom to be more conducive to 21st-century learning and develop a full one-to-one Chromebook initiative. I would invite my colleagues to be more adventurous in their instruction and try out cutting-edge technologies in their classrooms. I would also treat our faculty and staff to a beautiful dinner for all of their dedication and hard work.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Jayda: I honestly don't know. Probably something related to technology or science. I am very interested in engineering, 3-D printing and anthropology.
MEA: What can our nation do to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay?
Jayda: We have to show students our passion for the profession. My students ask me all the time, "Ms. Pugliese, why are you so hyper when you're teaching?" I tell them it's because I love my job. And we must give new teachers the support they need to stay in the profession. New teachers face many unfamiliar issues, like managing student behavior, what to do when a lesson is not working and being overwhelmed with paperwork. Guidance from seasoned teachers helps newer teachers work through the rough patches.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when…."
Jayda: ...when my students are curious learners, innovative thinkers and creative problem-solvers. When my students can defend their arguments with data and acknowledge other possibilities. More than anything, I know I am succeeding as an educator when my students fail, then try again with the determination to be successful.
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